Social value is about understanding the changes that occur as a direct result of engagement with a project, initiative, organisation etc. However, when involving people in the SROI process, research is being conducted and in doing so, there must be ethical considerations. If an organisation engages with vulnerable adults or children, for example, how can you ensure that their specific needs are understood, that they are freely participating in the research and that they will not come to any harm as a result of taking part? As academic researchers based within the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University, we are required to consider ethical aspects in all research we conduct, and formal approval must be given by the university’s ethics research committee prior to commencement. The University ethics committee’s Code of Conduct states that studies involving the administration of questionnaires or the use of interviews, observations and focus groups must obtain appropriate ethical approval. So, in conducting SROI evaluations, ethical approval must be sought for engagement activities which aim to understand the impact of an organisation.
Applying for ethical approval can be a daunting task if you have not had to consider research ethics before, but good working links with the chair of the ethics committee has made this process much simpler. We are usually able to seek approval through the university’s proportionate research route. This means that the application for approval is dealt with more quickly, and has a turnaround of approval usually in less than a fortnight. A document has to be prepared as part of the application for ethical approval, which outlines every aspect to the research: who you are involving, what the participants will be asked to do, how you inform them about the research and their rights to withdraw at any time. The ethics procedure forces evaluators to think about issues that may not have otherwise been considered, making them more aware of the impact of their work, while reducing risks to everyone and generally improving work.
While social impact analysts do not necessarily need to gain formal ethical approval for their engagement work as part of the SROI process, it is still necessary to consider the ethical implications and any potential negative impact on participants. There are many lessons which can be gained from the ethical approval process that is very relevant for public and private sectors:
• Ensure those participating in engagement activities are fully aware of what the purpose of their involvement is, and what they are being asked to do. It is important that they know what they are agreeing to and that they can opt-out at any time.
• Consider data protection issues: what will happen to the information that is and who will it be shared with?
• Consider how confidentiality and anonymity for those involved is maintained.
• Think about the power balances in the researcher-participant relationship, participants should never be coerced into participating.
• Consider any risks to the researcher and participants – including venue, when it will be held, and how long it may take.
Ethical consideration ensures that those participating in SROI evaluations are doing so in a safe and ethical way, ensuring robustness of the data that is gained. Whilst this rigour is necessary for the research we do, it is also a necessary consideration of anyone who involves the public as part of any evaluation. For more details of the research ethics process at Liverpool John Moores University visit:
Applied Health and Wellbeing Partnership at the Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University
Email: [email protected]; Tel: 0151 231 4384