The CO:RE Compass for Research Ethics complements the CO:RE Conversation on Research Ethics, taking place via blog posts and exchanges in webinars and social media, and is a continuously growing resources base providing helpful materials and resources for researchers, students and members of the public. Here and in our CO:RE Conversation activities, we discuss the ethical issues that one encounters in practice, and build a resource base that investigates and evaluates potential solutions to these issues.
We encourage you, as a user, to contribute your own reflections, expertise and questions to this conversation. You can do this by posting comments in response to our blogs (find the latest one here), by engaging in conversation with us during our webinars (watch the latest one here), or via social media such as ResearchGate, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.
Please note that this resource base is under construction and is growing incrementally.
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What are research ethics?
Research ethics are guidelines about how research can and should be conducted. Researchers aim to develop new knowledge that is accurate and truthful. In particular, when investigating how children use the Internet, researchers are also required to consider and comply with research ethical norms and principles in order to ensure that their research is beneficial for the people and the societies for and about whom they are researching. Researchers should also ensure that the dignity, rights and autonomy of research participants are respected and upheld.
Under this theme, we will present resources and frequently asked questions related to the overall theme of ‘research ethics’. Our focus will be on the ethical norms and principles that relate to conducting research with and about children online.
How are research ethics different from legal requirements?
Do research ethics apply to my research project?
What kinds of ethical principles should I be aware of?
Is there anything specific that I need to consider when researching with and about children in online contexts? If so, what might this be?
What is ethical informed consent?
All research participants should provide informed consent before they participate, or before information and material that can be linked to them is included, in a research project. Consent should be informed, explicit, voluntary and documented. Consent should also be provided by people who are capable of doing so. This is a both a legal and an ethical requirement. But what is the difference between legal and ethical consent?
Under this theme heading, we will discuss and provide resources about the differences between legal and ethical consent with a particular focus on the relevance of these differences when engaging in research with and about children online.
What is the difference between legal and ethical consent?
Is legal consent sufficient?
Can children provide legal informed consent to participate in research?
Protecting and promoting children’s rights and agency in research
Children and young people participate in research. As research participants children have particular rights to protection and participation that are easily overlooked. In particular, measures should be taken to ensure that children’s perspectives and voice are taken into account in the construction of knowledge.
What rights do children have in research? How might these rights differ from those of adults?
How might children’s participation in research be influenced by power relations?
How can children’s perspectives and voice be respected and taken into account in research contexts?
What aspects of the online environment complicate these issues?
How, when and where to report when something goes wrong?
In spite of the fact that scientists usually take significant measures to ensure that the research they conduct complies with ethical standards, in particular with regard to truth, accuracy and beneficence for research participants, things can and do, go wrong. But how can and should these situations be dealt with? What opportunities are available to address and report about issues or concerns that arise?
How can I report a concern about a research project?
What steps should I take?
What agencies will be able to assist in addressing this situation?
What are ethical incentives and beneficence?
Research should be conducted according to the principle of beneficence, including that those involved in the research should benefit from the knowledge that is constructed.
Working according to the principle of beneficence is particularly problematic when working with children and young people. If the knowledge that they are involved in constructing is not directly accessible to them or relevant for their lives, how can this principle be understood? Furthermore, if children and young people are provided with incentives to participate in research, how might this influence their participation?
What is beneficence and how is this considered and understood in the context of different research projects?
How can I ensure that my research is conducted in accordance with this principle?
What aspects might introduce conflict with the concept of beneficence?
What to consider when doing online research with children?
The majority of European children (aged 9-17) report using their smartphones ‘daily’ or ‘almost all the time’ (Smahel et al., 2020). As such, they encounter a range of risks and opportunities for example when engaging with media content, when socializing, playing games and being creative. At the same time, children’s online experiences are both highly personalized and create digital traces that are recorded and used for commercial purposes. It is therefore important to consider this range of experiences, activities and opportunities when engaging in research with and about children online.
It is also important to consider that children have a range of competences and abilities when using the Internet and that these in turn are mediated by other factors, including individual, relational and social, cultural and economic factors.
How can we understand children’s online experiences?
What additional factors, at the individual, relational and social levels might influence these experiences?
How do children’s online experiences relate their own digital skills, or the skills and competences of their peers, parents and teachers?
Processing Sensitive Data
The legal definition of sensitive data includes:
- Personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs;
- Trade-union membership;
- Genetic data, biometric data processes solely to identify a human being;
- Health-related data; and
- Data concerning a person’s sex life or sexual orientation.
Because communication on the internet in general, and among children and young people, can be of an intimate and private nature, it can include sensitive data. As such researchers need to take particular care of this kind of data.
What is sensitive data? Is the data that I am accessing sensitive? How will I know in advance whether the data I engage with is sensitive or not?
How can I access sensitive data?
How can I store sensitive data in a way that is secure?
Should I anonymise sensitive data?
Can I publish research that is based on sensitive data?
What to consider when engaging children as co-researchers?
One approach to facilitating children’s participation in research and to ensuring that children’s perspectives and voices are included in the construction of knowledge, is to engage children as co-researchers. This in turn raises a number of questions with regard to research ethics, including questions of competence, decision-making and beneficence.
What do I need to think about when engaging children as co-researchers?
What kind of knowledge might I access in this way?
What skills and competences might children need in order to act as co-researchers and how will they gain these skills?
How can children become involved in data analysis?
Further resources, regulations & rules
In this section we provide a list of additional resources, regulations and rules to consider when engaging in research with and about children and young people online. Please feel free to suggest additions or amendments to this list.
Visit our CO:RE Zotero Group on Research Ethics!
Association of Internet Researchers Ethical Research Guidelines: https://aoir.org/ire30/
Committee on Publication Ethics: https://publicationethics.org/
Singapore Statement on Research Integrity; https://www.jsps.go.jp/english/e-kousei/data/singapore_statement_EN.pdf
The European Network of Research Integrity Officers: http://www.enrio.eu/
The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity: https://www.allea.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/ALLEA-European-Code-of-Conduct-for-Research-Integrity-2017.pdf
The Norwegian Research Ethical Committees’ General research ethical guidelines: https://www.forskningsetikk.no/en/guidelines/general-guidelines/; https://www.forskningsetikk.no/globalassets/dokumenter/4-publikasjoner-som-pdf/general-guidelines.pdf