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Exploring how we can understand and practice recovery from childhood trauma differently

Case Study: Research Ethics and participatory action research

Art materials on a table
Creative practices were adopted during a series of workshops

Victoria Christodoulides reveals the actions she has undertaken to ensure the ethics of her participatory action research (PAR)

About my study

In an ongoing project, I am using a PAR framework to explore how childhood trauma recovery literacies impact understanding and practising of recovery beyond the biomedical. To do this, I have been working collaboratively with independent professionals and 10 participants who are survivors of childhood trauma, to deliver several workshops. We recruited our participants via a charitable organisation. Over the course of the workshops, creative practices have been adopted to produce artefacts that will be displayed in a public exhibition. Participant feedback and creative material has also been gathered using ‘Indeemo’; a private social networking app which allows the users to upload artefacts outside of the workshops within their own spaces. Participants have done this using various medias including text, audio, video, and photography.

Ethical issues to consider

  • Duty of care
  • Working with a ‘gatekeeper’
  • Working with external organisations
  • Working with external professionals
  • Consent of participants
  • The right to withdraw
  • Working with sensitive data
  • Anonymity of data
  • Data security/storage
  • Risks for the researchers
  • The PAR approach and its emergent framework

Mitigating actions

  • Ensuring that participants are informed, and documentation is clear. This is done using multiple forms of communication (e.g., paper, verbal, pictures)
  • Laying down the ground values with participants and consistently checking with them as a group and individually to ascertain their thoughts and queries
  • Gathering consent and providing opportunities to withdraw along the research journey
  • Ensuring anonymity and confidentiality of data
  • Obtaining ethical opinion and approval
  • Creation and maintenance of a data management plan
  • Risk assessing and practicing proactive safeguarding to ensure duty of care to participants and researchers

Lessons learnt

  • That research ethics need to be considered throughout the project, not just at the point of initially obtaining ethical opinion and approval. It is important to ensure that your explanation of what you are doing and how you plan to mitigate is very thorough and detailed enough for all your ethics paperwork. Think how you would explain this to someone with no idea.
  • For PAR work, try to pre-empt what you may do and cover this in your application, giving as much detail as possible. This will help save time waiting for amendments further down the line.
  • With emergent research you may not have all the answers but try to provide some context of what things could entail and how these may be addressed.
  • The format and language you are using in any of the participant forms need to be very carefully considered, especially if you are working with vulnerable participants who may have learning difficulties.
  • To ensure duty of care is at the forefront of your decisions when you are designing the format of the workshops and gathering data.
  • That an element of supervision has been necessary to reduce risks both to the participants and the researcher.
  • Working with external organisations requires many ethical considerations in terms of legality of any agreements, remuneration, data management and data protection.
  • To speak to people from the various departments (IT, DMP, Legal) to gauge who else you may need to contact to address their policies and paperwork.

Find out more about research integrity and ethics

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This case study, edited by Helen Friend, is part of a collection outlining the experiences of researchers from the University of Bath in relation to research ethics. The researchers describe the ethical issues that arose during their research projects, the mitigating actions they took and the lessons that they learnt. More case studies can be found here. We gratefully acknowledge support from Research England through the Enhancing Research Culture Fund (ERCP).