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Kakei 1 Ethical considerations--gatekeepers

Ethical considerations that need to be taken into account when working with gatekeepers By: Saed Kakei, Ph.D. Student, Nova Southeastern University Department of Conflict Analysis & Resolution PhD Program April 21, 2012

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Ethical considerations that need to be taken into account when working with gatekeepers Abstract This paper is structured into three segments. The first segment provides brief definitions of key words such as ethical considerations, researchers, participants, and gatekeepers. The second segment provides a brief review of literature relating to ethical considerations when working with gatekeepers. The last segment will focus on the significance of collaborative decisions, not only between researchers and gatekeepers, but also between researchers and their ethical supervisory entities. In conclusion, this paper will argue how informed potion based on thoughtful deliberation and justification throughout the research process will result in good practice research. Introduction The growing body of literature on research ethics largely focuses on the interactions between researchers and the research participants. This is because the existing ethical codes and guidelines predominantly cover the responsibilities of researchers to the extent which they emphasize various aspects of research compared to more general professional ethics. In other words, while research ethics mainly deals with the interaction between researchers and the research participants, professional ethics deals with additional issues such as collaborative relationships among researchers, interactions with gatekeepers, mentoring relationships, intellectual property, and fabrication of data, among others. However, since both research and professional ethics govern the research process from the inception to completion, this paper will blind both forms of ethics to describe how researchers encounter some regulatory processes while working with gatekeepers in their qualitative research endeavors. Generally, the history of ethical principles originates mostly from the 1947 Nuremberg code and the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki. The Nuremberg code along with Declaration of Helsinkis subsequent revisions in 1975, 1983, 1989 and 1996 form the basis of all quantitative and qualitative-biological research methods and provide a solid ground for good ethical practice used commonly today. In particular, good ethical practice in qualitative methods of research involves: moral deliberation, choice, and accountability that are based on two groups of essential elements of ethical considerations. The first group insures the participants rights to knowledge of generalizability; autonomy; anonymity; consent; and his or her ability to terminate participation at any time. The second group, however, are made of three critical needs that every researcher has to comply with and they include: possessing sufficient training solid ethics to conduct research; cognizant of perceived power relations and or imbalances between self and the participant; and informing the participant of any dangers and receive his or her consent. Although many of these ethical considerations are closely inter-related, each one of them will be considered separately with detailed attention paid to the second group as they directly relate to the topic of this paper as provided above. Additionally, a number of professional ethical considerations for working with gatekeepers will be discussed and identified as supplements for researchers when dealing with gatekeepers to solicit participants consent. Conducting qualitative methods research involving human participants or respondents is not necessarily an easy task. Aside from making difficult decisions to address complex ethical dilemmas while working with gatekeepers, qualitative researchers have to respond to various levels of ethical authoritative bodies and institutions. These may emerge and occur before, during, or after a research project involving gatekeepers is completed. That been said, there are general

