Payment and Compensation

The guiding principles of justice, benefit and respect underpin the need for research participants to be properly acknowledged, adequately recompensed and given fair returns for their involvement. In general, research participants should be appropriately reimbursed for any expenses, compensated for effort, time or lost income, and acknowledged for their contribution. However, payment should be avoided if it potentially pressures, coerces, bribes, persuades, controls, or causes economic or social disadvantage. 

You can download a pdf of the ERIC guidance on payment and compensation for research involving children. This is available in Englishfrançaisespañol한국어Türkçe and Bahasa Indonesia. Continue below for a summary in English.

Four types of payment have been identified in research: reimbursement; compensation; appreciation; and, incentive (Avard et al., 2011Wendler, Rackoff, Emanuel & Grady, 2002).

Each of these forms of payment require consideration and have ethical ramifications. As signalled above, research participants should generally be appropriately reimbursed for any expenses, compensated for time or lost income, and acknowledged for their contribution. However, payment should be avoided if it potentially pressures, coerces, bribes, persuades, controls, or causes economic or social disadvantage. Correspondingly, issues of payment, compensation and reciprocity can be complex and fraught, particularly when working across different cultural contexts.

The ERIC Case studies (see below) offer insight into how other researchers have navigated payment and compensation issues in different parts of the world.

  • No child should be discriminated against on the basis of their sex, race, religion, abilities, or any other social or political characteristics, in terms of their participation in research (Article 2).
  • Researchers, research organisations and governments have a responsibility to do what is best for children and make sure that all children are protected (Article 3).
Best practice requires that you:
  • Ensure that any payment is not used to unduly bribe, coerce or pressure children or parents to participate in research, or influence the nature of their responses;
  • Take social and cultural contexts into account and consult locally about payment and other forms of reciprocity in research;
  • Be aware of the possibility of pre-existing expectations regarding research participation and the risk of associated disappointment, work to ensure that payment does not directly raise unrealistic expectations.
  • How will children’s participation be recognised and supported financially or otherwise?
  • How will you ensure that children’s participation will not conflict with other responsibilities they have related to their family’s economic wellbeing?
  • Will children or parents need any financial compensation (for example, for lost earnings) or reimbursement for costs associated with participation the research?
  • Will there be any appreciation payments for children’s participation in the research?
  • What form will any payment take (for example, money, food, gifts, educational materials) and who will receive the payment – the child, parents, community?
  • How and when will information on payment be disclosed? Will it be disclosed in the consent process, after the children have agreed to participate, or at the end of the research?
  • Have payments associated with children’s participation been factored into the research costs?

Payment and Compensation: Frequently Asked Questions

When considering offering some form of payment or compensation, timing is important – timing in terms of disclosing that some form of payment will be made and of actually making the payment. The type of payment likely influences when is most appropriate and ethical.

For appreciation payments, researchers may elect not to inform participants in advance that there will be an appreciation payment and give the payment or gift at the end of the data collection, in order to ensure that it is not used to induce children and families to take part and impact on their freely given consent. In addition, delaying disclosure of payment can help reduce the occurrence of children trying to please the researcher by telling them what they perceive would make them happy, rather than sharing their actual experiences and feelings.

However, for reimbursements and compensation payments (such as for travel costs) it may be more appropriate to inform participants in advance so that financial reasons are not a barrier to taking part. Compensation for time, and considering whether to disclose this in advance, is also an important consideration in contexts in which children contribute to their household financially or through related duties (such as caring for younger siblings or livestock) (Porter et al., 2010Robson, Porter, Hampshire & Bourdillon, 2009Vakaoti, 2009).

Incentives, by their very nature, are usually disclosed during recruitment to encourage participation in a study. However, their use requires particularly careful ethical consideration as discussed in the ERIC case study by Kathryn Seymour in which a participation strategy was developed for use in the study with 12-18 year olds, reflecting multiple layers of consideration given to issues of payment and compensation.

Careful consideration of the local social and cultural context is crucial in determining the nature of any payment or compensation. Researchers may need to consider the value of people’s time, their willingness to undertake research activities, the reality of poverty and the capacity to miss work to talk to researchers (Morrow, 2009).

