Ethics is a system of moral principles or the moral values that influence the proper conduct of an individual or group. The term originated from the Greek word ‘ethos' meaning habit or character, and it speaks to how we ought to live, that is, how we ought to treat others.
Any research which involves human subjects or participants is bound to raise challenging ethical, social, legal and political considerations. Ethics in the context of research is particularly interested in the analysis of ethical issues that arise in research with people as participants. The primary concern of any research project is to protect the participants involved in the study and to ensure that the research is carried out in order to serve the interest of individuals, groups or the society as a whole. Another objective in research ethics is to analyse specific research projects and activities to decipher its ethical soundness.
Ethical issues involving the protection of confidentiality, the management of risks, the process of obtaining informed consent, physical or legal harm, deception, the protection of privacy and anonymity should be properly addressed in any research project.
A study involving human subjects' especially vulnerable people as participants raises unique issues in any research context. In light of this, the sensitive nature of my research project which is on “police brutality in Nigeria: a human rights perspective”, raises questions on how ethical issues are to be addressed as it involves victims of police brutality and prisoners as participants in the study. The research seeks to identify the nature and causes of police brutality in Nigeria as well as proffer possible solutions to the problem. Also, through research this study is looking to discover the potential victims of this form of brutality, the human rights issues involved and the extent to which the international community or international human rights groups are aware of police brutality in Nigeria and what steps have or have not been taken to curb it.
Furthermore, the methodology of this research project is via a qualitative approach as it acknowledges ethical issues, finds meaning through the eyes of the participants, and it's ideal to explore and understand people's experiences, attitudes, behaviour and interactions. The use of focus groups, personal experiences of victims and telephone interviews with international human rights groups like ‘Human Rights watch' and ‘Amnesty International' would be pertinent to carry out this research. Reports from credible human rights organisations would also be considered.
Ethical issues are bound to arise within this research project considering its sensitivity. The ethical responsibility of the researcher is necessary throughout all the stages of the research process, from recruiting participants to the treatment of participants and to the consequences of their participation. The issue of informed consent is an ethical issue that could arise within this project. According to Miller and Brewer (2003), it is important that clear and accurate information regarding the research is communicated to the participants, including its possible benefits and risk. Information pertaining to the aims and objectives of the research, its methodology and intended outcomes should be given, presented in lay terms to enhance easy understanding. In addressing the issue of consent, the researcher should ensure that the participant is adequately informed and the consent is explicitly and voluntarily given. The researcher should never coerce anyone to participate in a research study and should make participants aware of their rights which include the fact that they could withdraw at anytime without penalty (Endacott, 2004).
Confidentiality and anonymity are other ethical issues that could come up in this research project as the process can divulge sensitive and confidential information such as the disclosure of names, addresses, location and occupational details. The researcher should ensure that information shared by the participants is protected from unauthorized observation. It is not enough for the researcher to say he/she will ensure confidentiality, rather the researcher should demonstrate to the participants how. To do this, the researcher should present data publicly only in form of an aggregate e.g. as statistics or percentages (Neuman, 2009). Referring to the research study in question, the researcher should ensure that information concerning the mistreatment and abuse of inmates by police officers should be held in strict confidentiality which cannot be traced to a particular person.
Another ethical issue is the protection of participants from harm, although obviously evident in medical research, social research can also cause great psychological or emotional distress. Qualitative interviews on sensitive topics could trigger powerful emotional responses from a participant and as such, the researcher should anticipate risks e.g. screening out high risk participants like people with heart conditions, mental problems or seizures. (Neuman, 2009). Research should not cause the participants harm whether physical or mental.
The problem of access, which is how to get hold of participants in any research study, is of immense importance to the success of the study; participants could be in terms of an organisation or individual. To gain access to an institution or organisation, it is important to negotiate with gatekeepers who could deny access to the organisation, ration it or impose certain Conditions (Burnham et al, 2004). Access when denied, restricts the research process. There are certain ethical issues related to access, a research study could be viewed as an invasion of privacy or an intrusion to the institution to be studied as it interrupts routines and schedules causing inconveniences and disturbances; it is highly unethical to invade other people's privacy and as such gaining access could be a really slow process. Furthermore, the fact that research could disclose the limitations of the activities of an institution or individual could further impede access (Flick, 2009).
To gain access within the context of this research project, the researcher should be competent in establishing relationships and gaining the trust of its participants and institutions as much as possible to forge a working alliance in which research becomes possible.
Qualitative research in cross- cultural studies is difficult, problematic, challenging and time consuming. Ethical issues in cross-cultural research include issues relating to values and world views which involve the misunderstanding of participants by researchers from a different culture. It is important for the researcher to respect the cultural views and belief systems of the participants and not to impose one's values in the research process. The researcher should be sensitive to cultural and social differences.
Ethical considerations should be in place when representing or in the dissemination of results in a cross-cultural research. According to Marshall and Batten (2003), the researcher should portray findings so that it does not damage the reputation of a community or group of people. Sue & Sue (1990) states that research procedures can be ethically sound by acknowledging and incorporating the cultural practices of participants and their larger communities.
