This project involved a great deal of human research – it was heavily invested in the experiences of my peers. I learnt very quickly that ‘the values of respect, research merit and integrity, justice, and beneficence have become prominent in the ethics of human research’ (National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council, Australian Vice -Chancellors’ Committee, 2015).
So, in communicating with and representing my participants, I was particularly interested in the concept of accountability in research practice. As discussed in the week five lecture, I am accountable as a researcher for fair and honest reporting, timely delivery, ethical conduct, and safety of participants.
According to the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research guidelines developed by the Australian Research Council, ‘ethical conduct’ is more than simply doing the right thing. It involves ‘acting in the right spirit, out of an abiding respect and concern for one’s fellow creatures’ (National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council, Australian Vice -Chancellors’ Committee, 2015). This is a concept I was determined to build my research practices around.
In keeping in line with this code of ethics, I am required to report that my research engagement and communications strategy was not successful, and my project did not accumulate a substantial amount of data for analysis. My communications strategy revolved around the utilisation of Twitter. I used the hashtags #BCM110, #BCM112, and #BCM212 to promote my survey. I initially hypothesised that Twitter and the #BCM212 hashtag would provide the most active participants – but I only received 22 responses to my survey.
I knew that my communications strategy was not working as well as it could, even when I began tweeting more about my project. I also became disinterested because it was not receiving the high number of responses like I hypothesised. Because my communications strategy was not engaging, I decided not to go through with a focus group because I believed that I did not have the interest of a wider audience.
I understand now that this, amongst other factors, was detrimental to the final results of my project. In the future I aim to employ more practical and engaging communications strategies – such as the use of interesting infographics relating to the project, and more engaging written communication.
The small sample size I received also posed an ethical concern. If I had decided to fabricate and exaggerate this data as representing a large amount of participants, I would have been engaging in data dredging. The practice of data dredging is the exact opposite of being accountable – the process involves ‘finding results in variables announced as significant when, in fact, the data requires more study’ (Rouse, 2010).
For example, this could have been used in my study to represent participants local to Wollongong who catch the bus to university. I received two survey responses which stated that both participants had dealt with physical threats when catching a bus from Wollongong CBD. If I were to data dredge, I would conclude that: ‘people who catch public transport from Wollongong CBD have a higher rate of being physically assaulted on the bus.’ However, as I am choosing to be an ethical researcher, I am absolutely not going to conclude this. I have in fact decided to represent my participants by stating that ‘yes, there may be an issue with the buses – but further research is needed as my small sample size is not adequate.’
I am choosing to represent my participants as important – however, instead of being represented as the key to change concerning buses and UOW, I would rather consider them as a stepping stone to a possible larger research project. The responses I received confirmed my own suspicions and bias about the functionality of buses, but I can not present this information as approved by UOW. Nor can I state that 22 responses accurately represent the wider community. In thinking reflexively, I have done what I could in the situation I was in. I thought critically about my position, I decided to do something about it, and now I can choose bigger stakeholders to pass this information on to.
I have learned a few things that will inform my practice in the future – firstly, I will not become bored or complacent with my communications strategy. If things go wrong at a grass-roots level, it will affect the whole project. Next time I aim to use a practical and engaging communications strategy, including constant promotion. Secondly, I believe that I have learned a valuable skill regarding professionalism and ethical concerns in research. It is one thing to communicate ethical practice in theory, but an entirely different playing field when committing to it in practice.
I hope to be able to improve and utilise these skills for more research projects in the future.
Bowles, K. (2017). BCM212 Research Practice in Media & Communication: Week 5, Accountability.
National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council, Australian Vice -Chancellors’ Committee (2015). National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research. [online] Available at: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/e72_national_statement_may_2015_150514_a.pdf [Accessed 3 Jun. 2017].
Rouse, M. (2010). What is data dredging (data fishing)?. [online] SearchDataManagement. Available at: http://searchdatamanagement.techtarget.com/definition/data-dredging [Accessed 3 Jun. 2017].