Upholding ethical considerations during collaborative remote research in Banjarmasin, Indonesia
By Ritwika Deb, on 30 July 2021
Written by Naufal Muhammad Azca, Jianglei Bai, Chang Chao, Ritwika Deb, Farah Dhafiya, Kristy Adelia Gayatri, Ahmad Rizky Rolanda, Hargita Saputri Mei Vita, Mojun Sun, Yu Wei, Menglin Yang, Haoyang Zhang
This blog was written for the Overseas Practice Engagement (OPE) 2021 for the module Social Development in Practice. In 2021, the OPE focused on the role of inclusive design and planning in supporting disabled people and older residents achieve their aspiration of inclusive public space and community participation in Solo, Indonesia.
In late February, we were introduced to our research project that aimed to advance inclusive design and planning in Indonesian cities through a process of remote knowledge co-production that was to be designed and implemented by our group of 11 students from Kota Kita’s Urban Citizenship Academy and UCL’s MSc Social Development Practice programme, based across Indonesia, the United Kingdom and China. The project presented us researchers with the opportunity to learn from and contribute to the Indonesian Association of Persons with Disabilities (PPDI) and the low-income neighbourhood of Pelambuan in Banjarmasin, the capital of South Kalimantan, Indonesia.
While preparing the groundwork for the research strategy, the work of scholars like Nidhi Singal (2010) helped us understand that disability research in countries of the South faces many challenges and dilemmas in terms of design and implementation. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our project included elements of both face-to-face interaction and remote data collection, which led to additional complexities, especially in terms of ethical and logistical considerations, which had to be carefully contemplated.
To account for the dilemmas that emerged from this challenging context, our team of researchers identified the Ethics Guidelines for Internet-mediated Research (British Psychological Society, 2017) as the relevant code of ethics to build on. Scholars and researchers across the board have long emphasized the importance of ethics – and for good reason, because us researchers ultimately are responsible for whether or not we do harm or good to communities. From setting the goals to shaping the strategy and implementing the methods on the ground – we play a key role as decision makers. By using the code of ethics, we learned that such a code can support researchers in general decision-making by giving them a structure to follow in the middle of the dynamic process of field engagement, allowing them to be prepared to deal with ethical dilemmas if and when they arise. Especially in a scenario like ours, where unprecedented challenges could arise at the complex intersection of disability research and remote knowledge co-production in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, this code of ethics served as a structure for our team members from the moment we began our engagement, not only helping us prevent potential challenges, but also making the process of dealing with emerging issues much easier.
- Ensuring informed consent
This principle of the referenced ethics guidelines emphasised the importance of ensuring that participants make informed choices. The first practice in this regard was to provide adequate information about the research, to specify what kind of commitment was required from participants, and to make it very clear to them that participation was voluntary and that they could withdraw from the research at any time if they wanted to.
To this end, the consent strategy was developed in accordance with the nature of the research methods and the needs of participants with disabilities.
First, a simple consent video was developed in the local language so that the research objectives could be clearly communicated to all, including participants with visual impairments.
Second, an accompanying consent form was created to enable participants with hearing impairments to lean on written information.
Third, participants were also given the opportunity to share verbal consent, if more feasible.
Finally, people with cognitive disabilities who expressed difficulties in giving informed consent were still invited to participate as long as they were accompanied by a family member or caregiver.
- Recognising participants’ choices
Another effort in relation to this principle was also to ensure that participants’ personal choices or preferences are always respected. To further stimulate responses to interview questions, we introduced a participatory photography method. In addition to securing consent from participants to use their photographs in our research work, we made adaptations in the process to allow participants of all abilities to take part by giving them the flexibility to either take the photos themselves or request the assistance of a researcher.
Our primary effort was to foster a safe space for them to express their opinions, address any unintentional stress during the activity and assure participants that if they withdrew their participation at any point there would be no consequences. An important instance to note is that when one of the participants showed a strong expression of autonomy on her part during the fieldwork and asserted that she was no longer in the mood to participate in this method, the researchers respected her decision without contestation.
Overall, this ethical consideration and the strategies used to promote it strengthened our understanding that a research project such as this should strongly value the opinions of participants, facilitate their inclusion and true participation even if the methods involve technical complexity. and ultimately consider participants’ needs, lived experiences and autonomy to be of the utmost importance.
In conclusion, adopting this ethical approach enabled us to adhere to a form of self regulation that guided us and defined the boundaries between what is considered ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in research. Although no code of ethics can describe every situation one will encounter, building a solid understanding of the principle of ‘respect for autonomy’ and adapting the guidelines to a version appropriate to our specific context, served us in most cases. This, coupled with a spirit of continuous reflection through the research process, enabled us to spot any danger early on and to move forward with increased self-vigilance when engaging with all involved parties.
British Psychological Society, 2017. Ethics Guidelines for Internet-Mediated Research. Available at: https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/ethics-guidelines-internet-mediated-research-2017. [Accessed 5 May 2021].
Capstick, A., 2012. Participatory Video and Situated Ethics: Avoiding Disablism. In: E-J. Milne, C. Mitchell and N. de Lange, ed. The Handbook of Participatory Video. Lanham MD: AltaMira Press, pp. 269-281.
Denscombe, M., 2010. Research Ethics: A practical guide. In: The Good Research Guide. Maidenhead: Open University Press, pp. 329-342.
Padan, Y., 2015. Asking Questions. Practising ethics guides to built environment research Series. The Bartlett Ethics Commission. Available at: https://www.practisingethics.org/project [Online] [Accessed 5 May 2021].
Singal, N., 2010. Doing disability research in a Southern context: challenges and possibilities. Disability & Society, 25(4), pp. 415-426.
About the SDP Reflection in Practice series.
The module social development in practice places emphasis on building a reflexive lens to co-learning, and research practice. This is captured through individual and collective reflections, which offer a space to develop an ethical practice attentive to the complexity of social identities, relationships, and power structures inherent in any social change programme.