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overlapping principles, in particular relating to human respect, dignity, and safety and that both researchers and gatekeepers have to comply with. However, as will be exemplified throughout this paper, there is not always an easy solution, or a single answer, to the many ethical issues arising from working with gatekeepers. While there is a general consensus that good practice research is synonymous with ethically-sound research product, the use of certain assumptions and questionable research methodologies with gatekeepers can undoubtedly create conflicts in relation to various ethical principles and guidelines. As a result, this paper will also explore some basic solutions for these conflicts. The author of this paper will argue that research designs or programs will ultimately depend on the perspectives of the institutional ethical committees which researchers and their research contexts are governed by. The importance of research ethics in qualitative research The history and progress of research ethics is strongly reflective of mistaken assumptions, misleading research participants, and abuses made in the course of biomedical research. For example, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health, studied the effects of untreated syphilis in 400 African American men from 1932 to 1972 asserts that: Researchers withheld treatment even when penicillin became widely available. Researchers did not tell the subjects that they were in an experiment. Most subjects who attended the Tuskegee clinic thought they were getting treatment for bad blood (Magagnini, 2011, p. A3). This along with the Nuremberg and Helsinki codes has led some qualitative methods researchers to argue that their research may not benefit from such regulations because they are not at risk of abusing their research participants. On the other hand, biomedical and public health researchers who use qualitative methods research without having formal research ethics training may attempt to rigidly enforce bioethics practices without considering their appropriateness for qualitative research designs. Between these two ends, lies a reasonable approach stems from the established principles for ethical research that are properly applied to the frameworks of qualitative methods research. In this approach, gatekeepers play a significant role in research involving human subjects. Appropriately interpreted and applied principles of research ethics help researchers to explicitly consider and ensure that the needs and concerns of research participants will be met with appropriate oversight throughout the research process, and that a basis for trust as well as an overall benefit to society is established between researchers, gatekeepers, and research participants. Whenever research is conducted involving human subjects, theoretically at least, gatekeepers ensure that the welfare of research participants must be the top priority for researchers. For researchers and gatekeepers alike, research data must always be of secondary importance. For example, if a choice must be made between doing harm to a research participant and doing harm to the research project itself, the sacrifice must be the research project. In other words, ethical considerations always take precedence over and above research data. Definitions of key terms In their attempt to define ethical considerations, Birch et al. (2002) argue that ethics in conducting qualitative research should be more than just guidelines and simple ethical approval obtained from ethical boards and academic committees covering various philosophical view points,

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principles, and practical approaches. Ethical considerations encountered in qualitative research are much broader than this: they are empirical and theoretical, and permeate the qualitative research process. The complexities of researching private lives and placing accounts in the public arena raise multiple ethical issues for the researcher that cannot be solved solely by the application of abstract rules, principles or guidelines. Rather, there are inherent tensions in qualitative research that is characterized by fluidity and inductive uncertainty, and ethical guidelines that are static and increasingly formalized (Birch et al., 2002, p. 1). Dench et al. (2004) assert that ethical considerations should not be biased against practical and methodological issues such as how important it is for a research project to be conducted from which data needs to be collected. Equally important to remember that there is seldom to see a clear-cut context-free ethical principle to be relevant to all ethical issues (Gorard, 2002). What is imperative is that ethical considerations depend on the researchers conscious to justify a course of action. The researcher is an individual who is capable of writing, analyzing, and critiquing data collected for the purpose of publicizing the findings to serve the betterment of humanity. Researchers, like everyone else, make ethical decisions based on their own moral, social, political and cultural position and stance. To avoid dealing with ethical dilemmas, de Laine (2000) states that: The researcher needs some understanding of how to use the [ethical] code together with other resources to make a decision that is more right. The individuals intentions, motivations and ways of cognitively structuring the ethically sensitive situation are equally important to ethical and moral practice as are conforming to or violating an ethical code (de Laine, 2000, p. 3). Kellehear provides that the practice in ethics committees has been to observe ethics in terms of what a researcher do to others rather than the wider moral and social responsibilities of simply being a researcher (1993, p. 14). Therefore, the ethical decisions of a researcher should include being consciously aware of ones values, principles and allegiance to ethical codes, intuition and feelings, within a context that is characterized by professional and power relationships (de Laine, 2000, p. 3). Research participants can be identified as a group of individuals willingly consenting to share their lived experiences with researcher(s) who are conducting a research project. The process by which potential research participants agree to be researched is traditionally known as informed consent whereby a researcher seeks the participants permissions to collect their needed data. The idea that research participants are to be treated as autonomous and anonymous, who ought not to be deceived for the benefit of others will be discussed between the researcher and the potential participants as reflections of principles embodied in ethical codes and standards known to the societys ethical traditions (Saks and Melton, 1996). Furthermore, researchers working with qualitative methods of research specify in informed consent how and what data will be accessed

