Ethical research in vulnerable or unstable contexts: Presentation of a toolkit to promote the analysis of ethical issues and good practice during the research journey

  • Calia, C. (Invited speaker)
  • Cristobal Guerra (Invited speaker)
  • Corinne Reid (Invited speaker)
  • Grant, L. (Invited speaker)
  • Matilda Anderson (Invited speaker)

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Research becomes critical in contexts of political instability, conflict and vulnerability because it can provide useful information to support the wellbeing of individuals and communities. In fragile contexts, research seeks to contribute to solution-generation for complex problems. In situations of war, forced displacement, natural disaster or the recent COVID-19 pandemic, a researcher is responsible for conducting studies that respect ethical principles that protect participants and their communities from additional harm. Also, researchers need to be aware of cultural differences to avoid neocolonialistic practices. In this complex context, it is both necessary and challenging to form multicultural, multidisciplinary and multisectoral teams that are capable of operating in highly demanding circumstances. The objective of this panel presentation – which is composed of three presentations - is to introduce an ethics toolkit designed to support global researchers in navigating these challenges.

The first presentation describes the bottom up approach to creating the toolkit. We conducted a scoping review of the existing literature and consulted with researchers from around the world. In the review, 2,272 papers were found and 65 papers analysed. A series of ethical issues and useful solutions were identified. Additionally, more than 200 researchers from over 30 countries (on six continents) and more than 60 different disciplines areas participated in a series of workshops and roundtables in 11 countries (on four continents). These conversations helped us to develop a toolkit for contextual, dynamic analysis of ethical conflicts in global research. Our toolkit complements traditional codes of ethics.

The second presentation explains the main ideas underpinning the toolkit and demonstrates how to use it in real contexts. One of the main ideas highlighted in our conversations with researchers is that ethics must be present throughout the research journey – not simply in the application to the ethics committee. Ethics is a central ingredient of global research, from the planning of the idea and the formation of the team, through data collection and analysis of results, to the application of results and to the research impact and legacy. Furthermore, given that ethical challenges are multidimensional and complex, it is necessary to analyse these issues through the lens of four different perspectives – Place, People, Principles and Precedents. ‘Place’ reminds us to consider ethical challenges in context, such as by considering the impact of cultural and language differences between the research team and the participating communities. ‘People’ are a core element of understanding ethical challenges and human relationships involving participants, communities, research team members etc. ‘Principles’ provide us with a worldview and sound values to influence decision making during the research process, especially when we are confronted with unprecedented challenges. ‘Precedents’ help us to understand the ways in which previous research and regulations can guide the solution-shaping process. These ‘4Ps’ provide a multidimensional perspective for reflection on ethical challenges and allow us to identify where strong solutions can be found. We have created a template to help researchers use this reflective process when analysing complex problems in their own research. The toolkit and templates are available at The toolkit pocket guide is currently translated into ten languages.

Finally, in the third presentation we offer two real case analyses in the Latin American context: one referring to research with indigenous peoples in the north of Chile, and the other one regarding research with Latino American migrants going to the United States. Conducting research in Latin America presents ethical challenges, against a backdrop of economic vulnerability and social violence. The cultural variability between and within countries means that researchers must maintain a respect for diversity and, at the same time, follow scientifically validated procedures. Challenges include interacting with international teams or agencies. In this last presentation, we consider a number of these challenges and solutions.
Period1 Feb 20223 Feb 2022
Event titleIDEA-UNAULA-UnIbagué-REDETICA 2021 Congress: Development in times of conflict: Ethical pathways towards peace and justice
Event typeConference
LocationMedellín, ColombiaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • ethics
  • global research
  • vulnerable contexts