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CER projects should be orientated toward a primary goal of achieving community benefit; The community that is most affected by and involved in the research should take part in goal-setting and should experience the greatest benefits of both the process and the outcomes.
To prioritize community benefits is to build upon the foundation of harm and risk reduction, and to actually plan for positive outcomes as a result of the research. A community engaged approach to research recognizes that academic research has a long history of primarily benefitting the researchers and powerful institutions that instigate research projects. Thus, not only does a CER project enact CER, therefore, actively aims to identify and achieve benefits primarily and specifically for the majority of community members that are most affected by the research. This requires early and consistent communication with community collaborators about processes and outcomes that would be most likely to generate positive changes as understood by the local community.
Tips & Considerations
Aim for reciprocity or mutual benefit
Research typically benefits university researchers through a range of avenues such as career advancement, sense of purpose or fulfilment, and transformative learning. Less clear, at times, are the benefits that community members can or ought to receive through their engagement with research. CER is designed with the foremost goal of benefitting community and valuing community collaborators’ social capital (Boilevin et al., 2019; VanAuken, 2019).
Recognize and account for heterogeneity in perceptions of “benefit”
There may be differences in what individuals and communities understand to be “good” or “beneficial.” Plan to engage in early, transparent, and consistent communication about what would constitute a “positive outcome” for community collaborators and partners.
When CER projects engage with Indigenous communities, hold space for transparent conversations about how the research benefits will enhance the right of self-determination
“The right of self- determination of First Nations includes the jurisdiction and authority to make decisions about research in their communities. The benefits to the communities, to each region and the national effort should be strengthened by the research. Research should facilitate First Nations communities in learning more about the health and well being of their peoples, taking control and management of their health information and assist in the promotion of healthy lifestyles, practices and effective program planning” (FNIGC, 2011, p. 3).
CER should have demonstrable benefits to the community involved in research. The Belmont Report and other medical research documents suggest that “beneficence” as a core ethical principle aims to maximize the benefits to those involved in research, and diminish or eliminate the risks. “Research activities must result in tangible benefits to the participating community; investigators should be ready to address individual participants' needs uncovered in the course of research” (Khodyakov et al., 2016, p.54).
Ensure that research funds go to the local community or region that is being engaged
Sometimes, research funds go to an institution or to a national organization to disseminate, and thereby they can lose their efficacy in understanding local contexts. Whenever possible, research funds should go directly to organizations, individuals, or communities that are embedded in the local sociocultural context. (Assembly of First Nations, 2009).
Make a contingency plan for generating community benefit
CER, like traditional approaches to research, rarely goes exactly as planned. For this reason, CER researchers may be well advised to create a contingency plan in case the original goals for community benefit do not materialize. Community collaborators, in tandem with researchers, should create a mutually agreeable “backup plan” with associated timelines.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- How does this research serve the community collaborators and broader community in terms of process? (e.g. How might capacity building or the process of reflection aid a community in skill building or healing?)
- How does this research serve the community collaborators and broader community in terms of outcomes? (e.g. How might research data be used to gain funding for some infrastructure a community has been seeking?)
- What kinds of resources might be generated from the research for long term knowledge mobilization within a community?
- What are the different understandings of “benefit” or “ideal outcome” that exist within the heterogeneous community? How can the project negotiate this spectrum so that as many people as possible are happy with the outcome?
- What happens if the community does not feel they have benefitted from the research? What contingency plans are in place so that this situation can be avoided and/or recovered from?