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and presented. Informed consent, therefore, is a central ethical notion that clearly identifies and shapes research action highlighting the rights and responsibilities of all actors involved. In its 2005 revised Codes of Ethics, the American Counseling Association (ACA) notes that: When a person is not capable of giving informed consent, counselors provide an appropriate explanation to, obtain agreement for participation from, and obtain the appropriate consent of a legally authorized person (Section G.2.f). This indicates that the process of informed consent consists of two elements; first, the capacity of the participants to provide consent and then their comprehension of having the functional cognitive ability to acknowledge ones rights and responsibilities as a research participant (Hays and Singh, 2012, p. 81). As for gatekeepers, the literature on research ethics provides a variety of definitions. Oliver (2010) provides that the term gatekeeper is mostly used to define the person who controls access to a location where it is hoped to carry out research (p. 39). The term characteristically suggests that individuals who have supervisory or administrative authority in an organization to decide in absolute terms whether a researcher can or cannot carry out a research in his or her organization. Examples of gatekeepers could be the principal of a school, the general manager of a company or an authorized supervisor involved in controlling not only the recruitments of research participants, but also influencing the research project in a variety of ways: by limiting conditions of entry, by defining the problem area of study, by limiting access to data and respondents, by restricting the scope of analysis, and by retaining prerogatives with respect to publication (Broadhead and Rist, 1976, p. 325). This definition covers a broad yet complex meaning for gatekeeping profession. Neuman (2000) qualifies a gatekeeper as someone with the formal or informal authority to control access to a site (p. 352). Conversely, gatekeepers could be identified as certain individuals with legitimate authority to control and protect access to information held by vulnerable research participants. As we all know, human interactions are based on information needed to develop knowledge. Social ethics and norms, therefore, created to regulate human interactions in order to prevent misuse of knowledge which may pose possible harm to self, individuals, and a society as a whole. Obviously, there are certain members of society exposed to harm more than the rest. For example, children, the elderly, and the protected populationsnamely the hospitalized and the incarcerated peopleare vulnerable to harm more than anybody else. Therefore, the idea of gatekeepers came into play to protect access to these people and their private information. Categories of gatekeepers Unlike other commentators who have categorized gatekeepers as formal and informal (Reeves, 2010) or internal and external gatekeepers (Ortiz, 2004), I argue that since there are three commonly known levels of management described as administrative or primary, executory or secondary, and supervisory or operative; therefore, gatekeepers could be categorized as primary, secondary, and operative gatekeepers. Each of these layers of authority has a different role in controlling and protecting access to information held by vulnerable research participants. The primary gatekeepers are those who have the ultimate authority such as the top executives, school board members, and principals to grant or deny access to potential research sites and participants. Secondary gatekeepers, however, are those who have the authority to interpret and execute the primary gatekeepers policy directives according to their own personal perspectives and they include departmental managers, school principals, and problem-solvers,

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among others. If they feel that the researcher is not cooperating or establishing direct contacts with them during the fieldwork stage, they may easily make a motion to terminate, deny, or limit the researchers access to research participants. As for the operative gatekeepers, they consist of supervisors, sectional directors, superintendents, teachers and etc. Often, operative gatekeepers are the frontline staff members that researchers have to deal with on a regular base during their data collection stage. If any of these gatekeepers, who have direct contacts with potential research participants, feel that they have not been consulted or recognized by the researchers for chances of negotiating access to research participants, then the researcher(s) may never be able to produce an adequate research data. Like their senior level leaders, operative gatekeepers have their organizational specific professional ethics to comply with and preserve. As a result, it is critically important for all researchers not only to adhere to their own research ethics, but also to obtain, learn, and observe the professional ethical codes of their research site(s). It is worth mentioning here that these three categories of gatekeepers are all formal and objective in their conducts and researchers frequently deal with them directly. Occasionally though, there is another form or category of gatekeepers that researchers may need to deal with them indirectly or informally. Such gatekeepers may include stakeholders, research sponsors, student leaders or influential protected individuals. Ethical considerations need to be fully observed in working with such informal or external gatekeepers simply because such individuals instead of complying with professional ethics regulating research sites, they often rely on their own personal interpretations of events which make their observations to be mostly subjective. For example, Roadhead and Rist (1976) broadly summarized research sponsors exertion of influence on the researcher in one of three ways as following: 1. 2. 3. Through detailed specification of the research issue so that the eventual problem is cast within a framework congruent with the sponsor's perspective. Through emphasis upon a positivistic style of research thought more susceptible to manipulation for the purposes of controlling the results. Through the threat of withdrawing present funding and denying future support should the researcher move into areas not in the best interest of the sponsor (1976, p. 325).

