7. Preparing for fieldwork - ethical considerations
Before fieldwork begins the researcher must consider all potential ethical issues. While the exact ethical issues that fieldwork poses will depend on the research question, the setting and the methods the researcher uses, issues relating to confidentiality and informed consent will need to be addressed.
Confidentiality is critical in fieldwork, as obtaining written informed consent from every participant may not always be possible. For example, during participant-observation in an emergency department, written informed consent can be gained from all key participants, but is harder to obtain from every person passing through.
One important aspect of fieldwork preparation is ensuring that everyone in the field is aware that research is being conducted. This can be achieved through the use of posters and conversations, for example.
Ethical approval from the appropriate ethics committee will be required before any research commences. Depending on the ethical issues involved in the study, the process can be time consuming and slow. Obtaining ethical approval should, therefore, be factored into the research planning phase.
Even when all relevant ethical considerations are made and ethical approval is obtained, the researcher should recognise that ethical issues can arise at any point during fieldwork, given that it is a natural/uncontrolled environment. Therefore, the researcher should reflect on ethical issues throughout their study.