Open approach and research ethics

Being an apprentice researcher, my view is limited to a few early experiences and reflections on a possible open approach while conducting a research study. In particular, I consider the relationship between an open research approach and research ethics, just at the beginning of my dissertation work about research practices in transition, which will engage me in an interview project in an Italian university. Currently I am waiting for a formal approval of the ethics form, that proposes the use of a public blog as a research journal and a web space in Cloudworks as many ‘loci’ to experiment an open approach during the research process. In the very next days I will know if the arguments endorsing the open approach are reasonable enough to receive institutional approval. In the meanwhile, to date I identified some issues related to over-exposure of participants and enhancement of some aspects of the research process.

Over-exposure of the researcher

A researcher willing to share her/his own ongoing research work should be self-confident to expouse oneself to any criticism. This can not be easy to be accepted when you are a new scholar , and your weaknesses are likely to be more apparent than your strengths (at least, this is what I think of me). In addition, this entails to protect your privacy (i.e. setting up a devoted email account for research purposes). However, you learn to shape your ‘being researcher’ just observing how other researchers interact with you and review your ideas/work. Moreover, ‘in the open’ you are expoused to a number of models, with respect to those ones you are able to observe in a specific ‘in site’ research department.

Over-exposure of informants

An open approach implies the opportunity of disclosing research data while data gathering process is still underway. This requires a cautious attitude, not only for obvious reasons of appropriateness (not disclose data not yet analyzed), but also thinking of paricipants’ vulnerability. For instance, the use of quotes from interviews in a public space could affect the principle of anonimity and confidentiality. On the other hand, too strict rules to preserve vulnerabiity of participants would make any disclosure (and then discussion) impossibile. This suggests that an additional negotiation of permission is to be undertaken with research participants, so that it is clear where the discussion is being conducted and in which terms data are being used.

Over-exposure of the context being researched

In my study I will select informants in a unique university context (the same in which I have been working!) and will interview them about their digital/open scholarship practices. However, contextual factors are likely to emerge from interviews: these ones are just elements to be shared in an open approach, but the specific university – in which ‘openness’ is not widely endorsed and even seen under suspicion – could feel itself threatened by such a discussion. In this case, asking for a permission could imply the risk of subjection and even censorship: the transparency of conduct togeher with gaing trust of a number of gatekeepers could keep from this drawback.

Iterative debriefing process

Using an open approach, the debriefing process is not limited to a final phase, but can constitute an integral part of a continuing dialogue with research participants. The risk for a newbie is too much relying on participants’ statements and not keeping that analytical distance that distinguishes research in its own right.

Practice of peer debriefing

An open approach provides an apprentice researcher with a unvaluable opportunity to debrief findings with a wider research-savvy audience than a reserved circle of an online class of research students. This add complexity to a challenging experience of writing a dissertation, but I think it can give you an habitus of critical thinking that it is worth acquiring.
However, I realise that in my current learning path as a researcher I am living in a ‘limbo’, in which a number of good practices are to be acquired, but relatively a few institutional constraints are to be fulfilled. Researching in ‘real life’ could dramatically change my ‘open’ practices, as Ferguson et al. (2010) report in their study about blogging as a research practice. For now, I can’t wait for starting my very first ‘open’ research study and reflecting on it.

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2 Responses to Open approach and research ethics

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  2. Pingback: Open what? Searching for a ‘doable openness’ in my dissertation work | Antoesp's Blog

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