Ethics of CER

General Introduction to Ethical Principles

Ethics in human research are broadly understood as principles of right and wrong in the interaction between researchers and subjects/participants. Historically, research has been a vehicle for the exploitation of or harm toward marginalized communities, wherein traditional research paradigms firmly place institutions and researchers as arbiters of expertise and discoverers of knowledge, often at the expense of communities who are involved as “subjects.” In contrast to such extractive modes of research, CER situates communities and community organizations in a central role in every stage of the research process, and sound ethical principles guide the entirety of the project. Given the enhanced and complex relationship between communities, researchers, and institutions in CER, ethical principles are vital to any CER project.

Despite some basic ethical guidelines mandated at the institutional level, CER researchers understand that conceptions of right and wrong are anything but universal, especially in research that spans diverse cultural, geographic, socioeconomic, religious, or other contexts. Even in an era where CER enacts in more depth and nuance the principles of ethical research, they often draw upon foundational documents such as The Belmont Report (1970). This document was produced by The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioural Research, and lists three core ethical principles:

  • Respect for persons,
  • Respect for benificence, and
  • Respect for justice

For example, First Nations Principles of OCAP, as laid out by the First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNIGC[1]), are:

  • Ownership,
  • Control,
  • Access, and
  • Possession.

An additional resource that informs our principles is the “Toolbox of Research Principles in an Aboriginal Context[2]” (2018) which lays out the following priorities: respect, fairness, reciprocity, collaboration, and culture.

Menzies pointed out that “to deny the colonial legacy by not adapting our research projects to accommodate Aboriginal concerns is to participate in the colonial project itself”[3]. Thus, the ten ethical principles we have identified are derived from several sources that are community-driven, Indigenous-led, institutional, and/or academic. We consider these principles to be of paramount importance to the fair and equitable engagement between researchers and communities. This is neither an exhaustive list, nor is it universally agreed-upon, however, it does take up the work and key ideas of more than forty CER resources that were examined for a literature review.

If you are a community engaged researcher or community partner/collaborator, we encourage you to ask questions of your CER project, and to ensure that the design has built in adequate time and space for ethical considerations. 

A modern adaptation and expansion of these principles can be found in the American Psychological Association Ethics Code (2017) five general principles, which are:

  • Benificence and nonmalificence,
  • Fidelity and responsibility,
  • Integrity,
  • Justice, and
  • Respect for people’s rights and dignity. 

Although higher education institutions also have stringent ethical guidelines and ethics review boards (e.g. SFU Research Ethics Board, 2020) that take these principles into account, institutional and association guidelines are rarely generated collaboratively with communities, hence the emergence of CER and other community-oriented paradigms. One local example of a collaboratively developed and context-specific ethics document can be found in “Research 101: A Manifesto for Ethical Research in the Downtown Eastside” (Boilevin et al, 2019).  Of particular influence to our thinking and actions at CERi is the robust body of scholarship in Indigenous methodologies and the leadership of local and national First Nations communities who guide our work.

The ten ethical principles outlined here are derived from several literature sources that are community-driven, institutional, and/or academic. We consider these principles to be of paramount importance to the fair and equitable engagement between researchers and communities. They also align with CERi’s Values and Principles that are centred on five key beliefs: social transformation, reciprocal and respectful relationships, Indigenous-led research, equal partnerships and equity, diversity and inclusion. These values are intended to be responsive to the evolving priorities within communities and reflect the urgent challenges associated with a rapidly changing world.

Similarly, the list of 10 CER Ethical Principles is neither an exhaustive list, nor is it universally agreed-upon. However, it does take up the work and key ideas of more than forty CER resources that were examined for a literature review. If you are a community-engaged researcher or community partner/collaborator, we encourage you to ask questions of your CER project, and to ensure that the design has built in adequate time and space for ethical considerations.

How to use this resource:

We have designed this resource so that you may download the entire set of ten principles in one document, or you may choose key principles that are of interest to you and your work. Each principle can be viewed in its own tab, and you may download a two-page pdf that contains an overview, key considerations, and questions to ask yourself. We hope that you find this resource helpful as you embark on your CER project.

[1] For more information on FNIGC and an abundance of resources, see https://fnigc.ca

[2] For the full online document, see https://files.cssspnql.com/index.php/s/8aBAkl1pjHeOWd0

[3] In Brown, Micaela. (Winter 2005). “Research, Respect and Responsibility: A Critical Review of the Tri- Council Policy Statement in Aboriginal Community-Based Research” in Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health. Volume 3, No. 2: 80.