Concluding Thoughts

In additional to the structural inequalities that frame the research journey, after reading through this guidance, you may notice some common themes emerging:

Power Dynamics
Power dynamics inform the ethical landscapes researchers must navigate, researchers’ capacity to respond to ethical challenges, and the potential impacts of their decisions. As an example, power dynamics linked to gender can create tension between what is locally acceptable (for example regarding the acceptability of women expressing opinions), international rights conventions and/or researchers’ own views.

Navigating ethical challenges successfully often means having difficult conversations. Such discussions require trust between team members so that misunderstandings over intent are minimized and everyone understands that such conversations are being held in good faith. Building trust takes time and effort, so patience is key to fostering relationships that can withstand the inevitable pressures of international research collaboration.

Local Context
There are no single correct answers for how to handle many ethical challenges, as so much is dependent on what acceptable and appropriate for the local context. The more researchers learn about and understand the local context, the better equipped they are to navigate ethical dilemmas.

Ethical challenges do not exist in a vacuum – they intersect with gender dynamics, power structures, health and safety, legal obligations, funder requirements, among other things. The information provided here is only one piece of the puzzle and teams should also be familiarizing themselves with guidance and policies associated with these other intersecting domains.

Ability to engage with policies, processes, and structures
While this document does not include guidance on how to navigate formal ethical approval processes, it is useful to remember that researchers have the ability to engage with such processes and structures throughout the research journey. Funders may be open to discussions about more appropriate consent procedures that may be different from their standard approach. Ethical approval boards are open to dialogue about changing circumstances or modified approaches. Teams should engage with opportunities to shift what is considered “normal”.

You may not get it “right”
Being ethical is just not about doing the “right” thing, whatever that is (if it even exists). It is a constant process of interrogating yourself and your practice with a goal of improving how you approach research. Acknowledging when you might not be able to do what you think best due to constraints out of your control, or in hindsight because you’ve learned more and are working to improve is a key feature of ethical working. Be honest with yourself and your team on your research journey but be kind to yourself as well.