" ITREALMS: 10 top secrets in ICT4D Research - ITREALMS

Monday, December 24, 2018

10 top secrets in ICT4D Research - ITREALMS

ICTD/ICT4D research is diverse and complex. It brings together researchers and participants who come from very different contexts, who have very different life experiences, very different knowledges, who face very different life challenges, and together they explore technologies that are rapidly evolving and are profoundly affecting social, political and economic relationships.
ICTD/ICT4D researchers, individually and collectively, place themselves in positions where their actions can have intended and unintended consequences and therefore they carry responsibility.
Most ICTD/ICT4D researchers seek to behave ethically, but the complex interdisciplinary nature of the field, and its distinctive characteristics, including the emergent nature of technology, make it difficult for both new and experienced researchers to identify and reason about the ethical issues that surround their work. Individual researchers will refer to ethical guidance and debates within their own discipline.
However, none of the contributing disciplines in ICTD/ICT4D, on their own, is likely to provide ethical guidance that covers all of the diverse challenges of ICTD/ICT4D research. It is therefore important for the interdisciplinary ICTD/ICT4D research community to encourage debate of ethical principles and to promote good practice.
Our approach has been to conduct a participatory process and collectively develop and record some minimum ethical standards and guidelines. This process started by synthesising key points from existing guidance that is available in the multiple disciplines and organisations that are relevant to ICTD/ICT4D and has been enriched by the experiences and input from participants in the process.
In some areas, in particular big data research, technologies are evolving rapidly and ethical debates are currently ongoing, highly dynamic and have not yet crystallized in fixed guidelines. We recommend that future versions of this document integrate such guidelines as they emerge. In the meantime we strongly encourage researchers using such technologies and research methodologies to engage with these live debates.
While the document is designed to evolve in future versions, this version of Minimum ethical standards for ICTD/ICT4D research – Version 2.0, has been developed through a rigorous co-production process and is now available for use. These guidelines will be useful to researchers, practitioners, publishers and ethical oversight bodies reasoning about ethical issues in ICTD/ICT4D research, and as a resource for teaching and preparing for research.
The guidelines below have been collaboratively developed through a series of workshops with ICTD/ICT4D researchers across the world. We recommend that key organisations in ICTD/ICT4D research, such as conference series, academic journals, and research networks commit to these minimum standards.
We hope that this process and this document will provide a focus for debate on research ethics in ICTD/ICT4D, and that this document will be reviewed periodically to reflect new understandings that emerge and to address new challenges that arise in the future.

1. Basic Principles

In keeping with many research disciplines, ICTD/ICT4D researchers in the interdisciplinary field of ICTD/ICT4D begin with basic principles such as:
  • to do no harm;
  • to act with honesty and integrity in dealing with research participants;
  • to report findings openly and accurately, this includes in particular (where feasible and appropriate) to report findings back to the participants and communities who have engaged in the work, in a form and in language that is useful and accessible for the participants and partners involved;
  • to act with fairness and without discrimination so that no individuals or groups of people are unfairly excluded from participation in research or from deriving the benefits of research;
  • to show respect for all entities (persons and communities, as appropriate) involved, recognising their inherent dignity and not simply seeing them as means who can be exploited to achieve the researchers’ ends;
  • to show sensitivity to the diversity of cultures, values and experiences; and
  • to respect our shared global natural
Realising these principles in the complex, dynamic practice of ICTD/ICT4D research demands:
  • ways of working that take into account and are adapted to the varied contexts in which ICTD/ICT4D research occurs;
  • an approach that is attentive to changing conditions and circumstances;
  • a commitment to ongoing critical reflection on and reflexivity about the researcher’s own plans, decisions and actions;
  • an openness to feedback from participants and fellow researchers, including the willingness to change one’s own
ICTD/ICT4D researchers should recognise that we do not have any automatic moral or legal right to study other people.
Finally, we emphasise that this document is intended as a discussion of minimum standards. ICTD/ICT4D researchers may set higher aspirations for themselves, e.g. to conduct research that promotes, even more actively, inclusion, growth, freedom, justice, equality, peace, well-being etc., informed by their own understandings of ‘development’.

2. Positionality

Before embarking on research, ICTD/ICTD researchers should reflect on their own position as compared to the people they write about or work with. Typical axes of difference might include age, gender/gender identity, ethnicity, nationality, disability, marital status, having children/not, sexual orientation, education, income, wealth, social class, faith/religion, cultural beliefs and practices.
These differences can lead to misunderstandings and misrepresentations. Some of these differences also imply power differentials which will have to be navigated actively throughout the research process.
Power differentials in favour of the researcher must never consciously be used as a lever to persuade or coerce research participants to participate in all or parts of the research or to affect the data.

