Research ethics in social care

Michael Dunn Completed   2020


It is a well-established principle that all research involving human participants must be subject to ethical scrutiny before it can proceed. In order to put this principle into practice in England, Research Ethics Committees (RECs) have been established to scrutinise research studies at the university, local authority and governmental level. In contrast to the health care research context, comparatively little has been written about ethics in social care research. Yet, in order to be able to carry out their research studies, it is important that social care researchers are familiar with research ethics.

Moreover, there is a body of literature that suggests that the social care research community remains skeptical about the value of research ethics review, and is uncertain about how research ethics requirements relate to their research practices. Guidance papers within health and social care research tend to focus on the governance process associated with RECs, rather than providing a broad introduction to research ethics. As such, researchers are likely to be familiar with the process of gaining ethics approval, but lack insight of the relevant ethical arguments, or how to apply these arguments in thinking through the practical considerations raised by RECs, within this process.


This review aimed to clarify the requirements for the ethical conduct of social care research that involves human participants.


The review provides social care researchers with information about the overarching ethical rationales for considering the ethical permissibility of their research activities, and identifies a number of specific ethical principles that social care researchers should consider in order to design their research studies in ways that stand up to detailed ethical scrutiny.

It also considers the distinctiveness of ethical issues in social care research practice, drawing on illustrative examples to consider how these issues ought to be thought through using the ethical principles identified.

Practical guidance is offered to how social care researchers ought to approach the process of obtaining ethical approval from a research ethics committee, providing them with tools to enable them to articulate, justify, and defend their research practice and the methodological decisions that they have made in designing specific social care research studies.

Research ethics in social care
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