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Challenging ethical conventions: disseminating research with participants

Published in Method, Research Students by Oscar Odena on November 15, 2013

(c) Desi

(c) Desi

How can researchers enhance the relevance of research outputs for practitioners? Delegates at conferences and workshops have sometimes observed to me that they see a gap between research and practice. I wonder if the ethical codes developed to protect participants are resulting in research empty of examples to capture the practitioners’ imagination. In this post I’m proposing that an answer to the opening question would be to disseminate research with participants when possible.

The involvement of participants in dissemination activities is not discussed in current codes of ethics (for example by the British Educational Research Association or the British Psychological Society). Following ethical conventions, the identities of research participants are automatically undisclosed. And sharing the data analysis with participants is not often considered as it could break confidentiality, ruling out most possibilities of dissemination with them, for instance at conferences. In practice-centred research there may be good reasons to keep identities undisclosed, for instance, when focussing on an underperforming setting. The side effect of blanket confidentiality protocols, nevertheless, is that papers may end up being formatted and sterilised as standard pieces of academic text, which may increase the perceived gap between research and practice observed by some practitioners.

Perhaps a more case-by-case ethical protocol could be used to share data when feasible. For example, participants’ identities and backgrounds could be disclosed when they willingly contribute to research outputs. Researchers and participants could agree at the outset to share the data and the analysis to serve their professional purposes, agreeing that all voices be represented in any publications based on the data. To this end a section may be included in papers and reports with the participants’ response to the researchers’ analysis, providing their own perspectives of the investigation. These may then be taken into account in the final discussion of implications by the researchers. Discussing and sharing decisions with participants throughout the different stages of a research project, including analysis and dissemination, may be a useful strategy to increase the project’s validity and relevance for all – this is further explained in the chapter ‘Some challenges of practice based/centred enquiry’.

Although ethical conventions advocate for anonymity, in investigations focussed on successful cases there would be no apparent reason to keep identities confidential as long as this was agreed beforehand. In addition, if prospective participants were willing to share the analysis of data, their point of view from both the practice perspective and the research process experience could be incorporated into the final analyses. Participants would then be able to share research dissemination with researchers, which might in turn enhance the relevance and impact of research on practice.


Oscar OdenaOscar joined the schools of Education and Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Glasgow, in January 2013 from the University of Hertfordshire. Originally from Spain, he has also worked at the universities of Barcelona, Queen's University Belfast and Brighton, and has conducted educational research in a range of contexts internationally. You can contact Oscar at

1 Comment

  1. Simon Warren

    Interesting post, especially since I looked at this during a break from reading about autoethnography.

    In a sense Oscar I think the institutional context where ethics approval is granted is everything. The issues you mainly focus on – blanket ethical protocols, are indicative of tendency for universities to fetishise procedural ethics with an eye to securing institutional protection. Since many institutional ethics frameworks derive from a medical model (let’s remember that we all play this game because proper ‘scientists’ felt it was OK to do what they like with embryos) they err towards institutional self-preservation. But there are many universities that devolve ethical responsibility to the academic department and therefore to the research cultures of various disciplines. So, blanket injunctions for anonymity are not necessarily ubiquitous.

    However, the medical model often presents itself by presuming blanket anonymity, etc., by default.

    It would be wonderful if our institutional ethics frameworks presumed the need to foreground relational ethics. If this was the case then many of your concerns could be addressed more adequately

    What do you think?

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