Essential procedures for maintaining ethical considerations when dealing with gatekeepers The first step in any research project that a researcher has to take is identifying a research site. Several factors will guide this difficult procedure, including the sampling method and accessibility of the site. For example, if the targeted samplings are secondary students, then high school settings might be ideal sites. When thinking about site selection, researchers often neglect or underestimate their comfort level with a particular site. However, comfort is a critical factor, especially because researchers might have to deal with different layers of gatekeepers in the field for a significant period of time collecting data. That been said, researchers need to assess their discomfort levels with potential sites as well. These along with other factors are important in selecting a site appropriate for a research project.

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Once site selection is completed, researchers need to prepare themselves for other research procedures prior to initiating contacts with either of their ethics committees or the formal gatekeepers who control and protect access to potential research participants. In its Ethical Guidelines (2003), on section 6 under the rubric of Standard protocols for checking ethical considerations, the British Social Research Association (SRA) provides that researchers are advised to routinely check their research projects to make sure that their ethical requirements are met. Although the above mentioned standard protocols consist of 14 checklists, for the purpose of this paper, they can be summarized as following:
1. Project title: Offers a quick reference for gatekeepers indicating the generalized sphere of research interest. 2. Purpose of research study and knowledge generalizability: Provides gatekeepers with an explanation of aims, objectives, and any potential "value" added to the research participants and/or society in general. Also, responds to questions relating to the anticipated use of the data, forms of publication and dissemination of findings etc. 3. Expected duration: Gives initial indication of time required to conduct the research project on the selected site. 4. Identity of field researchers and organizational base: This include a list of names, positions, and functional qualifications of those holding responsible positions, including the gatekeepers who might be in direct contact with the potential research participants. This offers an estimate of ability together with a chain of responsibility and accountability. 5. Research sponsor: Provides the gatekeepers and the potential participants the name and identity of the funding party for the proposed research. 6. Methodical background and a brief description of study design: Gatekeepers and potential participants require some rationale to understand the research aims. Also, they need to comprehend any specific sampling technique and data analysis methods followed by a brief description of what will be required of them to and how potential individuals are to be expected to participate. 7. Potential benefits and hazards: Potential participants as well as gatekeepers need to know what benefits and/or risks are involved in participating in the projected research. What procedures have been established by the researcher for the welfare and protection of the potential participants and how their volunteered information will be handled and controlled? 8. Recruitment procedures: Gatekeepers must be made aware of any sense in which potential individuals might be obliged to participate, or is the recruitment is a voluntary with the entitlement to unconditional withdrawal of consent at any time of the research project. 9. Informed consent: Consent of participants must be requested and put in easily comprehensible terms to potential participants. Informed consent should be both orally and also in written form setting out in easy terms factors relevant to the interests of participants in the research study preferably be witnessed by gatekeepers, stakeholders, or any third party at the discretion of the

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potential participants. Signed copies of the informed consent must be given to potential participants to keep in advance of seeking their consents. 10.Confidentiality, anonymity, and data protection: The steps taken to safeguard the confidentiality of records and any potential identifying information about the subject must be revealed to potential participants. Also, the research project should comply with the professional ethical codes of the research site(s) and must follow the requirements of relevant data protection regulations and the rules of monitoring and securing the research procedures.

