Our commitment to integrity and ethics in research

IIED addresses the issue of ethics in research, partnership and policy engagement with a clear policy statement and practical mechanisms to ensure that we can put our principles into action.

Investigating land tenure issues among indigenous landholders and sharecroppers in Ghana. Working with vulnerable communities makes ethical considerations particularly important (Photo: Emily Polack/IIED)

As an international development organisation IIED seeks to make the world a better place. Our mission is to build a fairer, more sustainable world, using evidence, action and influence in partnership with others. 

Our approach to ethics is informed by our core values: collaboration, fairness and impact. IIED's policy on 'Integrity and ethics in research, partnership and policy engagement' (PDF) provides a practical framework for incorporating these values in our work.

The purpose of the policy is to ensure that IIED's research meets a set of agreed ethical standards, and to provide guidance on integrating ethical considerations in the design and conduct of IIED research, partnerships and policy engagement activities. It seeks to facilitate ethical conduct and foster a commitment to meaningful collaboration and reciprocal responsibilities for all parties involved in IIED work. 

As well as setting out general principles and guidelines, the document also describes the structures and processes that we have put in place to ensure that IIED meets high ethical standards in its research, partnerships and policy work. Some of the key points contained in our policy document are set out below:

Responsibilities

The policy applies to everyone carrying out research, partnership or policy engagement activities under the auspices of IIED. This includes all staff, visiting researchers, associates and people conducting research on IIED's behalf. 

The policy guidelines must be supplemented by the judgement of project leaders and researchers. IIED is committed to ensuring that staff are appropriately trained in research ethics and are well supported and supervised. Project leaders are responsible for ensuring that all researchers involved in a project (including sub-contractors) are aware of, and comply with, the policy.

Understanding impact and setting clear terms of engagement

A central concern is an awareness of possible consequences of any project for subjects, respondents, local communities and wider society. Much of IIED's research involves environmentally and socially vulnerable groups, and ethical considerations are particularly important where research involves children, vulnerable adults or groups, where there are risks to safety or of environmental damage, and where the research is politically, socially or culturally sensitive.

We are striving for the highest standards in research ethics, as David Dodman, the director of IIED's Human Settlements research group, highlighted in a blog in June 2017

Developing our ethics policy has forced us to think more closely about the ways in which gathering information with and from environmentally and socially vulnerable groups might inadvertently cause harm – and seek not only to avoid harm, but think through how such policies can actively help us achieve positive outcomes for those we work alongside - David Dodman

The policy specifies that research staff and participants should be informed fully about the purpose, methods and intended uses of research, what their participation entails, and any potential risks involved. Participants will remain anonymous unless they give permission to be identified.

Researchers should obtain free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from participants. FPIC is the principle that an individual or community has the right to give or withhold consent to proposed projects. FPIC should be ensured via an open, easily understood communication process that includes the opportunity for subjects to ask questions at any time, and to withdraw from the study at any time.

Transparency and disclosure

IIED is committed to being transparent: fully disclosing research information to participants and publishing our findings openly. In cases where this might not be appropriate, such as when publishing sensitive information could put a community at risk, we will give special consideration to the ethical implications of our actions.

Independence and partnership

IIED has an international reputation for its work with partners across the globe. For IIED, partnership is based on a shared set of values, equity, a joint vision of success, and a mutual commitment to working and learning together. Our policy requires researchers to apply their judgement on whether proposed partners align with IIED's values.

The policy also stresses the importance of discussing ethical considerations when establishing partnerships. These requirements are especially important when partnering with the private sector. We are amending our general terms and conditions for research partners to make it clear that all work undertaken with or for IIED needs to comply with our ethics policy. 

Implementation

The policy is complemented by practical mechanisms and structures that are designed to ensure that the policy is backed up by action. The guiding principle for these measures is that research ethics will be taken seriously throughout project planning and proposal development, and will guide the ongoing conduct of research and its dissemination. Mechanisms to support this include: 

Ethics review form 

Project leaders must complete an ethics review form prior to implementing a project. 

Research ethics committee

IIED's research ethics committee (REC) includes representatives from the institute's major research areas as well as one independent member from outside IIED. The committee: 

  • Assesses ethical issues raised by projects and decides on follow-up actions
  • Reviews all research projects involving children or vulnerable adults
  • Reviews all projects where funders or partners require an ethical review by committee, and
  • Provides support and advice to researchers on ethical matters related to research.

Complaints handling procedures

Any external stakeholder or staff member may raise concerns about IIED's ethical conduct. IIED's director is responsible for overseeing all instances where concerns are raised, and the director or a member of IIED's strategy and management team will respond to complaints within 10 working days, setting out a process for resolving the issue. 

Continuous reflection and action

We recognise that ensuring high ethical standards requires continued reflection and engagement, and our policy document is intended to function as a set of guidelines to be revised and improved on over time rather than a fixed statement of our position on these issues. 

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Contact

If you have any questions about IIED's policy and actions on integrity and ethics, contact:

David Dodman (david.dodman@iied.org), REC chair and director of IIED's Human Settlements research group

Beth Downe (beth.downe@iied.org), REC secretary and senior coordinator in IIED's Natural Resources research group