Researching Research Ethics

Research ethics in the real world [FC]I have written on this blog before about my book launch which is now only four weeks away (or less, if you’re reading this after 11 October). It’s a free event and you’re welcome to come along if you’re in London that day; details here. Copies of the book itself should arrive in the next 2-3 weeks. Exciting times!

I’ve written this week’s blog post on SAGE MethodSpace, talking about the research I did into research ethics around the world as background for writing the book. Head on over and have a read, and please feel free to leave a comment there or here.

Book Launch! And Other Events

Research ethics in the real world [FC]I am delighted to have been invited to launch my forthcoming book, Research Ethics in the Real World: Euro-Western and Indigenous Perspectives, at a seminar at City University in London on Thursday 8 Nov. This is part of a seminar series run by NatCen, City University, and the European Social Survey. I’ll be talking about why it is crucial to view research ethics in the context of its links with individual, social, professional, institutional and political ethics. I will explain why I think the Indigenous research paradigm is as important for our world as the Euro-Western research paradigm. I will outline why applying research ethics at all stages of the research process is equally essential for quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods researchers.

This was a much more difficult book to write than my book on creative research methods. Since that book came out, I have been asked to do a lot of speaking and teaching on creative methods. For example, I’m running an open course on creative methods in evaluation research for the UK and Ireland Social Research Association in Sheffield on 16 October, and a more academically-oriented version on using creative methods for the ESRC‘s National Centre for Research Methods in Southampton on 21 November. (And one for social work researchers in Birmingham next week, but that’s been fully booked for some time and has a long waiting list.)

If my ethics book has the same effect, I’m not quite sure how I’ll manage the workload. Still, that would be a great problem to have. In the meantime: fancy a free seminar on research ethics? Of course you do! It’s at 5.45 for 6 pm with a wine reception afterwards. I’d love to see some of my blog followers there – if you can make it, please come and introduce yourself.

I Finished The Book!

Research ethics in the real world [FC]For the last three-and-a-quarter years I have been writing a book on research ethics. It has been like doing another PhD, only with reviewers instead of supervisors. Four sets of reviewers: two sets of proposal reviews and two sets of typescript reviews. I have to thank my lovely publisher, Policy Press (part of Bristol University Press), for giving me so much support to get this book right.

This has been the hardest book I’ve written and I hope never to write another as difficult. On the plus side, I’m happy with the result. It is different from other books on research ethics in three main ways. First, it doesn’t treat research ethics as though they exist in isolation. I look at the relationships between research ethics and individual, social, institutional, professional, and political ethics, and how those relationships play out in practice in the work of research ethics committees and in evaluation research. That makes up part 1 of the book.

Second, it demonstrates the need for ethical thinking and action throughout the research process. In part 2 there is a chapter covering the ethical aspects of each stage of the research process, from planning a research project through to aftercare. There is also a chapter on researcher well-being.

Third, the book sets the Indigenous and Euro-Western research paradigms side by side. This is not to try to decide which is ‘better’, but is intended to increase researchers’ ethical options and vocabularies. I am writing primarily for Euro-Western readers, though the book may be of use to some Indigenous researchers. There is a sizeable and growing body of literature on Indigenous research and ethics, including books, journals, and journal articles. Using this literature requires care – as indeed using all literature requires care (see chapter 7 of my forthcoming book for more on that). But Indigenous literature, as with other literatures by marginalised peoples, requires particular care to avoid tokenism or appropriation.

Many Euro-Western researchers are completely ignorant of Indigenous research. Some know of it but are under the misapprehension that it is an offshoot of Euro-Western research. In fact it is a separate paradigm that stands alone and predates Euro-Western research by tens of thousands of years. Some Indigenous researchers and scholars are now calling for Euro-Western academics to recognise this and use Indigenous work alongside their own. My book is, in part, a response to these calls.

It was so, so hard to cram all of that into 75,000 words – and that includes the bibliography which, as you can imagine, is extensive. There was so much to read that I was still reading, and incorporating, new material on the morning of the day I finished the book. I’ve found more work, since, that I’d love to include – but I had to stop somewhere.

I awaited my final review with great trepidation, aware of the possibility that the reviewer might loathe my book – some previous reviewers had – and that that could put an end to my hopes of publication. Was I looking at three-and-a-quarter years of wasted work? I was so relieved when my editor emailed to say the review was positive. Then the reviewer’s comments blew me away. Here’s one of my favourite parts: “In my view the author through excellent writing skills has covered very dense material (a ton of content) in a very accessible way.”

I was even more delighted because this review came from an Indigenous researcher. She waived anonymity, so I have been able to credit and thank her in the book. I will not name her here, as I do not have her permission to do so; you’ll have to read the book if you want to find out.

Finishing a book feels great, and also weird. It’s like losing a part of your identity, particularly with a book you’ve lived with for so long. Though there’s still lots of work to do: I have to write the companion website, give input on the book’s design, read the proofs, start marketing… publication is due on 1 November, which feels a long way off but I know how quickly five months can pass.

I think this book will be controversial. A senior and very knowledgeable academic told me that one reason I could write such a book is because I’m not in academia. I’m glad if I can use my independence to say things others cannot say – as long as I’m saying useful things, at least.

More than anything else, I hope the book helps to make a difference. In particular, I would like to make a difference to the current system of ethical regulation which is too focused on institutional protection and insufficiently focused on ethical research. It is also terrible at recognising and valuing the work of Indigenous research and of Euro-Western community-based or participatory research. When I was preparing to write the book, I interviewed 18 people around the world and promised them anonymity. Some were research ethics committee members and others had sought formal approval from ethics committees (or institutional review boards in the US). I heard tales of people completing ethical approval forms with information that committees wanted to see rather than with actual facts; people teaching students how to get through the ethical approval system instead of teaching them how to conduct ethical research; people acting ethically yet in complete contravention of their committee’s instructions; people struggling to balance ethical research with Indigenous communities with the inflexible conditions set by ethics committees. Although many of the people who serve on ethics committees are highly ethical, the system within which they are forced to work often prevents them from acting in entirely ethical ways. It seems to me that this system is not currently fit for purpose, and there are many other people who think the same. I hope the evidence I have gathered and presented will help to create much-needed change.

As an independent researcher, I am self-employed. This means I do all my writing in my own time; I don’t have a salary to support my work. Do you like what I do on this blog, or in my books, or anywhere else, enough that you might buy me a coffee now and again if we were co-located? If so, please consider supporting my independent work through Patreon for as little as one dollar per month. In exchange you’ll get exclusive previews of, and insights into, my work. Thank you.

The Variety Of Indie Research Work

varietyOne of the things I love about being an independent researcher is the sheer variety of projects I work on and tasks I might do in a day. Yesterday, I was only in the office for the afternoon, yet I worked on at least seven different things. Here’s what I did.

First, I checked Twitter, and found a tweet with a link to a blog post I wrote about an event that is part of a project I’m working on with and for the forensic science community. This is a new departure for me, in that I haven’t worked with forensic scientists before, though the work itself is straightforward. I’m supporting a small group of people with research to identify the best way to create a repository for good quality student research data, and it’s surprisingly interesting. So I retweeted the tweet.

Second, I dealt with the morning’s emails. The arrival of a purchase order I’d been waiting for weeks to receive – hurrah! I formulated the invoice and sent it off to the client. Then some correspondence about the creative research methods summer school I’m facilitating at Keele in early July – just three weeks away now, so the planning is hotting up (and there are still some places left if you’d like to join us – it’ll be informative and fun). The most interesting email was a blog post from Naomi Barnes, an Australian education scholar who is considering what it means to be a white educator in the Australian school system. This chimes with the work I am doing on my next book, so I leave a comment and tweet the link.

While on Twitter, I got side-tracked by a tweet announcing #AuthorsForGrenfell, an initiative set up by authors for authors to donate items for auction to raise funds for the Red Cross London Fire Relief Fund to help survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire. I’d been wanting to help: my father is a Londoner, I have always had family in London, I lived in London myself from 1982-1997, and one member of my family is working in the tower right now to recover bodies. So it feels very close to home. But I’m not in a position to give lots of money, so I was delighted to find this option which I hope will enable me to raise more money than I could give myself. I have offered one copy of each of my books plus a Skype consultation with each one. My items aren’t yet up on the site, but I hope they will be soon because bidding is open already. If you’re one of my wealthy readers, please go over there and make a bid!

Then I spent some time researching aftercare for data. Yes, indeed there is such a thing. So far I’ve come up with two ways to take care of your data after your project is finished: secure storage and open publication. They are of course diametrically opposed, and which you choose depends on the nature of your data. Open publication is the ethical choice in most cases, enabling your data to be reused and cited, increasing your visibility as a researcher, and reducing the overall burden on potential research participants. In some cases, though, personal or commercial sensitivities will require secure storage of data. There may be other ways to take care of data after the end of a project, and I’ll be on the lookout for those as I work on my next book.

By now it was 6 pm so I did a last trawl of the emails, and found one from Sage Publishing with a link to a Dropbox folder containing 20 research methods case studies for me to review. They publish these cases online as part of their Methodspace website. I like this work: it’s flexible enough to fit around other commitments and, like other kinds of review, it tests my knowledge of research methods while also helping me to stay up to date. Best of all, unlike other kinds of review, Sage pay for my expertise. So I downloaded all the documents, checked and signed the contract, and emailed it back with a ‘thank you’. By then it was 6.30 pm and time to go home.

As the old saying goes, variety is the spice of life. I certainly like the flavour it gives to my work. Some days I work on a single project all day; those days are fun too. Yesterday I worked in my own office, today I’m out at meetings locally, tomorrow I’m off to London. It’s always ‘all change’ and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Book Proposal for a Second Edition

kara-2nd-edWell, whaddaya know? You wait ages for someone to show you a book proposal, then two come along together. Three, in fact, as there are two book proposals for you to download from this post.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on this blog which included a link to download the book proposal for my second research methods book, Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide. Since then, the second edition of my first research methods book has been published.

I’m fond of this book. It took me five years to come up with the idea of writing a research methods book for busy people who are trying to fit research in around their jobs, families, hobbies, and generally their whole lives. Then it took me another 18 months to write. The first edition had good reviews and one of the great satisfactions about producing the second edition, for me, is that I know it’s an even better book.

So here’s the proposal for the first edition of Research and Evaluation for Busy Students and Practitioners: A Time-Saving Guide which I wrote back in 2011. You may find it interesting to compare with the proposal for my second research methods book which I posted a couple of weeks ago. One difference is that in the first book proposal I had much more idea about the content of each chapter than I did in the second. Counter-intuitive, right? It’s because they are very different books, drawn from different information sources, for different audiences (though I know some people have used and valued both).

Every book is a slog to write, there is no way around that. Luckily for me, it’s a slog I mostly enjoy. Also, each book seems to be a different kind of slog (at least, so far). The first book involved writing down everything I knew, looking to see where the gaps were, and figuring out how to fill them. The second book involved investigating a load of stuff I wanted to know about, then working out how to make it into a book. The third book, on research ethics, which I’m writing now, is involving more hard thinking than both the other two put together.

Producing a second edition is a slog, too, but it’s a much shorter slog. More enjoyable for me, too, as the part of book writing I like best is the part after the first draft has been churned out, where I have my raw material to mould and shape it into the best book I can produce. I did have to write one new chapter from scratch for the second draft, plus a few new sections, but even so, most of the work was the moulding-and-shaping kind.

Even writing the proposal for the second edition was less work than writing the proposal for the first edition. That was mainly because I could copy-and-paste some of the information across from the first to the second – though not all. I had to come up with a credible rationale for publishing a second edition: why it was needed, what new value it would offer. Here’s the proposal for the second edition, so you can compare them for yourself.

If you have one or other edition of the book, you may like to compare the relevant proposal with the finished product. You’ll see that there are changes between one and the other, which demonstrates that the proposal is not inflexible.

When my research ethics book is published, which should be some time next year, I’ll post the proposal for that one too.

Second Edition: Official Publication Day

Cover of Research and evaluation for busy students and practitionersWhen a book is first published, it’s a strange and slightly confusing time. Exhilaration, panic, longing and impostor syndrome all collide in a big smash of emotions. There’s often a formal launch – sometimes more than one – and an anxious wait for feedback from readers and the first review.

Publication day of a second edition feels very different. I know it’s a good book, otherwise it wouldn’t have got to the second edition stage. Most of the reviews were good last time, and I’m confident that it’s a better book this time around, so with any luck they’ll mostly be good again. There is no formal launch, just a day of whooping online and then back to business.

While the impostor syndrome isn’t striking this time, I do feel a bit fraudulent, as I’ve actually had my copies for three weeks, and I know the pre-orders went out around the same time as I’ve been getting emails from readers since a week before Easter. But today is official publication day, so today is the day the blog post happens.

I say ‘the blog post’ but actually there are four, including this one. On Petra Boynton’s blog you’ll find the story of my career as an independent researcher and writer. Over on the Research Whisperer blog I talk about the process of writing the second edition. There wasn’t much information online when I started work on mine, so I hope that post will be helpful to others in the same position. And on my publisher Policy Press’s blog I add my two penn’orth to the debate about whether academia is (or should be) ‘fast’ or ‘slow’. I’ll keep this post short, in the hope that you’ll have time to read at least one of the others.

I’m also holding a Twitter competition for a signed copy of my second edition. Tweet your motivation or inspiration for doing research, using the hashtag #researchinspo, before 10 am GMT on 27 April. Then I’ll put all the names in the hat and pull out a winner, to whom I will send a signed copy, wherever they are in the world. Good luck!

There’s no formal launch this time round, but I’ve got the Prosecco chilling for a little celebration after work with a couple of good friends. Until then, I’ll be cracking on with the next book, because that’s what writers do.

Want to see my book proposal?

Creative research methods in the social sciences [FC]Writing academic books can seem like a mysterious ‘dark art’ to those who haven’t done it, but there is lots of help available. I’ve written before about how to succeed in writing academic books, but I didn’t say anything in that post about the book proposal. Yet it’s a key part of the process.

If you are a novelist, you have to write your whole book before you talk to an agent or a publisher. If you are an academic writer, you can forget about agents (there aren’t any, at least not in the UK, and only about two in the US) but the good news is that you don’t have to write the book before you can get a publishing contract. You do, though, have to write a proposal.

A publisher worth their salt should have a book proposal form, guidelines, or similar on their website for you to download. The guidelines from my publisher, Policy Press, are here. The publisher is also likely to want a sample chapter, particularly if you have no track record as a book author.

From time to time, aspiring academic writers ask whether they can see one of my book proposals. Of course, I say, give me your email address and I’ll send it over. This happened again last week and it occurred to me that I could write a post here, and include an embedded pdf, to make an actual book proposal available to anyone who would find it useful.

I need to say a few things about the proposal first. It is the version that made it through the Policy Press acquisitions process and led to a publishing contract. There was an earlier version which was sent out with a draft chapter for peer review. This is normal with academic book proposals, and also hugely helpful. I got four sets of comments on this proposal, and was able to make it significantly stronger as a result.

In this proposal, the outlines of what will go in each chapter are quite brief. That was OK for this book; headings gave the reviewers and the publisher enough information to go on. Other books would need more details. For example, the proposal for the research ethics book I’m currently writing has a full paragraph for each chapter. (I’m not ready to share that proposal yet, as it’s currently out for peer review; watch this space!)

Finally, the publisher’s acceptance of the book proposal doesn’t mean you have to write the book in exactly the way you said you would. Publishers understand that writing is a creative practice and books change and grow in their creation. Of course it has to be in line with what you’ve proposed. It would be unusual to make significant changes to the overall structure, for example – but what you put in a chapter might change as you read and think and write about your subject.

The proposal I would like to share with you is for my second research methods book, Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide. If you have access to a copy, you can compare it with the proposal and see how the book developed from my original plans. And here is the proposal itself. I hope you find it useful.

How Independent is an Indie Researcher?

independent womanI have always loved being independent. My parents like to tell the story of the time when, soon after I learned to walk, they took me for a picnic in a local park. My father put me down on the grass, and I got to my feet and toddled away. My mother looked anxious, and my father said, reassuringly, ‘She won’t go far.’ But his confidence was misplaced, because I headed determinedly off into the wide green yonder, and he had to do a quick sprint to bring me back before I came to grief.

When I began researching, I called myself a freelance researcher, or a consultant researcher. I didn’t start calling myself an independent researcher until Immy Holloway told me I should, at a terrific research methods conference in Bournemouth in 2006. (The same conference where I met the incomparable Ken and Mary Gergen, as a result of which they kindly wrote the foreword for my creative research methods book.) As soon as Immy suggested the phrase, I took to it immediately. It seemed to suit.

I love working independently. Particularly at the moment, when I’m mostly home-office-based and writing – though after a few weeks I’ll be pleased to have the meetings and teaching that are scheduled then. But for now, I’m really happy sitting alone at my desk, looking out at the garden growing into spring, listening to the birdsong and the squeals of next door’s children on their trampoline, and writing this blog post.

You know, though, I’ve been thinking recently that despite being officially an independent researcher, I’m actually very dependent. For example, I am completely dependent on others for my income. If nobody chooses me, or not enough people choose me, to do available work, I will go under – particularly as there is so little research funding for which indies can apply. Also, I often need to ask for favours, from small (please can I put your name down as a referee for this research tender?) to large (please will you write a foreword for my book?). As an independent writer, I am dependent on readers for reviews, whether official written ones on websites or in journals, or unofficial verbal ones – the coveted ‘word of mouth’ (at least, it’s coveted if the words are complimentary). More worryingly, I am also dependent on readers to help get my books translated into other languages. My publisher tells me that this usually happens when a bilingual academic makes a proposal to a non-English publisher and offers to support the translation. I am only fluent in English, and although I have good international networks, they’re mostly in English-speaking countries. Unlike institution-based scholars, I have never been able to afford to go to a conference outside the UK where I might make contacts with bilingual academics who could help with translations, perhaps in return for other favours. As a result, I know very few people who I can ask to help with translations. (If you know anyone in the social sciences, arts, or humanities who might help, do tell me please!)

I remember when my supervisor and I were planning my viva. I knew who I wanted for my external examiner, but my supervisor over-ruled me, because she didn’t know the person I wanted, and she did know someone else who she thought would be good (and was). She said she was sure he would do it because he owed her a favour. I have learned since then that a lot of academia seems to work through giving and calling in favours. In such an environment it feels odd to call myself ‘independent’.

The book I’m writing is on research ethics. In the Indigenous research paradigm, reciprocity between researchers and participants is a key ethical principle. However, in the Euro-Western paradigm, researchers have found that attempting such reciprocity where there is an imbalance of power is difficult and can even have dangerous consequences (Israel 2015:137-8). I can’t find much work on reciprocity between academics, and what I can find addresses reciprocity between countries or disciplines and doesn’t say much about power imbalances. I haven’t found anything about reciprocity across the walls of the academy, where there is undoubtedly a power imbalance. I’m glad to say that, in my own experience at least, academics have mostly been courteous and often generous with their help and support for my work, even though, as an indie, I can’t reciprocate in all the same ways that I could if I was based in an institution. This potentially makes me even more dependent, because I have less to offer than salaried mid-career academics. As I progress in my work, will this power imbalance grow? Will it adversely affect the reciprocity on which my entire career depends? Or am I needlessly worrying about something because it feels insecure, when in fact it doesn’t really matter?

Writing The First 10,000 Words

writing deskYesterday I hit 10,000 words of the first draft of my research ethics book. That’s a huge milestone which has taken me two years to reach (though most of that was preparation – I started the actual writing earlier this year). I still have around 65,000 words to write, but having the first 10k safely on my computer and backed up is an enormous relief.