It should be noted that every research project, be it based on quantitative or qualitative methods of research, has to take into considerations these essential protocols or procedures. of ethical research. However, the literature on ethical research has roughly categorized these procedures into two sets. The first set of ethical considerations insures the participants rights to the knowledge of generalizability, autonomy, anonymity, informed consent, and the ability to terminate participation at any time. As for the second set of ethical considerations, it is mainly made of three critical needs that every researcher has to comply with. These ethical needs include: 1. Possess sufficient training to conduct the experiment/survey: The researcher needs to have an authorized sufficient training supervised by either the academic community or the government. Also, the researcher has to be institutionally affiliated by a research governing body only if the researcher conceptually understands the totality and the ethics of qualitative methods research. 2. Cognizant of perceived power relations/imbalances between self and participant: The researcher has to recognize the level of authority at his/her disposal. Individuals are more prone to tastily, not really willingly, consent to power structures. Also, researchers need to recognize power imbalances between research participants as well. This is because researchers need not to create a condition in which one participant has more power over one or other research participants. 3. Inform participant of any dangers and receive consent: Researchers have to make sure that participants recognize what it is that they get involved in. For example, the recognition of the nature of the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment would have immediately forfeited the nature of the experiment. The role of gatekeepers In many circumstances, once contact is established with primary gatekeepers, either through personal contact or via formal channels, from which permission is to be obtained to conduct research, it is often assumed by novice researchers that this means the relationship between researcher and all other gatekeepers can be fully beneficial. However, although they both seem to have a great deal to gain from their relationship, it could be argued that operative gatekeepers potentially have more to lose. In such a case, researchers can always either seek conflict-resolving advice from the executory gatekeepers, or go directly to the primary gatekeepers from which they originally obtained their access to the research participants. In extreme cases, researchers may decide to move on to another research field where the gatekeepers may have a lesser impact of insensitive research practice. Nevertheless, many primary as well as executory gatekeepers would often like to have research conducted on aspects of their work. For example, an elementary school principal might be interested in a systematic study of the attitudes of pupils to homework, or of the impact of a new approach to monitoring student progress. It is true that the

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proposed research project may not ideally be the one that would be chosen be the primary or executory gatekeepers, nevertheless, it may be possible to compromise with the researcher to create a research project that would at least partially be of benefit to the school. Now one might be forgiven to think that compromising on the research project is a clear indication for a grown conflict between the researcher and the elementary school gatekeepers as provided in the example above. Furthermore, one might perceive the researcher as someone who wants to carry out the research project at all costs, while the gatekeepers might be seen as essentially concerned with protecting their institution and tending to apply strict conditions to any research process. However, understanding that the concept of conflict holds danger and opportunity on equal footings, then there is no reason at all for these aims to be looked at negatively. Raider and Coleman (1997) explain that conflict is a prerequisite to creativity and that unless someone experiences a limitation of some sort, it would be difficult to be creative. Therefore, what is profoundly important is that researchers and gatekeepers should make serious attempts to discover the opportunities layered in creative thoughts of the other for the sake of knowledge generalizability. It is the burden of the researchers to explain the purpose of their research projects and it is their ethical obligation to indicate and anticipated parameters of their research projects. Nonetheless, it is extremely difficult for researchers to predict the exact outcomes of their findings from data which has not been collected yet. Oliver (2010) suggests that researchers need not to get a separate permission whenever a slight change to the research design may occur. Rather, it is practical at this phase of the research process to outline as honestly as possible the main research plan, and then to indicate possible directions in which the research might develop. If an overall approval can be gained, it will provide the researcher with a certain freedom of action (p. 40). He adds that if gatekeepers have some lingering concerns, then it would be in the interests of the researchers to agree on a straightforward procedure for obtaining new permission if required (Oliver, 2010, p. 41). When working with gatekeepers and others in the research field, it would be helpful for researchers to state that their research projects have been vetted and approved by their respective institutional ethics committees. Also, it will certainly be a good ethical practice for researchers to record and keep careful and relevant minutes of their meetings and discussions with all types of gatekeepers on the research site. If any drastic change is requested by the gatekeepers at this stage, it would be the ethical responsibility for the researchers to pass such requests to their respective institutional ethics committees. It is implicit in this debate that ethics committees have the ultimate power to veto or refuse to grant any drastic changes requested by gatekeepers to a vetted and approved research program. Oliver (2010) provides that generally, an ethics committee would usually make recommendations for the improvement of the research design, and the researcher would then make these amendments. In the final analysis it is important that ethics committees have the power to withhold approval (p. 42). Negotiating access to potential research participants Gaining access to research participants through primary gatekeepers can almost always be helpful to ensure that you have access to rich data and give the research credibility amongst the

