Establish an Ethical Toolkit

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An ethical toolkit is a strong, yet flexible framework comprising a basic set of moral concepts for researchers to draw from as they engage with an ethical challenge.

While research involving disaster-affected populations must adhere to the ethical principles guiding all human subjects research, there are additional concerns that warrant an expanded ethical framework.​1,2​ Adapting W.D. Ross’ ethical framework that uses a pluralist list of moral considerations for everyday life and human relations,​3​ Browne and Peek develop an ethical toolkit for disaster research. This toolkit is based on a set of principles that are meant to be more comprehensive and flexible to the personal experiences of each researcher and include beneficence, fidelity, reparation, gratitude, justice, non-maleficence, and self-improvement.​1​

Key Ethical Principles Identified by W.D. Ross​3​

Beneficence: Maximizing benefits of participation in research.

Fidelity: Maintaining fidelity to an implicit or explicit promise. 

Reparation: Making amends for a previous wrongful act.

Gratitude: Expressing gratitude for participation in research.

Justice: Treating participants fairly and equitably.

Non-Maleficence: Minimizing harm from participation in research.

Self-Improvement: Improving one’s own condition in respect of virtue or of intelligence.

There is rarely one correct answer to an ethical dilemma, and an ethical toolkit can help researchers think through the multiple angles of the situation to make better decisions that might cause less harm and do more good.​1​ When thinking of the range of ethical principles that researchers can employ to guide ethical decision-making, it is important to envision them as pieces that fit together and help to create a more ethical whole. Every researcher is responsible for developing their own ethical toolkit to which they hold themselves accountable.

In addition to Browne and Peek’s adaptation of Ross’ framework to develop an ethical toolkit for disaster research, there are other useful tools that can help hazards and disaster researchers develop their own code of ethics. For example, the Adapted Summary of a Public Health Ethics Framework provides a list of questions that one can ask themselves to ensure that proposed interventions, policy proposals, programs, and research initiatives are implemented fairly.​4​

The R2HC Research Ethics tool is another tool that is designed to stimulate reflection and discussion about ethical issues that could arise in research during humanitarian crises.

The Ethical Compass to Guide Decision-Making is a tool that researchers can use to balance the values of equal respect, fairness, and helping to reduce suffering. For more information about other tools and resources related to the broader ethical considerations for hazards and disaster researchers, please see the CONVERGE Training Module resources tab.

Source: Nuffield Council on Bioethics​5​
  1. 1.
    Browne KE, Peek L. Beyond the IRB: An Ethical Toolkit for Long-Term Disaster Research. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters. 2014;32(1):82-120.

  2. 2.
    O’Mathúna DP. Conducting research in the aftermath of disasters: Ethical considerations. Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine. 2010;3(2). doi:10.1111/j.1756-5391.2010.01076.x

  3. 3.
    Ross WD. The Right and the Good. Oxford University Press; 2002.

  4. 4.
    Kass NE. An ethics framework for public health. American Journal of Public Health. 2001;91(11):1776-1782.

  5. 5.
    Nuffield Council on Bioethics. Research in Global Health Emergencies. Nuffield Council on Bioethics; 2020:1-308. https://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/publications/research-in-global-health-emergencies