News & blog

Embedding Research Ethics in a Third Sector Organisation

Dr Amy Calder and Dr Neil Davidson

Dr Amy Calder, Senior Policy and Research Officer at YouthLink Scotland and Dr Neil Davidson, Senior Social Researcher in Employability Research and Evaluation at Scottish Government

Logos of Scottish Government and YouthLink Scotland

Should I offer financial incentives to focus group attendees? How can we provide support to under 16s completing surveys on sensitive issues? Does consent need to be written? These are just a few of the many questions that researchers come across on a regular basis.

We know that there is increasing pressure on the third sector to demonstrate their impact through research and evaluation. But, despite this pressure there has been a lack of formal mechanisms or even consistent informal advice on how to navigate conducting research ethically.

Addressing this gap is exactly what Scotland’s Third Sector Research Forum Guide to Applying Ethical Research Principles sought to do:  provide clear guidance, prompt discussion, and offer a range of actual examples from the sector.

At YouthLink Scotland (YLS), the national agency for youth work, we decided to go one step further.

We wanted to truly embed research ethics in all the research we do, and to help that we’ve developed a Research Ethics Policy. We needed a policy that would not only draw and expand on the guidance but would also clearly outline our expectations when conducting, commissioning and partnering with other organisations in research and evaluation. 

For some additional support YLS applied to the Scottish Government Analytical Exchange Programme. This Programme matches Government analysts with voluntary sector organisations requesting help around data, analysis, statistics and research on very short, sharp projects. Individuals or small groups of statisticians, economists or researchers then act as analytical consultants to collect and analyse data, solve problems and evaluate impact.

Once we were matched, Neil and I worked collaboratively over several weeks mixing our expertise and backgrounds. For example, we drew on our collective knowledge of existing work and guidance to produce a ‘hybrid’ policy that would be the best of both worlds; something that draws on actual third sector situations but also has that blend of official guidance running through it.

Since publication, the feedback from colleagues, partners and Members is that this has been a timely and useful document. From a practical perspective it is already being applied; the policy is now used as a benchmark tool when we’ve been approached by potential partners looking to conduct research with young people.

As with all ethics guidance and policies, this policy is not intended to provide all the answers. Instead it aims lead to discussions, draw on the experience of colleagues, and ask questions to ensure that our research and evaluation activities are ethically sound.

Above all else though it is intended to give us confidence to know that what we are doing has integrity and has the young people’s wellbeing at the centre.

Amy and Neil will be speaking at our next TSRF event on 8th February 2022.

Find out more about Scotland’s Third Sector Research Forum …