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secondary and the operative gatekeepers as well as staff working within the site. But, as Mulhall (2003) realized, informal gatekeepers also need to be approached before potential research participants of the site will fully involve in the research. These informal gatekeepers and stakeholders may need to be negotiated according to their roles. For example, substitute teachers, contracted operational managers and informal leaders of the potential research populations need to be consulted and their concerns have to be addressed. If any, this is a clear indication that gaining access to research participants is not a single event but part of a continuous process that may need revisions throughout the fieldwork. To this end, occasionally, a gatekeeper may block access to potential research participants without the gatekeepers sole permission. In such cases, researchers should not delegate their responsibility to protect the participants interests on to such a gatekeeper. Additionally, researchers should be cautious of unintentionally disturbing the relationship between the research participants and the gatekeeper. The SRA (2003) stresses that: While respecting the gatekeepers legitimate interests they should adhere to the principle of obtaining informed consent directly from subjects once they have gained access to them. The principle of informed consent is, in essence, an expression of belief in the need for truthful and respectful exchanges between social researchers and human subjects. It is clearly not a precondition of all social enquiries. Equally it remains an important and highly valued professional norm (SRA, 2003, p. 29). Once access to the research site and research participants granted by the appropriate gatekeepers, researchers next step would be to establish and maintain rapport throughout the remaining phases of the research process as explained in the next segment. Establishing rapport with gatekeepers According to Reeves (2010), Russell et al. (2002) argue that the old-style ethnographic research comfortably regarded the concept of rapport as a strategy to handle research relationships which may or may not be very problematic. This old-style ethnography consideration sits uneasily with the new-style ethnography which recognizes respondents active interpretation of their world (in Reeves, 2010, p. 320). Exploring the challenges she faced while doing an ethnographic fieldwork within a controlled probation premises, Reeves (2010) states that the rapport she needed to maintain positive and beneficial research relationships with the primary gatekeeper strongly proofed the gatekeepers power over both the fieldwork and her conduct in the probation premises. However, she elaborates that her role in establishing rapport was not purely to manage the primary gatekeepers expectations of her and the research; rather, it was to be watchful of both her and the gatekeepers shifting roles and professional needs so that conflict would not necessarily characterizes rapport to be difficult to maintain. Funder (2005) argues that rapport is not just about encouraging the researcher to present a sincere account of self. Rather, it is an added dimension of power relations between the researcher and the research participants with which the researchers aim to gain rich data becomes much easier. This is not to assume that established and maintained rapport will always benefits the researcher. To the contrary, just as the researcher desires to get quality data, research participants could also use rapport as a method to gain power. Funder (2005) explains that researchers may

