Blogs and ethics approval

So I think I might need to get some more ethics approval in order to use my research blog in my research. Basically it has been an online plain language statement with some very dull posts. A few people have been nice enough to place a link on their own blogs when they came across it.

I think having this blog is a win for fairness in my project. Ethical research means having the procedures in place for people to give feedback, withdraw previously given consent and find out what you are doing with the information. It is not fair if you make these procedures so hard to access that nobody bothers. Even people who have taken a plain language statement from me might have lost it. By having some details about my project online in theory you could then find the information quickly in order to raise an issue with me, my supervisor or the ethics committee. A blog also means there is a URL which can be put at the end of each email signature, meaning that people do not need to go hunting through old email attachments to remember what I am doing.

I do not intend to use my blog to collect any sorts of private information such as IP addresses, but I would like to be able to treat comments I receive on my blog as pieces contributing to my ability to answer my research questions. This will be especially important if I do take the step of using the blog to publish some tentative research findings.

There are interesting ethical issues when it comes to using blogs in research. Blogs have issues around people being identified that street corner conversations do not. Also, written comments are sometimes seen as having an author in the way that interview quotes do not. So the balance between respecting the fact you are quoting work authored by somebody else and providing anonymity is important. There are decisions to be made about what comments will be published on the website or removed, and I imagine the ethics committee will want to know how I plan to make these decisions.

However, the one thing I am most worried about is how much oversight the committee will want to have when it comes to the copy used on the blog. All advertisements for recruiting participants need ethics approval, but what happens when you are not enrolling people into a series of interviews? Would publishing online, ‘I think that…, what do you think?’ qualify as an advertisement for participants? After all, it is a bit disrespectful to canvas suggestions if you do not intend to use them to further your own understanding.

There are ways to provide people with the opportunity to give feedback online without having to get ethics approval, none of which I think are particularly ethical. For example other bloggers in the suburb I am looking at could ‘conveniently’ post questions that they happened to hear me pose and then the published posts could provide me with answers, or I could start commenting anonymously on other blogs and forums and see what conversations unfold. As I am not willing to do these things, I guess I’ll just have to try to make my case to the ethics committee.

If only I could work out how to find the form I need to fill in!


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