Case Study 2: Ethical Decision Making

Lesotho is a small developing country contained within South Africa. You and your team of academic researchers (10 in all) are spending the next two weeks travelling to different communities throughout Lesotho to test water sources for disease-causing pathogens. The testing you need to do is simple but requires significant assistance from the community – showing your team all the different locations where individuals get their water from, and places/methods for storing the water. You do not see the need to pay the community members, considering if someone asked you about your water source, you would not mind driving them up to the lake! The ultimate goal of the project is to understand the lifecycle and characteristics of a specific pathogen, which is found only in this region of Lesotho. Several publications are expected from this research study. A comprehensive profile of this pathogen can help in many ways including development of chemical additives to make the water safe to drink.  Is it ethical to conduct this research study? What will you do next? 

To evaluate what the best route to take when dealing with this ethical dilemma is, we must methodically break down the situation at hand, starting with first defining the facts of the situation:

  1.  10 academic researchers will be traveling within Lesotho (small developing country in South Africa) for 2 weeks
  2. Their purpose is to travel throughout the communities of Lesotho to test water for disease-causing pathogens
  3. Lots of community assistance is needed for this study to be successful
  4. The dilemma is whether or not community members should be paid, and depending on that answer, whether or not this is an ethical research study.

To consider this situation from all perspectives, it is important to look at the roles of all the relevant stakeholders and their motivations:

  1. Academic Foundation – Funders, University, Investors, etc.
    1. better name for themselves
    2. return on investment
    3. further academic research
    4. contribute to the betterment of society
    5. attract more funding/ attention
  2. Researchers themselves
    1. spread awareness
    2. develop publishable research
  3. Lesotho community members
    1. support the effort for cleaner waters for themselves and their families
    2. better health and safety
    3. improvement in their quality of life
  4. Government
    1. political, capital, economic opportunities
    2. better health for their people

Based on the facts and stakeholders, a few methods and ways to proceed become apparent:

  1. Partner and work with an established organization/ NGO
    1. Pros
      1. disseminate the responsibility to a well-known organization
      2. they will know the people in the community that are trustworthy and knowledgeable
      3. they probably already have standards in place
      4. access to more resources
      5. increased credibility
    2. Cons
      1. more of an indirect approach -> may complicate the process
      2. more people will have to approve what is being done
  2. Hire specific community members to help with the research
    1. Pros
      1.  direct payment = direct motivation
      2. oversight of exactly who is doing what and how they are doing it
    2. Cons
      1. fewer resources and credibility
      2. more responsibility on these individuals
      3. not necessarily cost effective
  3. Educate the people in hopes that they will volunteer their services
    1. Pros
      1. cost effective
      2. mutualistic benefits and close relationships
      3. people understand what the research consists of and how it can potentially benefit them
    2. Cons
      1. not financially motivated
      2. mistranslation and miscommunication possible
      3. power imbalance – white saviorism

Based on the already defined routes, the best one can be selected to be partnering with an NGO. This is will allow access to lots of reliable resources which seem to be crucial to this research project. This NGO will already know reliable people who the researchers could confidently depend on to ensure the success of the research. By offering to or paying the NGO, we will secure that they are motivated. Based on my personal experience with World Hope International, the trust and relationship established was invaluable and critical to our research. The employees would above and beyond for us and each of our projects. For example, being that we were conducting taste testing, the success of our research relied on how many willing participants we had access to. All we had to do was ask a few World Hoep employees if they could get the word out and within a may of a couple of hours we had hundreds of mothers and children lined up for us.

After doing a little research about NGOs in Lesotho, I was able to find the Global Water Partnership. Many of their goals align with the goal of this research project: gain awareness about the water and hopefully make it safer and cleaner for the people. Of course, a plan may not always be perfect and therefore some shortcomings of this approach include its lack of cost-effectiveness, possibly lack of communication about the research to the community itself, and delegating control meaning you cannot oversee everything. I believe that spending of money will be way worth it to get the best research data possible. In terms of communication with the community, because they will not be working directly with them and would rather be working through an organization, should definitely be addressed. Perhaps the researchers can ask the trusted Global Water Partnership people to explain to the community the work and duration of the work that the researchers will be doing. Lastly, not having direct control over all aspects of the research may be tricky because accuracy is key with research, however, as long as the importance of their work is communicated and understood beforehand I do not think this should be an issue. In general, after partnering with the NGO, a solid relationship will be established which can be leveraged for any future research or things that the researchers may need after they return home. Overall, By partnering with an already established organization, the community will be more willing to trust the researchers and the work that they are doing, creating a positive social dynamic and trust.

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar