Stakeholder protections in the context of research and evaluation
Human Subjects Training
Along with the appropriate level of coursework and experience, anthropological practitioners who will engage with human subjects should have passed some type of participation protection training, such as the National Institutes of Health course on “Human Subjects Protections Training.” (https://humansubjects.nih.gov/resources) Some funders may in fact require some type of training.
Although this often poses a significant challenge to timelines and activities, Institutional Review Board compliance should be explored. This may not be mandated by a particular client, but it should be considered by the practitioner.
Interviewee compliance and informed consent
In almost all cases, informed consent should be considered a best procedure. Informed consent should cover a range of issues, such as potential risks, data protection and privacy, utilization of findings, and incentives. It is an especially critical issue with respondents such as children and youth, the elderly, and others who may be in a position to be coerced. This issue is covered in human subjects training, and there are samples of informed consent forms online.
Data protection and privacy
The informed consent process will typically flesh out the specifics regarding the use and protection of data, and the sharing of findings and data. All data should be protected equally, but in particular, studies involving drug use, trauma, neglect, criminal behavior, and other sensitive areas will require special care. Conversations and presentations must be careful not to inadvertently identify individuals or groups of individuals whose privacy has been assured.
Representation of respondents
When conducting research and analysis, we will come to describe respondents or groups of respondents in certain ways. At times, these descriptions may carry significant weight with how decision-makers proceed. We must think through and assess our conclusions carefully, and not be rushed or arbitrary. This may be particularly critical when working with specialized groups of respondents/participants, who have no access to your findings and conclusions, and who may be unable to present alternative perspectives.
Representation of self
Anthropologists should not misrepresent themselves, their work, the sponsor of the work (if any), or any other aspect of what they are doing, to any community or stakeholders.
Research in a professional manner
Relevance and validity of data collection
Although anthropological practitioners should make their case to a funder regarding what they consider to be the most relevant research to perform, in the end the client will mandate what it is they want to know. Practitioners who are uncomfortable or who feel their ethics may be compromised will need to decide whether or not to proceed. Once an agreement is made, the practitioner should carry out the employer’s mandate and not attempt to circumvent that which was agreed to.
Legalities/legal protection of clients, findings, and notes
Too often, we may take legal issues for granted, as they only infrequently affect our discipline. Our statements of ethics and responsibility say very little about the legalities of our work. However, a lawsuit or court challenge can have a devastating impact on careers, respondents, clients, and other stakeholders. Practitioners should have at least a cursory understanding of applicable laws, and should have access to legal consultation and advice if needed for specific activities.
Ownership of intellectual property
Contracts between consultants and funders will typically outline ownership of intellectual property. But in employer/employee scenarios, or within team activities, the fine lines can become blurred. Practitioners should carefully consider whether they will desire access to their findings, analyses, and insights for their own publications and presentations, for example.
Timeliness of activities
Deadlines and appointments should be met. Do not take congenial relationships for granted. Perhaps due to the nature of our discipline, anthropologists are not always the best at recognizing the importance of strict deadlines, but keep in mind that other stakeholders may see things much differently than we do. Nothing should be assumed.
Communicate, navigate, negotiate
Communicate openly and honestly, and as frequently and broadly as relevant
When possible, establish stakeholder talks and discussions at the outset of activities. Early discussions may prove enlightening or discouraging to specific courses of planning, but in the end may help ensure wide stakeholder engagement and at least some consensus on activities.
Clarify goals and objectives, and share these widely
Ensure that all stakeholders are clear on the reasons for the efforts. Should any disagreements arise, these should be addressed. It is possible that a resolution acceptable to all parties cannot be reached. It may come down to the “lesser of evils” for practitioners.
Negotiate strategies and activities as needed
Along with clarifying goals and objectives, anthropologists may find themselves in situations in which various stakeholders are at odds on how to best proceed. These may be unanticipated events or scenarios, or deferred items that might have been put off during initial negotiations. Again, there may be times when there is no easy solution.
Get changes, developments, and issues in writing. Create an electronic paper trail
Over the life of a project or activity, circumstances may change for a number of reasons. Always document relevant activities, dates, times, and participants, along with discussions and decisions. If nothing else, this documentation will help you in the final analysis of data and information.
Recognize that “turf” issues may come into play
Various stakeholders, and even team members, may disagree on what constitutes their prerogatives, areas of specialization and consultation, appropriate hierarchy, and similar areas. Decisions to include or exclude particular sets of stakeholders or individuals must be made carefully but openly to avoid disputes, if possible. There will be times when not informing certain groups of stakeholders about unfavorable decisions will seem appropriate. Such decisions should be given due consideration.
Carefully consider administrative and management issues
In the rush and excitement to launch a project, it may be easy to set aside longer term considerations, such as staff capacity and turnover, realistic timelines, sufficient time for analysis, unexpected events, or unintended outcomes. Plan ahead and anticipate needs and scenarios, as well as issues and problems. Decide ahead of time the chain of command, a system of activity or dispute resolution, the process for selecting new participants, collaborators, and other stakeholders, and other processes.
Recognize and address power dynamics
Just as managers are in power positions over staff, researchers are in power positions over some or many stakeholders. This dynamic should be addressed. The practitioner should try to put stakeholders, in particular respondents and participants, at ease.
Keep the needs of students and colleagues in mind
All of our work impacts the future. If we do our work well, our discipline will thrive. If we do not, we risk becoming marginalized in an ever-changing workplace.
Use care with photography/media
Anthropologists pioneered still and movie photography in the field, and visual aspects of the profession are still strong. There are many guidelines for taking photos in various contexts, but some simple starting points: Always ask. Do not take photos without permission. Get releases for any photos to be used publicly. If possible, provide subjects with print or digital copies of the images. This applies to gathering other media (e.g., sound, video) as well.