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perhaps be enticed to believe that, because of their established rapport, research participants are frank and honest with them. Reeves (2010) reveals that she found probation inmates would use her for their own interests. She adds that: Even where they were comfortable with my presence and at ease in general conversation, it was apparent that they would tell me half-truths, lies and stories in order to present an image they wished to portray. (Reeves, 2010, p. 321). Therefore, for the sake of establishing positive and trusted relationships, researchers need to allow gatekeepers and research participants to have a very limited degree of control over the research process. Researchers should consciously be aware of the ethical dilemmas when seeking gatekeepers willingness to engage in the research and the research participants deceptive openness during the interview stage. In addition, as illustrated here, researchers may not need to use rapport as a strategy to establish and maintain research relationships; rather, they need to consider it as an essential element of conducting qualitative research. Ethical concerns and dilemmas in dealing with gatekeepers Ethical concerns in qualitative methods research can be attributed to a number of factors. Some factors are more generally relate to social tendencies (i.e., universally occurring social inclinations), while others are specific to the concerns of individual researchers and their respective research community. Looking first at the universal tendency, there is an augmented concern for careful actions in both public and private sectors. Public authorities are expected to be more accountable with universal principles of human rights that entail honesty, justice, and respect (Edwards and Mauthner, 2002, p. 20). Occasionally, however, these actions are having implications on human behaviors and, therefore, there are legitimate concerns to limit their potentials for harm. The level and impact of these actions are subject to great debate and concern, especially amongst the professional ethics committees and organizations. For example, access-toinformation-acts reflect concerns about ethical issues. Thus, a profound level of legitimacy has been given to gatekeepers to control access to information. Looking more specifically at the concerns of most researchers, a number of subjects emerge. Edwards and Mauthner (2002) conclude that the concern for ethics is rooted in concerns with issues of power relations between the research sponsor, the researcher and the research institution as a gatekeeper (p. 21). However, researchers bound by the virtue ethics of skills not only do not want to accept conditions that conflict with ethical practice and place restrictions on their publication and use of findings, but also do not want to put themselves in a position in which they could unwittingly break restrictions placed on them by their sponsors (Mauthner, 2002). This view seems to have become more widespread in recent years to the extent that not only research sponsors impose conditions and exert restrictions on researchers, but institutional gatekeepers also abuse their ethical power in dealing with researcher. For example, in her discussion about the Canadian Research Ethics Boards (REBs), Coupal (2004) concludes that [g]ranting ethical approval authority to organizational gatekeepers contradicts the ethical principle that individuals have a right to exercise their own moral agency (p.11). While general principles apply, there is rarely one clear course of action for researchers to take in any ethical dilemma that may arise. This is very clear in the discussion of issues relating to participants. For example, although voluntary participation based on informed consent might seem relatively straightforward to apply, in practice both these principles lead to many dilemmas.

