Just because it’s action research doesn’t make it ethical. In fact, the ethical implications and potential complications of doing work in organizational and community settings makes it all the more important that we consider carefully the ethical issues involved in AR. In 2006 Davydd Greenwood, Olav Eikeland, and I edited a special issue of Action Research
focused on Ethics and AR. At the time we observed that while action research “offers its practitioners the opportunity to engage communities as equal partners in addressing important concerns while improving practice and deepening our shared understanding of critical issues”, at the same time it “raises a unique set of ethical challenges, many of which have been overlooked in the literature to date” (p. 129). I continue to be interested in exploring the ethical challenges and implications of action research and hope that this blog might be a useful forum for extending that dialogue. I’ll be posting my thoughts along with links to articles and resources I think might be of interest every Wednesday, but would also like to invite you to submit descriptions of ethical dilemmas you’ve faced in doing AR or other related issues. I’ll try to offer my take on as many of these questions as I can, and will also open up the blog for responses from other readers to encourage more dialogue about this topic.
One issue that comes immediately to mind is the role of institutional review boards or other human subjects review bodies in deciding if an action research project should be allowed…sometimes against the will of the community. So, who’s in charge? Should IRBs/HEBs be allowed to make the determination? Should local participants be allowed to put themselves at risk in the interests of conducting a research project. For an interesting look at this issue see Lundy and McGovern’s discussion of their AR project in the North of Ireland in ARJ 4(1).
Let me know what you think and what ethical questions or challenges you’ve encountered. See you next week.