3. Cultural Awareness and Contextuality

ICTD/ICT4D researchers often have a very different cultural and social background to the people who collaborate with them as research partners and research participants.
ICTD/ICT4D researchers should be aware that the consequences of decisions and actions are highly sensitive to different contexts. Researchers themselves may be perceived as important and influential actors so that their words, choices and actions may have significant impacts including being seen to reinforce or challenge local social norms or power structures. Therefore, researchers must constantly develop their understanding and awareness of their working context, and pay attention to advice and guidance from local collaborators and people with experience of that context.
It is possible that there will be laws, social norms, cultural values and practices in the local context and differences amongst partners that may be contrary to the personal values of the researcher. ICTD/ICT4D researchers should consider this possibility in planning their research and seek to recognise such tensions during the research process. Compromises are likely. Researchers should reflect frequently, seeking advice from research partners, peers and advisors as appropriate.

4. Appropriate Research Methods

ICTD/ICT4D researchers must select appropriate research methods. This entails an assessment not only of the appropriate methods for the research questions but also the local context and what is culturally acceptable to participants and other local stakeholders. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain sufficient training for the methods they are planning to use, including training in the ethical expectations relating to specific research methods. For instance, informal conversations are not interviews, short visits do not represent ethnographic fieldwork.
Research methodologies and methods used must be open for full discussion and review by peers and stakeholders.

5. Reciprocity and Partnerships

ICTD/ICT4D Researchers should maintain respectful and professional partnerships with other researchers and with other stakeholders. Researchers should actively seek reciprocity and consider how they can give back to the communities and the organisations with which they do research. ICTD/ICT4D research should seek to generate benefits for the participants themselves, for other individuals and for society as a whole, and/or for the advancement of knowledge.
ICTD/ICT4D research is undertaken in a global context characterised by extreme inequalities between countries and within societies in the opportunities to and means for undertaking research. ICT4D researchers who are benefitting from privileges and power within this system should seek at the very least to avoid reinforcing them.
ICT4D researchers should seek exchanges and partnerships with local and national research institutions and academic colleagues in the areas and countries where the research is undertaken. ICTD/ICT4D researchers should seek to strengthen local capacities in research, in ICT and in ethical oversight. Joint research partnerships should then lead to joint publications in local as well as international outlets, including in the local language. The publication pressures of Northern researchers should not be the only, or the dominant criterion in developing an appropriate portfolio of research outputs for a project.
ICTD/ICT4D researchers should not waste resources and should consider the environmental cost of research, as well as the time, energy, motivation and hope invested by research participants and partners into the research project. Where local participants are asked to contribute their time to the research without direct benefit arising to them, it is often appropriate to compensate them for their time.
It is the researcher’s responsibility to explore whether compensation is locally appropriate, and if so at what rate and in what form compensation should be provided. For example, e.g. whether compensation ought to be individual or collective (e.g. a donation to a community organisation), whether it should be financial, material or in kind.
It is the duty of ICT4D researchers to familiarise themselves with the legal rights of respondents and the legal requirements of institutions of the host country to the data and the research outputs. Wherever possible, ICTD/ICT4D researchers should seek to use expertise, research assistance and technical services in the host country and local communities where the work is conducted.

6. Honesty and Realism

There is no such thing as an ideal research process. Constraining factors include timelines, funding, capacity, access etc.
ICTD/ICT4D researchers should be open and honest regarding their work and its limitations. Expectations about the outcomes and possible impact of the research should be as accurate as possible. The expectations of participants should not be raised unrealistically. Under no circumstances should unrealistic promises be used as a device to gain research access and cooperation.