In the course of the research, there are ethical guidelines the researcher should adhere to while implementing the project. The researcher must responsibly conduct research morally and legally while conforming to ethical standards, the researcher should be informed and not knowingly contravene the legislation of a country in cross-cultural research. The researcher should not use deception to gain information from participants and should pursue objectivity while upholding their integrity without fear or favour. The researcher should be informative and descriptive rather than rigidly prescriptive or authoritative. The researcher should avoid undue intrusion, obtain informed consent and be confidential. The safety of both the researcher and participants in a study should be ensured and the risk of harm minimised.
In conclusion, ethics in research should be concerned with finding a balance between benefits and risk for harm (Boeije, 2010). The results of findings based on data gathered unethically could lead to harm, possible conflicts and enormous dilemmas. As such, it is considered good practice for a research project to fully comply with ethical standards.
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Professional values and ethics
Values and ethics
Values refer to the rules which an individual uses in order to make decisions which determine whether an action is right or wrong. Ethics refers to a formal codified behavior which a particular group of people upholds (Alavudeen, 2008). As a result, each professional group has specified values which it follows. For example, there are medical ethics which are followed by the medical practitioners in order to guide them towards professional practices. Similarly, other fields such military has their professional ethics in which they uphold the values of loyalty, selfless service as well as dedication when they are undertaking their duties. Ethics go hand-in hand with professionalism, thus incase one is described as unethical such an individual is ultimately described as being unprofessional.
Ethics are primarily used in a working environment in order to promote professionalism. In the workplace, both the employees as well as the employers should lay emphasis on ethical value such as values as respect, honesty as well as trust. It is worth noting that, when the management does not uphold ethical practices, the business venture is bound to fail. When a workplace promotes ethics, then a remarkable sense of self worth as well as trust is enhanced ultimately good performance is reported (Kimmel, 2008). Professional ethics enhance a form of professionalism in the workplace. It is through upholding professional ethics and values that integrity in workplace is enhanced. Professional values and ethics act as guiding parameters in career practicing. Whenever an individual joins a particular profession, a formal induction is undertaken so as to enable the person familiarize with these guiding principles. Nonetheless, upholding the professional ethics requires individual effort and commitment through positive interactions.
Sources of professional ethics and values
First, ethics and values are set aside by the professional or governing body. Some of the values are copied from co-workers who are influential and they have been in the profession for a long duration. Professional governing bodies establishes a set of ethical values that every affiliate member ought to adhere to. The ethics advanced by such bodies clarify various procedures that any professional member may employ when making any ethical decision while still practicing or inline of duty. Professional bodies institute codes of conduct as a deliberate move in governing as well as controlling group member behavior as an attempt to safeguard ethical values of the profession (Smith &Churchill, 2000). Any misconduct may risk the concerned member for any penalty or even dismissal from practicing under the accredited body. Secondly, the business culture, internal control or even management's practices advances codes of ethics in the workplace. For example, in order to offer clear ethical standards in the workplace, any organization ought to stipulate guiding values to all employees in order to create ethical culture in their practices. Finally, basic moral values are nurtured through the normal upbringing of an individual.
Professional ethics and career success
In order to be successful in a profession, it is paramount that the employees uphold the defined professional ethics as they undertake their tasks. A well known fact exists, that when a professional makes the right choices and ethics in a career and follows them consistently, then career success will no doubt prevail (Koehn, 1994). Whenever a person consistently follows the defined professional standards set in guiding normal practices under the profession, then professionalism culture is created. The value attached to observing professionalism standards in the workplace is remarkable. For example, following professional ethics and values to the latter may not necessarily guarantee an individual job security alone, but also earn position respect as well as recognition which in itself is fulfilling. Workers who observe professional ethics rank higher in the organization, thus opening avenues for career satisfaction and success.
Upholding professional ethics and values has several benefits. For example, doctors have professional ethics which they uphold and which enable them to display an element of responsibility. Doctors are expected to use all manner of knowledge and expertise within their reach in order to offer professional service to patients (Alavudeen, 2008). Similarly, Doctors are expected to observe high levels of professional competence in order to demonstrate integrity in their work. I addition, professional ethics impact medical career in that no individual required to provide medical services outside their professional training fields. Added responsibility is advanced to people who are professionals, such that when a person upholds particular values and ethics expected in their profession, they may be entrusted with more responsibilities that goes along with higher package. Finally, professional ethics assist in building positive public image on any career or add value to professionals associated with such careers to either prospectus employers or even to the public. For instance, professional values spelt out by any lawyers body has made the career appear prestigious and worth emulating.
Alavudeen , A. (2008). Professional Ethics and human values. New Delhi: India, Firewall Media Publishers.
Kimmel, A. (1988). Ethics and values in applied social research. London, UK: Sage Publishers.
Koehn, D. (1994). The Ground of Professional ethics. New York, U.S.A: Routledge Publishers.
Smith, H & Churchill, L. (2000). Professional ethics and primary care medicine: beyond dilemmas and decorum. North Carolina, U.S.A: Duke University Press.
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