So What. Now What?

occupation-jpeg-860x860_q85_upscaleSo, whilst using the bathroom about 30 minutes ago (too much information, I understand), my beige vision of the cubicle door was interrupted by a wordy poster asking for participants for a research project.  It’s not unusual to find such a poster in a university campus cubicle, I guess they figure they have a captive audience. Due to a recent discussion re: ethics and methodologies around research, this one caught my eye.

According to to the poster, the research team (with ethics approval) are studying dietary habits and will require you to take a 30-45 minute questionnaire and an interview of the same length.  There was no reward or outcome stated, no clue as to what the research could be used for. So as far as I know it could be used to improve the lifestyle and eating habits for the good of all mankind OR it could be used to give McDonalds a new angle for marketing their latest an greatest to an unsuspecting population, already plagued with obesity and other malnutrition related disease. Unmoved to record the details of the project I politely flushed and went on my way.

This happy accident (I’m referring to seeing the poster) came immediately after my finishing ABC’s Four Corners documentary Growing Up Poor.  I had never seen the documentary but, as a resident of Campbelltown LGA, I have sat in courses with women from the community of Claymore NSW, the area which was the topic of the documentary.  These women over the years, have spoken at length about the media coverage that their area has received, and how they felt that it had added to their struggle as well as to their children’s perception of their own disadvantage. And was not a balanced portrayal of their community.

2015-09-17 11.11.27-2Both these encounters have made me think hard about the liberties that we as researchers and journalists take with other peoples time and/or lives. Sometimes quite irresponsibly not taking into account the value of other peoples time. And the possible fall out into the lives of people, not only those we are engaging with but the wider community. A ripple effect if you please, that may not be what was intended, but never the less is coke bottle that we leave behind for someone else to swallow.

It should be a matter of vigilance and consciousness of those who dare to act on another’s behalf without be asked by the party being acted upon. Let us not forget all those children seized from their parents across the world. The stolen generations who were ‘better off’ not being left with their indigenous community. So much of what we do including small projects on weight gain, are birthed through the eye glass of privilege and/or power. Isn’t it time that we put down the eye glass and just sat together in the grass with our shoes off, ready to listen and grow?



3 thoughts on “So What. Now What?

  1. What interests me so much about your bathroom experience is that we have a torrent of approved projects coming at us all the time, and yet this approval somehow seems incomplete in real ethical terms. Putting the flyers in bathrooms, for example–what is that, in terms of human privacy?

    I’m just reading a book about the radical imagination which is the latest source that I’ve found pointing out that formal ethics approval is a tokenistic exercise to manage institutional risk. I don’t fully subscribe to this view as a researcher — I’ve found that having to go through the process has made me much more attentive to risk of harm to others in my own practice — but at the same time I can see that as procedures become more obviously self-serving then it’s entirely possible to get approval that is thoughtless in nature.

    Making the decision to proceed with “real ethics” rather than formal ethics was a very challenging decision for me. I’m still thinking about it, about how to make sure in a rigorous way that we don’t any of us do harm to each other, to unknown others, to known others.

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful post.

    Sidenote: I found out recently that my daughter is participating in a study conducted by another university, examining teenagers and risky behaviour (and there was either no parental consent sought, or she went around that.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Years ago I was on a job at Morgan Stanley. At #1 The Bond, if there was a renowned visitor, they would hold a lunch time lecture in the atrium foyer. This lunch time there was a world famous economist (whose name of course, I do not recall). He was speaking on how economists measure the health of a society. They measure the health of a society by the number of club memberships, which exemplifies people’s connectedness with each other, their engagement with community. He was explaining what happens when a society is NOT healthy. What the symptoms and causes are. MOST pertinent to this discussion we are having, is the symptom deemed ‘synthetic trust’. The idea that since we are not connected in any real way to our community we seek ‘trust’ in the form of legal contracts or in this case ‘ethics approvals’ and by employers ‘university degrees’ and references. Because we do not know each other as one may have in times gone by, we are unable to take each other at our word and require a paper proof, trusting the paper more than the person we are supposedly engaging with. All elements that birthed from disconnection now breathe an air of mistrust that now begets it self. I do understand the current need for ethics approval though, as many individuals ethical compass is askew. But I have a feeling that risk management may just have pulled up a seat at the ethic committee table.

      Liked by 1 person

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