Lesotho Water- Ethical Decision Making

Greetings loyal blog readers! Hi Mom…. This week as promised, I am going to be discussing a special case study we talked about in the GSIF Seminar. We talked about ethical decision-making strategies and specific steps to take when analyzing cases such as the one below.

Let’s break this down!

Step 1: Determine the facts in the situation– For this step it is extremely important to not only state the facts, but to do so without bias. This helps to make a clear and specific argument about (1) what the ethical issue is and (2) what the information is being used to make a judgment decision.

Facts from the statement above

  1. 10 researchers there for 2 weeks.
  2. publications expected as a deliverable for this study.
  3. The people are there for academic research.
  4. Community members not being paid.
  5. They are looking for a water borne pathogen that is could be found in either main water sources or water storage/collection tanks.
  6. There are multiple places to get water sources
  7. There multiple methods of collection/storage in Lesotho
  8. Another goal for this research is to gather the information needed to create a solution that will clean the water through chemical additives

It is also important to do some background research on the topic—How else can we make an informed decision?

  1. Lesotho is a small country located within the highland region of South Africa.
  2. The highland region is where most of the Southern African countries get their water
    1. This is probably why this research is so important
  3. The World Health Organization has been working on this for the last 60 years. This has been a huge issue in the past and is still a reoccurring problem
  4. The water-borne pathogen as described by the World Health Organization is due to coliforms and E. coli.
    1. If this is the case then it is highly likely that people know their water is “bad” these water-borne pathogens cause cholera and diarrhea.
  5. This research is not actually human subjects research according to IRB it should be exempt.
    1. There is no aspect of this research that includes humans other than asking for directions to a specific location for the water source.
    2. One tricky situation is that if a researcher would want to go into someone’s house and see where they store their water or test it. As long as they are not interviewing the people then there is no human subject research and therefore, it is exempt.
  6. The government is structured similar to that of Sierra Leone or Uganda such that there is a Village, Township, District, and National Government.

Now that we have established the facts both in the prompt and though research what is the ethical issue here?

The researchers want to study the water from locations in and around several communities within the country of Lesotho but they do not know where these sources are. Obviously, the community members do know this information. The researchers expect the community members to take them to the water sources and that is it, end of transaction. The issue here is that (1) should the research even be conducted and (2) if it is conducted should the researchers pay the community members compensation for their help?

I want to make a clear emphasis on what we are doing here. We are NOT re-designing this research. We are simply offering a solution to these two questions through stepwise decision making. This was a confusion in class as we often found ourselves saying things like “if they just did the research this way there would be no issue”.


Step 2: Define the stakeholders/Step 3: Assess the motivations of the stakeholders.

Stakeholder Primary Motive Secondary Motive
1.      Community Members The health and wellbeing of the individual/community Livestock
2.      Government Health and wellbeing of the population Political capital, economic growth, votes
3.      Researchers A desire for success, reach funding goals, personal goals for the project Potentially being played a stipend for the research, resume credit.
4.     Research Funders Quality publications, Impact through understanding what the problem is Quality Data and wanting to “make a change”
5.      Industry Money Long term business


So, there are 5 different types of stakeholders but again, I need to make something clear. Everyone and everything are a stakeholder in this case because it is dealing with WATER! [if you are an IDEAS major you get what I am saying].

Step 4: Formulate an alternative solution- For this step, I chose to analyze this case through the utilitarian lenses where one tries to maximize utility or overall happiness of the populace.

  • I believe that the researchers should conduct their project however in order to appease all stakeholders while collecting quality data they should pay the community members
    1. Researchers will go to the national, regional, district, and local government to seek approval.
    2. Subsequently, the researchers will need to meet with the chiefdom leaders
      • In this meeting, they should explain what they will be doing and ask for a select group of people that would be willing to work with them.
    3. Once they have this group of locals the new team will go to the various water storage facilities and natural sources to conduct their tests.
    4. The researchers should pay each person he or she works with as a compensation. This amount should be negotiated with the chiefdom leader and should be an hourly rate.
    5. Finally, the researchers should send a copy of their findings to the government and community members.
  • On two, four, and five is where the utilitarian approach occurs and answers the question. For step two it is critical that the researchers engage with this stakeholder in order to get the appropriate approvals. In addition, chiefdom leaders are elected officials and their decisions will likely be looked at favorably by the community. Number four articulates that the people who are physically interacting with the researchers should be played. This is critical because they would lose income if they did not get compensated. Number five describes continuity and shows to the community that there was some sort of follow-up to the research.
  • Pros to this approach:
    1. The researchers conduct their project and get local support when doing it.
    2. The community members are happy because they have received compensation (if they were interacted with.
    3. The community members are also happy to see the follow-up on the study because this means that someone is working to help with their water situation.
    4. The government is happy because their name would be attributed to helping their community and they would look more favorably in the next election.
  • Cons to this approach:
    1. We do not actually know whether or not the research findings will be quality.
    2. We do not know if the people will be happy or if the chemical company will actually help them.
    3. Happiness is extremely difficult to quantify so how can one maximize it?

Step 5: additional assistance as appropriate: For this step, we talked in class about the Hippocratic oath, the engineering code of ethics. Both of which say “do no harm”. We also talked through various options weighing the pros and cons of each. I believe that my option would be the best using utilitarian thinking.

Step 6: Select the best course of action: In class, we typically come up with three different options. As you know from reading step 4 my option includes (1) doing the research, (2) paying the community, and (3) great involvement with the community.


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