Seminar on the ethical handling of field research data

Last Monday, I held a seminar on “the ethical handling of field research data”. There are indeed many laws and regulations researchers need to follow when collecting, processing, publishing and preserving research data. In Sweden, the requirements related to good record keeping in public institutions are particularly high since the principle of public access to official documents applies. This is why I decided to prepare a seminar on this particular topic as my examination in the Research Ethics course I took last month at BMC.

Following Åsa’s recommendation, I decided to do an interaction-based seminar instead of holding a more “traditional” presentation. In my preparation, I determined the topics I was interested in and wanted to include in the seminar, and gathered information about each of them.  In the PowerPoint presentation I created for the seminar, I then added a few slides per topic. During the seminar itself, I started off by explaining to my audience which topics I had worked on, and asked them what aspects they were interested in talking about, or whether they had any question related to the topics I had prepared. They mentioned the three following questions of interest:

  • Can I take my data with me when I leave the University? Whom do the data belong to, and what does that imply for informed consent?
  • Video recordings: what do I need to pay attention to when handling such data?
  • What if I have messed up (lost my data, not submitted an application for ethical review, did not ask participants for consent)?

I addressed each topic one after the other, first giving some input with the support of the relevant slides from my PowerPoint presentation, then asking the audience for additions, examples and possibly other related questions. The discussions that each topic / question gave rise to were animated and thought-provoking, and always led to the generation of more questions than what we had started with! In spite of this, it seems that, based on the feedback I received later from some of the participants, the opportunity to discuss and reflect over those different ethical aspects of research was appreciated.

As for myself, I really enjoyed giving the seminar, and feel like I have learned quite a few things on the subject – even if one of them is that the legal framework we work with is difficult to put into practice. One of the main challenges I see is that it is hard to determine when a certain condition is fulfilled in practice. For example, is a so-called “working document” an official document? When does a document become official? Unfortunately, the fact that the interpretation of the different laws and guidelines that apply varies from institution to institution certainly does not make things easier…