Ethical Methodology Case Study: Lesotho Water Source Research

Step 1: determine the facts in the situation

  1. Pathogens in the water cause diseases to the people who drink from it.
  2. People may not know about the pathogen, it needs to be studied further.
  3. In Lesotho, South Africa – will be there ONLY two weeks, 10 academic researchers
  4. Research requires assistance from community for finding the water sources we want to  test.
  5. Pathogen only found in this location
  6. Publications are expected to come from this research.
  7. A profile can help develop chemical additives to make the drinking water safe


Step 2 & 3: define the stakeholders

  1. Academic researchers
    1. Want to get papers published to build personal and professional credibility, want to create impact through the study.
  2. The academic institution (funders)
    1. Want to promote academic integrity 
    2. Are liable for the safety of the researchers
    3. Want the publicity for conducting the study 
    4. Want to minimize cost of the research where necessary
  3. Community members
    1. Want a better livelihood, do not want to continually get sick from the pathogens in the water.
    2. Do not want to be kept in the dark about the study, do not want foreign researchers tampering with their water supply without knowing what their objectives are.
    3. Want some form of compensation for showing the researchers where the water sources are. 
  4. Chief/government
    1. Wants to uphold the image of the community, may not want it to be publicly known that their water source is home to a dangerous pathogen 
    2. Wants to ensure the safety of the community members (make sure the researchers don’t take advantage of the community). Chemical additives testing may endanger the community members.
  5. Publicists
    1. Want to publish quality research 
    2. Want to contribute to human knowledge using this study 
    3. Marketability (to publish/ publicity)
  6. Chemists that can make the stuff
    1. Want quality research to drive the chemical additive testing 
    2. Want to market well 
    3. Want to make a profit from the chemical additives


Step 4 & 5: Possible solutions & seeking additional guidance where appropriate

*Start with informing, display importance of research, how it can help in future

  1. Do the study and pay the community members for transport
    1. Ethical Principle:  beneficence 
    2. Pros:  Keeps community happy and compensated for their contribution 
    3. “Simple”- does not require additional effort to create a solution
    4. Cons: more money, university may not go for it
  2. Give them cleaner water, food, dinner
    1. Ethical Principle:  beneficence
    2. Pros:  Keeps them healthier short term vs doing nothing 
    3. Cons:  Extremely expensive, not sustainable over a long period of time
  3. Don’t pay them, thank them 
    1. Ethical principle:  Virtue-based
    2. Pros:  not added cost or work, the community or government may not even accept a compensation depending on culture values
    3. Cons:  could make community mad, worsen relations, network difficulties, look bad on institution
  4. Recognize them in the publications (credit)
    1. Ethical Principle:  beneficence
    2. Pros:  morally fit, helps the village and those specific people, prioritized in future things (chemical additives), the researchers could provide a copy to the people who helped
    3. Cons:  long term, not guaranteed, people won’t care will never see it won’t understand that being beneficial, won’t want flock of people → wanna be under the radar, unwanted attention


Step 6: Best Course of Action

After consideration, I feel that the best course of action is to originally offer to name the community members and local government in the study publication. The offer can be posed at a community town hall meeting to make sure that the majority of the community is on board. The reason for this is it academically credits those who helped the study as a form of compensation for their efforts, and it allows the community a chance to refuse the offer if they do not want the added attention from international chemical companies and researchers. Additionally, at this town hall meeting, locals can ask the researchers any questions they might have about the study they are conducting so that they fully buy in to the research that is taking place.

The benefit of this solution is that it not only costs the researchers and institution nothing financially, but it also loops the community into the process of the research, which will promote a better relationship and bond between the researchers and community members.

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