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ocial
esearch
ssociation

Ethical
guidelines
December 2003

ocial
esearch
ssociation

Ethical
guidelines

December 2003

2

Contents
Foreword 5
Background 7
SRA Policy on Research Ethics

8

Introduction to ethical guidelines 10

Level A

Basic principles 13

Level B

Elements of the basic code expanded
1. Obligations to society

15

2. Obligations to funders and employers 18
3. Obligations to colleagues 22
4. Obligations to subjects 25
5. Ethics committees and IRB’s
Level C

40

Bibliographies
Introduction 44
1. Obligations to society 46
2. Obligations to funders and employers 47
3. Obligations to colleagues

48

4. Obligations to subjects 49
5. Ethics committees and IRB’s 52
6. Standard protocols for checking ethical
considerations 52
7. Contacting experienced SRA members who can
help with ethical problems 55
8. Other useful links and contacts
9. References

56

59

3

4

Foreword
The origins of the SRA’s concern to maintain an up-to-date set of ethical guidelines and be proactive in the discussion of social research ethics lies in our sense of responsibility for standard-setting in the profession of social research.

At present in the UK we have no reliable system of
ethical governance or review. The sanctions we can
apply to those who discredit our profession are limited.
There is no comprehensive system of registration or
licensing which can confirm the credentials or quality of
a researcher for commissioners or the general public.
But it is even more complicated than that – the profession of social research is inter-sectoral (governmental,
academic, commercial, voluntary and non-profit) and
interdisciplinary (sociology, psychology, economics,
politics, marketing, social work etc.); it is international and multi-problem based.
In addition, methodological innovation is a sine qua non
for the study of a changing society and its ever-changing
constituent individuals and institutions. New methods pose
new ethical problems.
Recent legislative changes and concerns about litigation
have increased funders’ interest in and concern about good ethical practice in social research. Various initiatives are afoot and 2004 will see much more debate about the right
ways to ensure compliance with good ethical practice
across all sectors of social research.
In such a climate the key responsibility for ethical
awareness and for the status of the profession rests with
each individual social researcher and funder, as the actions of each affect us all. The Social Research Association has
revised its ethical guidelines, first drawn up in the 1980s in the light of current concerns and knowledge. All SRA

5

members are required to read and abide by these guidelines
as a condition of membership. We now present them more
broadly so that they may be available to inform ethical
practice and debate across the whole social research
constituency.
Ceridwen Roberts
Chair SRA
2003

6

Background
In recent years ethical considerations across the research
community have come to the forefront. This is partly a
consequence of legislative change in human rights and
data protection, but also a result of increased public
concern about the limits of inquiry. There has also been
enhanced concern for responsible action within the
workplace with many large organisations expressing a
desire for higher ethical standards in customer relations
and in investment decisions. Growing corporate
responsibility entails a clear recognition that business and public service activities are not value-free and cannot set
standards merely by the meeting of measurable
performance indicators. Responsibility entails thinking
about the consequences of one’s actions upon others and
the establishment of clear lines of accountability for the
redress of grievances.
No field of human activity can be considered exempt from
such concerns and the police service,...
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