University of Guelph's ethical guidelines

Ethics in research is all about responsibility to respect the rights of others. We will briefly address the guidelines shaping the relationship between research buyer and supplier, and their responsibility to the respondents.

The research buyer’s (client) responsibility to the research supplier:

  • Unless the research project is sole sourced (the client directly approaches the supplier and does not deal with anyone else), it is normal practice to ask suppliers to bid on a research project. In this case, the buyer should
    • inform the supplier that others are also bidding and even disclose their names;
    • provide as much information as possible regarding the project, the support that will be provided, information that may already be available, timelines and budget considerations that will allow the supplier to make an informed decision about whether to bid or not; and
    • provide direction on the research methodology.

All of this information would be part of the Request for Proposal (RFP).

  • If the project needs to be terminated early for whatever reasons, the buyer should follow due process and/or compensate the supplier for the time spent and costs incurred. Payment for work completed is normally stipulated by a payment schedule agreed upon as part of accepting the proposal from the supplier.

The research supplier’s responsibility to the research buyer (client):

  • All data contracted and paid for becomes the property of the client unless otherwise stipulated as part of the contract, and should be delivered to the buyer. As part of this commitment, the methodology outlined as part of the proposal must be followed and the supplier would determine appropriate quality control techniques to ensure that the work was carried out according to instructions, particularly if fieldworkers or sub-contractors were used and it becomes important that many different people administer a survey in the same way.
  • Estimate the precise costs of the research to be undertaken can be quite difficult and the supplier should take great care in calculated all potential cost since the buyer is not obligated to pay any unanticipated costs unless these were incurred at the buyer’s request.
  • The supplier should also carefully estimate the time required since completing the project on time is another key responsibility.
  • The supplier should provide the buyer with advice regarding the most appropriate and cost-effective methodology for the problem at hand.
  • Lastly, but perhaps most critically, the supplier should provide the buyer with an interpretation of the data that is useful in managerial decision-making. This requires not only a description of the detailed methodology and its limitations as well as assumptions made as part of the study, but also comments on the reliability of the results and their implications.

The buyer’s and supplier’s responsibility with respect to respondents:

  • Ethical behaviour when dealing with respondents is perhaps the most critical aspect of ethics in research, and codes of ethics tend to rule many research-oriented organizations today. For instance, Ryerson’s ethical guidelines bind all of its faculty as well as students working on research with them. Be sure to check out the other ethical guidelines under "references"!
  • It tends to be common practice to ensure respondents that their identity will remain anonymous and their responses confidential. This means that their names cannot be used for marketing purposes, and indeed that they cannot be contacted for further research unless they were specifically asked and agreed to it.
  • Respondents should be provided with sufficient information to allow them to decide whether they wish to part of the research or not. Furthermore, they must be allowed to withdraw from responding at any point in time.
  • The identity of the client as well as the researcher should be made clear to the respondent. If there is concern that this might bias the response, the information should be provided at the earliest opportunity, but certainly before the survey or interview is completed.
  • Respondents have a right to privacy which includes not only the hours when they are contacted, but also the use of tape recorders, cameras and/or two-way mirrors, as are used in focus groups, for instance.
  • If respondents were promised a summary of the research results or payment or other incentives for their time, these must be respected.
  • The respondents’ safety is another area of increasing concern. With food allergies on the rise, for example, taste tests must inform the respondent about ingredients. Research on children is even more stringent and generally not only requires the parents’ consent, but often also their presence or at least proximity so that they might pull their child out of a situation that they find unsafe.