Defining the Agenda: Key Lessons for Funders and Commissioners of Ethical Research in Fragile and Conflict Affected Contexts

By Leslie Groves-Williams. Funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and developed in collaboration with UNICEF, Office of Research – Innocenti.  A pdf copy is available online here

Publicised here because the issues and lessons identified also seem relevant to many evaluation activities

Text of the Introduction: The ethical issues that affect all research are amplified significantly in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. The power imbalances between local and international researchers are increased and the risk of harm is augmented within a context where safeguards are often reduced and the probabilities of unethical research that would be prohibited elsewhere are magnified. Funders and commissioners need to be confident that careful ethical scrutiny of the research process is conducted to mitigate risk, avoid potential harm and maximize the benefit of the commissioned research for affected populations, including through improving the quality and accuracy of data collected. The UKRI and UNICEF Ethical Research in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Contexts: Guidelines for Reviewers can support you to ensure that appropriate ethical scrutiny is taking place at review phase. But, what about mitigating for risks at the funding and commissioning phases? These phases are often not subject to ethical review yet carry strong ethical risks and opportunities. As a commissioner or a funder designing a call for research in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, how confident are you that you are commissioning the research in the most ethical way?

This document brings together some key lessons learned that provide guidance for funders and commissioners of research in fragile and conflict-affected contexts to ensure that ethical standards are applied, not just at the review stage, but also in formulating the research agenda. These lessons fall into four clusters:

1. Ethical Agenda Setting
2. Ethical Partnerships
3. Ethical Review
4. Ethical Resourcing.
In addition to highlighting the lessons, this paper provides mitigation strategies for funders and commissioners to explore as they seek to avoid the ethical risks highlighted


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