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Title: Researchers' construction and management of ethical issues in post-conflict mental health research : a qualitative study
Author: Chiumento, A. L.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7428 5133
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2017
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Conducting research in emergencies – including following conflict or disaster - is essential to understanding the prevalence of mental health and psychosocial problems, and to strengthening the evidence base for interventions. Recognising that all research must be conducted ethically, questioning what underpins researchers’ construction and management of ethical research procedures and practice are important. To address these questions this thesis presents a qualitative study exploring researchers’ understanding and experiences of research ethics in their everyday practice of post-conflict mental health research. Research involves a multi-site case study conducted in three post-conflict countries in South Asia. 35 qualitative interviews were conducted with researchers ranging from primary investigators (n=5) to field supervisors (n=7) and frontline research assistants (n=23). Adopting a phenomenological epistemology foregrounds researchers’ everyday lived experience of research ethics, acting as an entry point to explore the continuum between procedural and in-practice ethics. Interview questions explored procedural ethics such as ethical review; as well as ethics-in-practice such as enacting informed consent. As a result of interpreters’ involvement in qualitative interviews, and conducting a proportion of interviews online, this thesis presents methodological considerations arising from the research process. Thematic data analysis highlights researchers’ acceptance of a principalist research ethics framework. Analysis draws attention to the multiple social worlds co-producing and applying procedural ethical documents such as the research protocol and informed consent forms, applying the theoretical framework of boundary objects to explore how researchers negotiate this process. This analysis reveals researchers’ autonomy when applying procedures to practice, foregrounding the situated nature of moral judgements in research where the demands of ethics, methodology, and context are balanced to reach conclusions about the right course of action. Further analysis of researchers’ practice of enacting informed consent highlights the underpinning role of trust which manifests itself at societal, organisational, and interpersonal levels. In researchers’ narratives trust is seen as a critical resource, both instrumentally to facilitate research conduct, and normatively as demonstrating researcher integrity and adherence to ethical research standards. Alongside trust is its natural antithesis: that of control, which is evident in descriptions of efforts to monitor and verify the trustworthiness of researchers’ practice in the field. Overarching findings are three meta-themes of trust, control, and voice which emerge methodologically in qualitative interviewing with interpreters and via online platforms; and in relation to research findings exploring the intersection between procedural and in-practice research ethics. Fundamentally this thesis contributes to the existing research ethics literature by drawing attention to the role of the researcher at the centre of procedural and in-practice ethics. Recommendations are drawn to support reclaiming the researchers’ voice in asserting the scope and application of ethics in post-conflict mental health research.
Supervisor: Rahman, Atif ; Frith, Lucy ; Machin, Laura Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral