In order to frame our understanding of the foundational role of ethics within scholarly research Preissle et al offers two essential and interdependent factors: integrity and compliance (2015, p.145).
The term research integrity refers to the need for scholars to examine the quality and purpose of the research being undertaken and to critically reflect on the merit of the question and the level of adherence to set criteria. ‘Research may generate useful knowledge but still be morally and ethically suspect’ (Preissle et al 2015, p.145). Research integrity requires scholars to hold high standards of practice regarding data collection, transparency and analysis of findings.
The need for compliance in research stems from a history of inquiries that can be criticised as being baseless, fabricated, indifferent to the impact on participants, and in extreme cases, violations of human rights. All research undertaken requires oversight and consideration from ethical review boards, to support scholars mitigate risks to participants throughout the research process, including privacy and mental and emotional harm. This is particularly evident when participants are drawn from vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities, incarcerated persons or young people under the age of legal consent.
When applying a mixed method approach, there are additional ethical considerations to be considered by researchers:
The integration of research forms
The majority of research applying a mixed method approach seeks to collate initial data using quantitative tools, for example a structured survey, from which some key generalisations can be drawn. This in turn can aid the researcher to hone their focus question and seek more extended data using qualitative collation tools, for example semi-structured interviews. Mixed methods researchers must uphold the integrity of each source and integrate the data in order to validate or confront assumptions. Researchers need to recognise that this may involve a more rigorous ethics application process at each phase of the study. There needs to be clearly established criteria for how data will be assessed, stored and reported.
The role of researcher in protecting the rights of participants
One of the foundational benefits of mixed methods research is the ability to design parameters that promote inclusion of participants throughout the research process and outline specific ways individuals may benefit from participation; potentially leading to social and political change within the community.
The researcher must accept responsibility for appropriate recruitment, explaining risks to participants and ensuring all participants are able to understand and give informed consent prior to participation.
Positive rapport and trust is fostered when researchers establish clear guidelines regarding data collection, privacy and confidentiality. Safeguarding participants’ personal information must be prioritised and stringent de-identification processes set out and explained to participants prior to commencement.
This is especially vital for participants in mixed methods research who may disclose harmful or illegal patterns of behaviour. Creswell advises researchers to ‘anticipate the possibility of harmful, intimate information being disclosed during the data collection process’ (2018, p.173).