Step 1: Determine the facts of the situation:
– Myself and a team of 10 other research will be spending 2 weeks in Lesotho studying a specific disease-causing pathogen
– This disease-causing pathogen is specific to the area, and the community members know it is there
– This research requires community members to show us the location / methods of collecting and storing water. Paying the community members who help us accomplish this is optional.
– My team’s goal is to publish as a result of this research (specifically, focusing on the lifecycle and characteristics of the pathogen)
– In the long run, the results of this research could help the community by aiding in the development of water purification chemicals
– There are two ethical concerns which have to be addressed. First, is it ethical to conduct this study. Second, is it ethical to conduct this study without compensating the community members for their time. In regards to the first question, we already know that it is ethical to conduct this study, as it is not explicitly a human subjects study (just collecting data on pathogen). The answer to the second question is a little more complicated, however, and is discussed in detail depending on the different potential solutions. Since the study can be conducted without the community members needing to take time out of their day (we could just “tag-along” as they go to collect water), it is ethical to run this study without compensation. Additionally, because the research has potential to benefit the community in the future, it is not necessarily exploiting the community for personal gains. However, in this case, the quality of our research might suffer. Since getting good quality research is essential for us to accomplish our goals (and help the community long-term), we have to consider how much extra participation from the community is needed, and we can accomplish this ethically.
Step 2: Define the major stakeholders:
– Myself and my research team
– The community members in the region where the research is being conducted / who use the water where the pathogen is found
– The organization who is funding the research
Step 3: Assess the motivations of the stakeholders
– Myself and my research team: As researchers, our primary motivations are to collect good-quality data, and to use that data to publish. In addition to this, we are probably motivated by the fact that by doing so, our research has the potential to actually help this community in the future.
– The community members in the region where the research is being conducted / who use the water where the pathogen is found: Members of the community probably have different motivations and interests as it pertains to this research project. Although the majority of the community members probably are motivated by the potential to have cleaner water in their community, many of them are probably more focused on their current situation; for example, on providing for their families and maintaining a strong community.
– The organization who is funding the research: The organization who is funding the research (for example a grant, university, or program sponsor) is probably most motivated by getting the best results for the least amount of money. For them, it is important to get high quality data, as prestigious publications will create a better name for themselves, attract more research teams, and contribute to their mission as an organization (for example, to improve global health, etc).
Step 4: Formulate alternative solutions
1. Partner with an established NGO on the ground in Lesotho, and compensate them for helping us conduct the research
– There are many pros to this approach. First, by working with an established organization, we know that we will be working with professional members of the community, who are dedicated to working towards long-term goals. Additionally, as an NGO, they probably have connections and resources (such as vehicles), which will help our research run smoothly. Finally, the bureaucratic nature of most NGOs will mean that the guidelines for compensation will probably already be established, and we will not have to worry about determining who or how much to pay.
– There are also several cons to this approach. First, the need to compensate an NGO for their time is probably the most expensive option. Additionally, the bureaucratic nature of NGOs may result in challenges (for example, getting the correct approvals and working with the right people).
2. Hire specific community members (for example, a community leader) to help us conduct the study, and compensate them an average working wage for their time
– The primary pro for this approach is that the quality of our research will be very high, due to the fact that we will be working with chosen community members. Additionally, the community members who we will work with will receive compensation which will help them provide for their families.
– There are also several cons for this approach. First, the need to compensate these individuals will result in higher research costs. Additionally, it may be challenging to choose the correct people to work with, and may create tension in the community if we do not hire fairly. Finally, by paying individual community members for their help, it creates future expectations that may negatively impact future research efforts.
3. Educate community members on the importance of the research, and work with individuals who are willing to volunteer their time in order to help
– The main motivation to choose this approach is to save money. Additionally, since the research can be conducted by simply asking to tag along with community members collecting water samples, it is ethical to not pay them.
– The main con to this approach is that the research quality may suffer. Because we are asking community members to volunteer their help, they may not be as forthcoming with taking the time to explain things or connect us to additional community members who may be helpful. Additionally, although the community members will know that the research may benefit them in the future, it is not helping their livelihood in the present.
Step 5: Seek additional assistance
My primary resource for helping to determine the best course of action for this particular dilemma was my own fieldwork experience in Sierra Leone. Having seen how beneficial being partnered with a local NGO was, I was able to choose the best course of action.
Step 6: Select the best course of action
In my opinion, the best course of action is approach one: to partner with an established NGO. Knowing that my primary goal is to collect high quality data while still conducting ethical research, I believe this is the best option. Having seen first hand how important it is to have local connections in order to navigate the cultural norms and navigation/logistical challenges, I believe this approach gives the best solution while minimizing cons for other stakeholders. For example, although community members will probably not be directly compensated (like in option 2), the NGO will be able to give us guidance on what is culturally appropriate/expected in terms of compensation for any individuals we may work with. Additionally, although the organization who is funding the research may prefer the minimal expenses of option 3, I believe that their interest in getting good quality data in order to extend their mission is a higher priority, and therefore would satisfy their interests.
Step 7: What are the implications of your solution on the venture
Economically, this solution will negatively impact the venture since we will have to compensate the NGO we are working with. However, as a result, the potential social impact of the venture will be positive overall. Although in the short term, the social impact will be neither positive nor negative (by choosing to work with an established NGO, we are avoiding any potential social complications of choosing which community members to pay), in the long-run, the social impact should be positive due to to the increased quality of the research resulting from an on-the-ground partner (which will ultimately lead to better health outcomes in the community). Similarly, there is a potential for this project to have positive technological outcomes, due to the high quality-research pushing advancements in water purifications (however, this is a long-term, indirect outcome). Environmentally, this solution should not have much of an impact, since we are working with on the ground partners and there should be no additional environmental impact by our project (for example, by using the vehicles which they are already using).