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Ethical Research Involving Children

Building ERIC together: Are we there yet?

By The ERIC Team

Visitors to ERIC now join us from all over the world – 179 countries to date – with website statistics indicating the ERIC resources are viewed or downloaded by 2,500 – 3,500 visitors per month. This, together with other feedback we receive, suggests the resources are valued by a wide range of stakeholders. But who is it that accesses, uses, teaches and contributes to the ERIC approach? And, equally importantly, who currently does not, but may wish to? Here we share our collective efforts to connect up the ERIC community, building on the collaborative journey thus far, and identifying further possibilities for working together around shared priorities for ethical research involving children.

Who is the ERIC community?
Given relationships are a cornerstone of the ERIC approach, we remain acutely aware of the critical importance of getting to know, learn from, connect with and support each other’s efforts across the ERIC community. From the outset (a little over 10 years ago), the first seed of the ERIC initiative was sown through conversations between researchers from a wide range of countries at a Childwatch International Research Network meeting in Ethiopia. Many recognised the momentum for research involving children was growing across quite diverse contexts, giving rise to ethical questions and concerns. The ERIC initiative grew from this initial conversation to involve surveys, email consultations, meetings and interviews with hundreds of researchers across more than 47 countries. While working in different contexts, disciplines or regions, researchers connected over similar dilemmas, questions and concerns, reducing isolation, identifying good practice, and affirming the need for accessible resources. The core intent was to work together to: strengthen the capacity for ethical mindfulness; develop knowledge and skills in key ethical areas; and foster mutual support through shared contributions around ethical decision making.

Once the ERIC resources were published and made available online in English, the reach of ERIC grew exponentially. Requests soon came through for print-based translations into five other languages which, with the support of our partner (UNICEF Office of Research Innocenti), were provided. However, we knew little else about the new and growing visitors to ERIC. With the launch of the ERIC social media channels in 2019, we gained more insight into the international ERIC community. Still, we had many questions! What prompted some visitors to connect with the ERIC approach and others to leave after less than a minute? What support or information did visitors expect to find on ERIC, and were they finding it? Were the ERIC resources still resonating and relevant? What else might be helpful?

Such questions provided the impetus for the first ERIC user online survey throughout September and October 2021.

ERIC User Survey: What are some of the key insights you shared with us?
Survey responses were received from 32 countries – a reasonable sample given most were still in the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic (with associated screen fatigue). The respondents were a mix of long-term and new ERIC users, from Majority and Minority World countries, including early career to experienced researchers.

The majority of respondents said they found the ERIC website ‘quite easy’ to use.

Respondents rated the following three ERIC resources as most useful:

  • The ERIC Ethical Guidance
  • The ERIC case studies
  • The Researcher Support section
  • Some suggested a range of additional resources for ERIC, such as:

  • training programs for early career researchers;
  • short videos;
  • ethical guidance with a focus on vulnerable populations (e.g., First Nations populations, disabilities, violent contexts);
  • examples/case studies when the research didn’t quite work out.
  • More than half of our survey respondents requested the ERIC resources be made available in more languages.

    And, what have we done in response so far?
    We have rejuvenated and distilled the content of the ERIC website to improve its accessibility for new users, for teaching purposes and for users who have English as a second or other language. In doing this, we have better profiled the ERIC Guidance and the underpinning ERIC framework of ‘Three Rs.’

    Alongside these changes, we have also created clearer signposting throughout the site to support users to more easily find what they are looking for and where to go next within the resources.

    Ethical Guidance is the linchpin
    Given its popularity, the Guidance section was an obvious priority for continued improvement. We have added a landing page and each of the four sections of the guidance – Harms and Benefits, Informed Consent, Privacy and Confidentiality, and Payment and Compensation – now have their own pages. The ERIC Guidance is necessarily deep and extensive, so the new web pages provide a concise introduction and overview of each ethical issue, integrated with links to the ERIC library. There are also direct links to the full Guidance in six languages from each page and we are considering which languages would be most useful to add next. The most popular request was for the resources in Portuguese, followed by Russian and Arabic. We also need to consider which languages are not being requested at all and whether the current range of languages is a barrier to engagement in some regions. Have you visited the new ERIC Guidance section?

    Reflexive thinking is harder 
    The survey results also shone a light on further work we needed to do in highlighting the purpose and critical role of the ‘Getting Started’ tool (which was not rated as highly in terms of use). This tool is embedded within ERIC to help provoke ethical mindfulness and reflexive engagement with ethical issues at each stage of the research journey, and for every research project. In response, we have changed the name to make the purpose of the tool clearer and improved the navigation and signposting to this page. Have you tried the Reflexive Tool? Let us know what you think!

    Sharing your ethical dilemmas
    You wanted to know more about the journeys of other researchers. Some of the more recent ERIC case studies share examples of when the research did not go to plan, prompting ‘ethically important moments’, along with innovative approaches to ethical problem solving in different contexts. See, for example:

  • Research ethics committee conditions: Ethical challenges of researching with poor communities in Malawi. By Elsbeth Robson
  • Immediacy of fieldwork in participatory research with children in precarious contexts. By Tatek Abebe
  • Negotiating confidentiality, privacy and consent in focus groups with children and young people. By Tim Moore
  • Using critical-reflexive conversations to facilitate young people’s involvement in rights-based policy research. By Meaghan Vosz
  • We have added direct links to many case studies in the six different languages of ERIC. And, we’re working on getting the more recent case studies translated.

    Keep your contributions coming in!
    Please get in touch with your thoughts and ideas about changes and refinements we have made to the ERIC website? What priorities do we tackle next ? What contributions might you or your institution be able to offer to the ERIC community ?
    Share your reflections, questions or feedback on the ERIC social media channels: Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

    The ERIC Team involved in the survey and associated work were Professor Anne Graham, Julia Truscott and Dr Kate Neale from the Centre for Children and Young People at Southern Cross University in partnership with Gabrielle Berman from Innocenti, UNICEF’s Office of Research. Dr Paola Castillo from Charles Sturt University provided support with analysing the survey results.

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