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Session and Workshop Abstracts

Session 3A (S3A) - Abstracts

Respecting participants' agency

Paper 1: Towards an innovative model for shifting power in international development research ethics: the ECID case study

Speaker(s): Cathy Bollaert and Talatu Aliyu

Keywords:  International development, research ethics, shifting power


Abstract: This paper engages critically with the challenges concerning ethical practice in international development research and practice and how different institutional and local ethical priorities can be managed. This is explored using the Evidence and Collaboration for Inclusive Development (ECID) programme as a case study. ECID is a four-y

ear programme, funded by the UK Government through UK Aid Connect, delivered through a consortium of nine partners led by Christian Aid, and implemented by in-country partner organisations in Myanmar, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. 

Doing research ethically in international development goes beyond standards within academic research; it requires engaging with additional areas of expertise including risk management, safeguarding and protection, responsible data management, gender equality and social inclusion and conflict sensitivity among others. Recognising each of these spheres of expertise remain quite siloed, the paper begins by introducing an integrated ethical framework for doing development research. Following on from this, the paper explores some of the challenges that western ethical norms pose in societies with different systems of meaning-making and ethical norms. This is illustrated using ethical dilemmas raised within the Christian Aid Nigerian country programme. The paper concludes by offering an innovative model for shifting power in research that was piloted within the programme. This requires thinking about how ethics in development research and practice can be reviewed in organisations which typically do not have their own Ethics Review Boards and in ways which does not reproduce western hegemony in relation to whose knowledge and ethics counts in research practice.

Paper 2: Ethical issues in using participant-constructed visual timelines

Speaker(s): Alison Pearson

Keywords: Visual timelines, power imbalances, ethical obligations


Abstract: My presentation will share ethical benefits and challenges I have experienced in using participant-constructed visual timelines to support semi-structured interviews. As a doctoral researcher I have been very aware of the need to act ethically, not just to satisfy the needs of my educational research association(1) and my institution(2), but for my own sense of moral obligation as a researcher. After all, my whole reason for embarking on this research project was to try and make a difference, so it would not sit comfortably if in doing so I made anything worse for those participants who agreed to be involved in my project. I also believe that as participants have given up their time and energy to take part in my research I should not just focus on not doing harm to them, but that the ethical balance should mean that they actually benefit from taking part: that the process is beneficial to both researcher and participants. 

My project investigates factors which have both challenged and sustained long-serving teachers, so I have needed to be particularly mindful that sensitive issues might arise during our conversations: in a long career there may be times which participants faced significant challenges which are hard to talk about, or which cause difficult feelings to re-surface. Asking them about their experiences may also promote reflection for participants about their careers: it was important to me that in asking what has helped these teachers to stay that our interviews do not make them feel less happy in their role, or act as the catalyst for them to leave. 

My presentation will focus on the use of participant-constructed visual timelines in my research, which I introduced as a way of seeking to address some of the potential ethical issues. Participant-constructed timelines enable participants to control more of the interview direction(3), addressing potential power imbalances, and support pre-interview reflection(4), which can help participants to feel more confident. They have also been reported as having a beneficial therapeutic effect for some participants in previous studies.(5). I will share further ethical dilemmas which have arisen, including: 

  • how to analyse and include these valuable drawings without creating discomfort or compromising participant anonymity

  •  tensions between my sense of ethical obligation to my participants in telling the detail of their stories and the ethical obligations to those reading my research of creating an accessible document that has sufficient clarity. 


Paper 3: The Unethical Image: Critiquing Photographic Research Methodologies in the Context of 21st-Century Sex Work.

Speaker(s): Camille Melissa Waring

Keywords: sex workers, photographs, arts-based, photo-voice, stigma, ethics


AbstractThis presentation interrogates and questions the practice of creating photographs as part of art-based research methodological approaches to the study of contemporary sex work arguing that the creation of photographs solely for research purposes is an obsolete practice that renders sex worker authored visual data invisible to academic critique denying sex workers the opportunity to challenge the dominate visual discourse of the politics of pity embedded in photographs created by outsiders rendering sex workers without agency over their photographic representation in academic spaces. 

Participatory research methods such as photo-elicitation, photo-voice, and photo-novella can no longer be considered ethical approaches to conducting qualitative multi-disciplinary research within the context of contemporary sex work. Photographs created for research purposes are in direct opposition to the rapidly advancing platforms provided by technology that birthed the 21st-century phenomena of the sex worker as image-maker. This is a  technological determinism that allows sex workers, for the first time in history, to create and circulate photographs and be in control of their visual narratives. Historical photographic participatory research methods enabled and allowed for a more in-depth insight into the lived experiences of sex workers through the photograph. Research created photographs established rapport with highly stigmatised and marginalised sex workers and engaged sex workers with academia.


However, research methodologies that require contemporary sex workers to create photographs, be photographed or discuss photographs for research purposes are no longer ethical.  This absence of scholarly attention to the sex worker as image-maker is due to the reliance on 20th-century photographic participatory research methodologies that are inadequate for studying 21st-century sex work communities and detrimental to sex workers. 

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