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Furthermore, in relation to protecting participants from harm, harm can be defined in many different ways, from a range of physical or mental impacts on the individual participant to wider societal and political impacts. A conflict over confidentiality and the anonymity of participants can and do arise when conducting research. The researcher will want to maintain this unless for particular reasons it is agreed at the beginning with participants that confidentiality will not be maintained. However, once a study is completed and the findings emerge, sponsors may want particular types of participants to be identified. In all cases, ethics is about dealing with conflict disagreement and ambivalence. Implicit or explicit choices have to be made across the range of ethical decisions possible. Knowing there can be ethical arguments against a course of action does not take away the responsibility on the researcher from considering the consequences of taking or refraining from that action. Others take an absolutist position in which some things are in themselves wrong and should never be done, whatever the consequences. For example, many researchers consider covert research as a totally unacceptable research design. However, others argue that in some contexts covert research is the only method with which needed information can be collected to report on difficult situations. By definition, covert research means that participation is not voluntary and participants are not able to give informed consent. Also, if it is not conducted for both practical and ethical reasons, covert research methodologies often will lead to ethical dilemmas. For instance, in her research with codependent self-help individuals, Irvine (1998) argues that her best choice was to attend only the public gatherings of her researched individuals. She justifies her reasons for not identifying herself as a researcher and consequently not obtaining informed consent from these vulnerable people because: (a) There were no gatekeepers to grant her access to the group, (b) there was a culture of anonymity already in place for the 12-step program, and (c) she deemed it most harmful to interrupt the meetings to announce her research agenda (Tisdale, 2004, p. 20). Similarly, covert research was the design choice for Erickson and Tewksbury (2000) to generate data from male strip-clubs without identifying themselves or obtaining informed consent. The authors argue that the rationality for remaining covert throughout their research project based on research conducted on adult entertainment sites which tend "to be highly secretive and suspicious of others" (p.275). Still, although Irvine (1998) and both Erickson and Tewksbury (2000) have maintained the anonymity of their researched individuals, the ethical problems with their research findings cannot be discredited. At least two unethical issues are clearly visible here: first, the collected data from both research findings have not been validated by the researched participants; second, the notion of unavailable gatekeepers or the avoidance of gatekeepers who control and protect access to vulnerable research participants should not be justified at all. Because, no matter how potentially useful the research might be, gatekeepers will certainly have legitimate concerns about the impact of the covert research on their organizations. They will be concerned about the future functioning of their organizations, the dignity and safety of their vulnerable populations, and about some confidential or sensitive information that could be misinterpreted with damaging consequences if disclosed outside their organizations. Therefore, researchers have an ethical obligation not only establish contacts with gatekeepers, but also fully inform them about the intended research, particularly on areas which possibly will influence the gatekeepers decision-makings.

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Generally, it is easier to judge research by its methodological approach and rigor, rather than by how ethical it is. Although there may be disputes over the methodological appropriateness of different methods, the dilemmas raised by ethical considerations can be far more controversial and less easily agreed on. However, the consensus in the literature is that breaches of confidentiality and undignified professional behavior are more likely to harm the reputation of a profession than are matters of technical competence. Therefore, adhering to ethical guidelines will help researchers to develop their own shared values by which researchers become more aware of the range of ethical considerations need to be taken into their accounts. Researchers need ethical guidelines to help bring awareness of the implications of an ethical approach to the attention of a wider range of actors and stakeholders involved in research projects. However, guidelines or codes are only a starting point. The development of a moral or ethical imagination requires something more. For example, the Social Research Association (2003) advocates a mentoring process whereby researchers seek to share their ethical problems and decisions with others. Conclusion This paper discussed, identified explained the ethical considerations that need to be taken into account when working with gatekeepers. Drawn from literature review of qualitative research ethics, ethical considerations should not be biased against practical and methodological issues such as how important it is for a research project to be conducted from which data needs to be collected. Then in the course of defining gatekeepers, this paper concluded that gatekeepers are certain individuals with legitimate authority to control and protect access to information held by vulnerable research participants. After categorizing gatekeepers in accordance to the levels of their authorities, a summary of the most known ethical considerations provided as procedures to manage the professional relations not only between the researcher and the gatekeepers, but also with potential research participants. Also, it has been underlined that informed consent where gatekeepers are involved requires the need to obtain the primary gatekeepers permission to access potential research participants for their unprocessed data. Once permission granted, the paper argued that researchers may not need to use rapport as a strategy to establish and maintain research relationships; rather, they need to consider it as an essential element of conducting qualitative research. In the course of discussing the ethical dilemmas and concerns which may face researchers, the paper provided that obtained permission from the gatekeeper must not be treated as substitute for research participants must needed informed consent of the participants. It has been stressed that the autonomy, anonymity, and rights of research participants, especially their protection from harm are nonnegotiable. In the process of data collection, adequate care should be the norm to ensure that the relationships between the research participants and the gatekeepers are not unintentionally jeopardised. Finally, this paper underlined the need for greater care in protecting the participants confidentiality and interests while publishing or disseminating the research findings.

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