Introduction to Ethical Working

Working in international research contexts introduces teams to complex ethical questions that often sit outside the domain of formal ethical approval processes. These may include issues surrounding ethical partnership, authorship, community engagement, “parachute” research approaches, systemic power imbalances, and different financial norms and expectations. Not only are these issues challenging to navigate, but they also intersect with other challenging elements such as cross-cultural communication, health and safety, legal constraints, gender dynamics, trust, and differences in academic disciplinary approaches.

Against this background, we recognize that navigating these complicated issues is not a matter of there being a single “right answer”. Instead, we encourage researchers to build the skills and the confidence to carefully assess the specific local context and arrive at an appropriate decision for them, their research, and their team. In 2021 the University of Glasgow began a series of knowledge exchange events for researchers (both staff and students) working in international research contexts. These workshops were designed to provide a forum for researchers to share the challenges they encounter, identify coping mechanisms, and suggest areas where future training or support are needed. The guidance in these webpages highlights the outcomes of those events and provides suggestions for how to approach the challenges identified. This is a living resource and will be updated as we receive new information and feedback. If you have suggestions for how we can improve this resource, please contact Mary Ryan at

An Ethical Approach to the Research Journey
Ethical practice means all parties operate in equitable partnership, where participation is predicated on mutual respect, understanding, and ongoing, informed consent to continued involvement. Each stage of the research journey introduces ethical challenges that must be navigated, from the initial conception of the idea to the publishing of findings in academic journals to the implementation and impact on the ground. And while, for pragmatic purposes, this guidance is built around these various stages of the research journey, ethical practice should be considered holistically.

Formal Ethical Approval
While this guidance is meant to highlight all the elements that may fall outside formal ethics approval, formal ethical approval being granted for research activity is essential. The pathway to gaining ethical approval varies depending on the nature of the work being conducted, the College processes in place, the ethical approval processes at partner organizations and the ethical approval processes for the country where work is being conducted.

When considering applications for ethical approval, it may be helpful to consider and address the elements noted in the Research Stage section in addition to whatever is covered in the guidance for your discipline or your School/Institute. Ethics committees and ethics champions can also be contacted prior to submission – they can provide helpful suggestions on your application.