When working in different cultural contexts, it is important for researchers to find avenues through which to access and consult with local communities of interest early in the research process. These can be relatively informal or through more formal means, such as the establishment of community consultation boards (Schenk & Williamson, 2005). In addition to other matters relating to the project, local insight will help guide decisions about payment and compensation at community and individual levels.

Often non-monetary forms of payment or compensation are provided by researchers. For example, certificates of recognition or printed-out photographs for individual participants, educational materials (either for the local school and/or for individual children), the provision of healthy snacks, small gifts (bearing in mind local waste disposal capacity) or vouchers. However, where children would otherwise be involved in earning money to economically support their family and/or in contexts where vouchers are not readily used, monetary compensation may be the most appropriate form of recompense (Porter et al., 2010Robson, Porter, Hampshire & Bourdillon, 2009Vakaoti, 2009) and important to ensure that participants are not exploited or disadvantaged in any way through their participation.

It may not always be necessary or appropriate for communities or participants to have exactly the same payment type or amount, as equity may be more readily achieved through responding sensitively to the local context. For example, in the international, longitudinal Young Lives study researchers addressed remuneration differently in different countries – some paid respondents, others gave small thank you gifts and others encouraged children to buy school materials (Morrow, 2009). These issues are discussed in-depth in the ERIC case study by Virginia Morrow.

While the benefits of participating directly in research do not equate with or replace compensation, it is worth bearing in mind that participation in research can have a formative value and a range of benefits that may be non-monetary. These might include learning about the findings, education, having an enjoyable experience and children knowing that their views and opinions are listened to, and it may lead to further action, direct political/ economic betterment, and the opportunity to access resources.

In contexts where children and families live in poverty, ethical concerns regarding payment (particularly incentives) are accentuated, as potential participants are especially vulnerable to coercion, exploitation and bribery (Schenk & Williamson, 2005). Participants may place themselves at greater than usual risk because they need the goods and services offered by the researcher (Rice & Broome, 2004).

Even when incentives are not offered, potential research participants may have raised expectations of benefits or advantages to participation as a consequence of opportunities and interventions offered by other unrelated research projects and non-government organizations (Ahsan, 2009Ebrahim, 2010Nyambedha, 2008). For instance, potential participants may hold expectations that being involved in research will gain them access to academic or other organizations. Similarly, they may expect to see an identifiable change to policies or practices that impact them. The subsequent disappointment may be accompanied by a sense of deception, and represent a harm experienced as a consequence of research participation. These issues require researchers to be critically aware of the expectations that may be raised, to present expected outcomes as clearly as possible and to clarify misperceptions around the benefits that may be forthcoming.

Research in poverty situations also brings to light the relationship between the researcher and research participants, and issues of fidelity and reciprocity in ethical decision-making about payment, something explored in the ERIC case study by Tatek Abebe in the context of participatory research in Ethiopia. Some researchers argue that when faced with poverty it is ethical and humane to help participants out with gifts, tokens or small amounts of cash to help meet practical needs (Abebe, 2009Angucia, Zeelen & de Jong, 2010Vakaoti, 2009). However, this can be problematic when not all children in a community can participate in a study (see response to the question below). Other possibilities include putting people in touch with sources of support and advice. Researchers are required to balance reciprocity with the other ethical issues and implications of payment.

Appreciation payments or gifts have the possibility of fuelling tension and resentment. This can occur in any setting where not all of the children who are present are participating in the study (such as in an educational setting, where only a small number of children are taking part) (Richardson, 2019). Tension and resentment against participating children can run deeper in situations of extreme poverty (Clacherty & Donald, 2007Hart & Tyrer, 2006). Instead, researchers may choose to provide resources to schools, medical centres, libraries or other spaces that benefit children across the community, taking care to ensure that children know about and will be allowed access to these resources (Schenk & Williamson, 2005). This may reduce the potential for resentment and help ensure beneficence, but relies on local knowledge and/or discussion with a broad representation of community members and stakeholders. It can be a complex process as flagged in the ERIC Case Study by Elsbeth Robson.

Payment and Compensation: ERIC Case Studies

The following ERIC Case Studies offer insight into the complexities of payment and compensation in research involving children and young people in different contexts.