Ethical Decision-Making

This week we were prompted with a scenario with the following facts:

  • There is a disease-causing pathogen in the research area that locals and researchers are both aware of
  • Over the span of 2 weeks, researchers (11 in total) want to test the water to understand the life-cycle and characteristics of the disease-causing pathogen
  • The affected community has 75 families and 500 people in it, with people traveling to the water sources frequently for water
  • The researchers would need help finding the different water sources, and getting information about where and how the water is stored
  • There are expectations that the research would be published
  • There are hoped that this research could help develop treatments for the water

One of the main ethical dilemmas that the researchers are facing include “is it ethical to conduct this study?” I think that it is ethical to conduct this study because there is almost nothing to lose by conducting this study and almost everything to gain. This study also does not directly study humans, so it faces a different level of scrutiny. Another ethical dilemma the researchers face is the question of “Are we exploiting people for their time and knowledge for our own gain in publication, notoriety, and the potential for impact?” and “Is it ethical to perform research without delivering some form of solution or aid?” To answer these questions, I looked into the stakeholders and their motivations.

  1. The researchers are interested in completing their research, getting their work published, and creating a social impact.
  2. The people drinking the water in the community are interested in safety, and increasing quality of life of the community members.
  3. The people who are helping the researchers find the water sources are interesestd in getting a clean source of water, safety for the fellow community members, but also some sort of perk or compensation for their help.
  4. The community health workers are interested in the research because the research could lead to water treatment that leaves their community healthier, they will be able to do more of their normal job (not as CHW), and they might get some prestige from working with a foreign source.
  5. The government is invested in this research because it will give them an increased knowledge base about their community, it could improve safety for their people, politicians can leverage this as political capital to gain votes, and it could be beneficial economically.
  6. The home research institution of the researchers is invested in this project because if the researchers are successful in getting published, then the institution will also get recognition for the work that their researchers completed.


Given all of the different stakeholders and facts about this research project, I think that the best course of action would be to go to the community leader and talk to him about the research project. The leader will be able to point out water sources on a map as well as connect you with good guides. The researchers would pay the guides the going wage for labor. This option would put the researchers in good standing with the community leader and encourage their guides to work well and thoroughly. It also would streamline the data collection process.  The only con I can forsee would be if the guides take longer than necessary to do their tasks.

Other solutions could be the following:

  • Potential solution: Compensation for time spent away from main source of income (pay for time lost—hourly rate almost, pay for an extra worker at the person’s job)
  • Pros: Works of a macro scale, people may be more willing to participate, we are easily morally justified in the eyes of peers back home
  • Cons: IRB may discourage compensation for participation in study, people may give us biased information, we need to develop a payment structure for the individuals helping us.


  • Potential solution: Not paying at all – the community can self-select who should come/who’s time it’s worth to spend on this
  • Pros: It gives the decision to the community members
  • Cons: You might not get someone who has the most insights, can help the most, or can speak the best English, might get someone who isn’t super invested


  • Potential solution: Offer to carry one of the jugs and tag along when the person is collecting their water
  • Pros: don’t have to pay, building camaraderie by working together not just alongside
  • Cons: people might still expect something, researchers might be imposing on a cultural thing—it might be the only time that the women get to spend time just with themselves, might limit the number of water sources the researchers get to see, takes time away from getting all of our data


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