Last Updated 08 May 2020

Organisational practice and practical wisdom

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Essay type Research
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The presence of 'gatekeepers' in accessing research databases or participants often cannot be avoided as their role can range from managers to head teachers, to a parents signature on a consent form.  Gatekeepers are those who give access to a research field. Their role may be in allowing investigators into a given physical space, or it may go further in granting permission for research to be conducted in a particular way. (p.329)

Often their presence can avoid unethical behaviour, but Homan (2001) warns against them being seen as a substitute to the researchers' moral judgement rather than an addition. There are many ethical dilemmas arising over the position of gatekeepers in authority or responsibility. A headteacher is in a position to give permission for a researcher to access children, where ethical issues of informed consent also come into consideration. Where managers act as gatekeepers, ethical issues of harassment and exploitation exist as non-participation would then become increasingly obvious to them. Homan () suggests that gatekeepers and researchers should be aware of the ethical issues of using the,

Power of group pressure by peers, especially if non-participation implies conspicuous behaviour such as leaving the room. Ethical dilemmas over gatekeepers also occur when insider researchers act as their own gatekeepers. Homan (2001) suggests that this should never happen if the insider wishes the research to be ethical. Here the researcher faces issues over which data should be used. They will be inclined to perceive that community as a public domain and suppose that they have an entitlement to all its data. (p.340)

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The inclusion of the notion of informed consent within a code of ethics aims to avoid many of the ethical issues raised above. However, informed consent itself raises many ethical dilemmas. Homan (2001) defines informed consent as including the following principles: 1. That all pertinent aspects of what is to occur are disclosed to the subject. 2. That the subject should be able to comprehend this information. 3. That the agreement to participate should be voluntary, free from coercion and undue influence. (p.331)

Mark (1996) includes in his definition of informed consent, that the participants should also be educated about the benefits of the research and that they should be aware of whom to contact if they have any worries during the investigation. Bell (1999) warns against claiming more than the project merits, and I would suggest that this becomes an ethical issue when these claims and the notion of informed consent itself are used to persuade or coerce subjects to participate.

Homan perceives informed consent as one of the most important ethical issues raising numerous dilemmas,  Homan directly attacks those researchers who merely pay lip-service to consent as an ethical issue and who seek, consciously or otherwise, to gain access to a site of research without addressing those whom the researcher wishes to investigate. (M.McNamee, 2001, p.311) For Homan, simply using a gatekeeper or merely presenting the most basic of 'consent forms' is itself an ethical dilemma, as he sees this as an exploitation of the participants' rights to be fully aware of every aspect of the research. I would suggest the view that through utilising informed consent to build up a feeling of trust and protection between the researcher and the researched can be distorted to gain and then publish information that may not have been shared without its presence.

If privacy is to be defined in subject terms as the space or range of behaviour which an individual is entitled and disposed to assert for self-protection, there are serious ethical implications regarding the variation of this according to the degree of charm, empathy or friendliness evident in the conduct of the investigator. (p.327) Clearly, the perspectives of whether this is an ethical dilemma would depend on the morals of the researcher; making it an issue of 'ethical relativism' personal to the researcher. For me, this raises questions over whether a 'good' researcher is one who respects the participant sat the expense of gathering data, or whether it would be a researcher who is able to build relationships of trust and use this to gain data? Perhaps a 'good' researcher would seek to find a 'middle ground' between the two extremes.

Ethical dilemmas faced by insider researchers: I intend to approach the role of the insider researcher or practitioner researcher through the specific ethical dilemmas faced before, during and after the research has taken place. Within the setting of an organisation, the researcher often has the role, not only of being an insider, but also a practitioner. Also specific to organisational research is the use of action research and the ethical implications this approach may have. But I will also be considering the role of researchers after the investigation has been conducted.

While there are abundant guidelines regarding the treatment of participants before, and during a research experiment, researcher responsibility to their participants after the data are collected are less clean cut. (Wright, 1999, p.1107) I have already gone someway to depict ethical problems faced after research, when the research is controlled from outside, but there are also many other problems specific to the role of the insider researcher.

Ethical dilemmas faced preceding the research project: Different ethical issues arise over the distinct decisions made by the researcher prior to commencing the research. Smyth and Holian (1999) suggest that researchers who decide to research in their own organisations are often labelled as being 'subjective and anecdotal.' This becomes an ethical issue if researchers then alter paradigms or doctor results to rationalise their research, trying to make it 'fit into a 'scientific' quantitative paradigm or an accepted qualitative framework.' As an ethical, as well as a political issue, the researcher faces a decision between ethical research and outsider respect. However, as narrative approaches to research become increasingly recognised as a research paradigm this issue becomes less effectual. However, the ethical stance of the researcher is an issue that needs to be established prior to the research.

Tickle raises two main concerns over the ethical position of the research before beginning the experiment pertaining to their own personal goals for the research, Those of the activist, intent on the pursuit of good educational [or organisational] practice and practical wisdom, and those of the action researcher, intent on uncovering evidence through the use of ethical research methods. (p.349) Clearly, this is often an unconscious decision and it must be acknowledged that researchers cannot be beyond the stereotypes and prejudices common in society. Bridges (2001) continues to suggest that their training and experience should provide them with an 'above average' (p.376) awareness of any unconscious decisions they may be making.

This is an ethical dilemma for a researcher who is aware that they are entering into an investigation with a prejudice or bias that may affect the results and this remains unstated. For example, it is seen as ethically possible for an insider to investigate the roles of others in their organisation. However, is their goal for organisational or participant improvement ethically possible if these two stances are in opposition? If there is a known 'clash of personalities' between researcher and colleagues, can they be ethically researched?

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