The photo shows one side of my desk, this morning. The other side looks much the same, piled high with books, some of them open and face-down to keep a place. Although I have spent two years thinking about this book, talking about it, interviewing people around the world, and reading reading reading, I am still reading – and re-reading – more than I write. So far I’ve mostly been reading books, but yesterday I started delving into journal articles, and of course there are gazillions of those to explore.

As a result, it’s taking me a full day to write 1,000 words. It feels frustrating to be building my argument so slowly, but I know it’s inevitable at this stage. I read, and think, and read, and think, and sometimes the reading and the thoughts coalesce into a sentence, and I write it down. Then I read some more, and think some more, and so on.

When I teach writing to doctoral students, they often express frustration at the slow pace of their writing. I tell them it’s common, even for experienced writers, and they look at me with sceptical faces, as if they think I’m trying to soothe their feelings rather than telling them the truth. But it is true. I’ve written a masters’ dissertation, a PhD thesis, 2.5 books, and several journal articles, and this is how it is, especially at the start of a long and difficult piece of work. I’m sure the pace of my writing will speed up later, especially when I get to the easier chapters, but for now all I can do is plod on.

Another myth is that writers start writing at the beginning and carry on until they get to the end. Unusually for me, I did draft the first chapter first, and then drafted most of the second. But I have also written 491 words of chapter 3, 60 words of chapter 6, 18 words of chapter 10 and 36 words of chapter 14. This is because, as I have been reading, I’ve come across sections that have been relevant to those chapters, and at this stage it’s easier to create a new document and write a sentence or a paragraph in there than to add to my already copious notes.

I’m doing the early chapters first, this time, because they’re the hardest. The first part of the book has five chapters of context-setting: research ethics, political ethics, institutional ethics, professional ethics, societal ethics, individual ethics, the connections between them, and case studies. The second part has nine chapters about research ethics in practice at each stage of the research process and will, I think, be much easier to write. I often counsel students to start with an easy part, whatever they most feel like writing, and have usually done so myself. This time, though, the later chapters will need to draw on the earlier chapters, so I have to write the harder part first. (Though I do start with the easiest part within each chapter.)

Luckily for me, I’m home-based for the whole of April. I have some client work to do, but I should be able to spend quite a lot of time working on the book. My aim is to get the difficult chapters drafted by the end of the month. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Creative Research Methods Summer School 6-8 July 2017

casic-logofinalPhD students and Early Career Researchers are welcome at this event organised by the Community Animation and Social Innovation Centre (CASIC) at Keele University.

The Summer School will be held in central England at the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme (6-7 July) and Keele University campus (8 July), where you will experience the KAVE and our Makerspace facilities.

The facilitator will be Dr Helen Kara, author of Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide. Speakers will include:

  • borderlinesProfessor Mihaela Kelemen – CASIC Director
  • Dr Lindsay Hamilton – Keele Management School, Keele University
  • Véronique Jochum – Research Manager, National Council for Voluntary Organisations
  • Dr Emma Surman – Keele Management School, Keele University
  • Dr Ceri Morgan – School of Humanities, Keele University
  • Professor Rajmil Fischman – School of Music, Keele University
  • Sue Moffat – Director of New Vic Borderlines, New Vic Theatre

keele-logo-2The Summer School will enlighten, inspire and guide ECRs and students at all stages of scholarly or professional doctorates. Each day will be packed with interactive hands-on sessions addressing six broad topics:

  • Arts-based research
  • Transformative research frameworks
  • Mixed-methods research
  • Knowledge co-production
  • Research using technology
  • Writing creatively for research

We are offering an “early bird” price of £230 for bookings received and paid by 21 April. After that date the price will be £270. The cost includes refreshments and lunches and a complimentary copy of Dr Kara’s book on creative research methods.

There will be a dinner and performance of ‘Around the world in 80 Days’ at the New Vic Theatre on July 6th, at an extra cost of £20.

For more information click here.

Please follow #CRMSS17 on Twitter for pre-event updates.