7. Links to Companies, Organisations, Consultancy or Government

ICTD/ICT4D researchers should avoid working in isolation or duplicating existing work. Wherever possible, they should avoid stand-alone, time-limited projects and instead seek to align work to existing projects, local organisations’ work, national programmes and priorities. They should engage with other actors in exchanging ideas, building on each other’s work and maximising the potential for scaling up. The desire for scale should be balanced with the need for context- and group specific solutions.
Research partnerships with organisations and communities should involve pre-emptive, open, constant and explicit negotiation about access, data ownership, and the benefits of the research.
Written agreements (such as a Memoranda of Understanding) are appropriate to identify clearly the agreed roles, responsibilities, rights and benefits of different stakeholders. When negotiating partnerships with communities, ICTD/ICT4D researchers need to show respect for the representative role of local leaders and appropriate authorities, while developing an awareness of which groups (such as women, lower caste, minorities, financially excluded, or other marginalised groups) might not be represented by the traditional leadership.
Further, researchers must recognise that local communities may have more collectivist social norms that deserve respect but should be balanced with the respect for the individual rights of less powerful people in these collectives.
Careful consideration should be given to engaging in research with, or funded by, certain institutions and agencies, such as the military, secret or intelligence services, or organisations, companies and governments that have poor human rights records. Reasons for caution include the risk of research results being used against certain members or groups in society, unintended use of data for surveillance purposes, and the possibility that the researcher will be co-opted or be seen to legitimise these actors.
Where research is funded by public bodies, the results of this research should be placed in the public domain for public use, while protecting the identities and interests of research participants.

8. Gifts, Bribes, Corruption, Conflict of Interest

ICTD/ICT4D researchers should not be involved in the paying of bribes or in corruption in relation to their research. Researchers may give and/or receive small gifts to research partners or participants where this is culturally appropriate or expected.
ICTD/ICT4D researchers should not accept funding for their research which may lead to a conflict of interest in respect of their findings. They must openly declare, and where possible avoid, any potential conflicts of interest.
Where paid consultancy work overlaps with research activities, ICTD/ICT4D researchers should not allow the consultancy relationship to lead them to adopt an unduly narrow research approach or to have an impact on data collection, interpretation or presentation of findings. Consultants should resist pressure to shape the content of their findings or recommendations to fit the expectations of their funder.
In particular, ICT4D research that advertises or imposes commercial technical products, solutions and services which do not correspond to local needs or priorities bring the field of ICTD/ICT4D into disrepute.
All funding received for research should be clearly and fully declared in all public outputs.

9. Action Research and Authentic Participation

ICTD/ICT4D research should be carried out with the intention to benefit society or the environment. Some research will achieve this by generating new more abstract knowledge while other forms will entail action research which aims to co-produce knowledge and social change with groups or communities.
In action research, the needs and interests of research participants must be at the heart of an intervention. Wherever possible, interventions and technologies should be designed with end users. Relevant user groups and stakeholders should be included in the planning, development, design, implementation, monitoring and assessment of interventions.
ICTD/ICT4D researchers should strive to ensure that interventions and projects are sensitive to the needs of less well-represented and the most marginalised groups, which include women, children, those less literate, those with disabilities, minorities and those affected by conflict and disaster.
ICTD/ICT4D researchers should use participatory methodologies only where there is real scope for meaningful participation. Participation as a mere performance of community input to decisions that
are pre-decided or which are non-essential (i.e. ”fake participation”) is worse than no participation at all. Fake participation wastes participants’ time, sullies the name of participation and increases cynicism, which in turn undermines future dialogue and participatory practice by other researchers.
In action research in particular, ICTD/ICT4D researchers should be aware of power differentials which may affect access to the research process and affect (mis-)representation. ICTD/ICT4D researchers should reflect on the costs and consequences of research participation for all participants and seek to alleviate potential disadvantages of, and overcome barriers to, participation for any individual or group.
Any interventionist approach carries with it the responsibility of a thought-through exit at the end of the project. Before embarking on interventions, ICTD/ICT4D researchers should consider how any interventions and benefits might be sustained after the researcher leaves the research setting, and should work and negotiate with local partners to maximise the potential for sustained benefit.

10. Findings, Reporting and Dissemination

The results of ICTD/ICT4D research should be returned to the participants and communities who have engaged in the work in a form and in languages that are useful and accessible for the participants and partners involved.
ICTD/ICT4D researchers should give appropriate acknowledgement (and compensation) to research participants, co-researchers and contributors to the research. Such acknowledgement may include co- authorship of outputs and co-ownership of research products. ICTD/ICT4D researchers are obliged to give proper credit to employees, students and research collaborators for their ideas, and senior researchers should support the professional development of junior researchers. ICTD/ICT4D researchers should give appropriate acknowledgement to previous work that has informed or influenced the research.
ICTD/ICT4D researchers should recognise outcomes of research for participants and communities as being at least as important as formal research outputs from the research team. In some situations it may be appropriate to limit dissemination of results and findings to protect the interests of research participants.
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