The Young Lives team take a positive view of research ethics as enabling high-quality research, and we have developed a shared understanding of research ethics. Our approach to ethics has been developed collaboratively with our research teams, following fieldworker training, piloting and reports from fieldworkers after each round of visits to our study sites.
Formal ethics approval
The original proposal for Young Lives was checked against the ethics standards of its six original partner institutions, and received approval from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine ethics committee.
Young Lives has subsequently received approval before each pilot and round of data collection from the ethics committees at the University of Oxford and each one of the study countries, as follows:
- Central University Research Ethics Committee (CUREC), Social Science Division, University of Oxford (since 2005)
- Instituto de Investigación Nutricional (IIN), Peru (since 2002)
- Hanoi School of Public Health Research (since 2015)
- Centre for Economic and Social Studies (CESS) Hyderabad (since 2015)
- Ethiopia: College of Health, Addis Ababa University (since 2015).
Young Lives uses the following research ethics guidance:
A Memorandum of Understanding for fieldworkers was developed, setting out basic guidance about respectful communication with participants. This has been used at each round for all teams. Research teams undergo training on research ethics, and fieldwork manuals contain ethics guidance. Research ethics is seen as the responsibility of all researchers, and concerns and responses are monitored.
Informed consent is obtained from everyone involved - children, young people, caregivers (including in certain situations, young women's mothers/fathers in-law), and others in the community. Fieldworkers explain the research in ways that enable children to understand. In Young Lives study countries, children are generally taught from an early age that they must obey adults, which may make it difficult for them to refuse. Every effort is made not to put pressure on children to participate, and to make it clear that there will be no adverse consequences for them if they decline. Anonymity and confidentiality are promised to all participants.
Reporting back to communities is a key element in our approach. With each study round we develop new ways to try to give something back to the communities in which we work. We try to provide information about our research findings in order to maintain trust and enable the implementation of the study. Preliminary findings are presented at meetings in a relevant, accessible and locally appropriate way, and one that highlights the usefulness of the data the community is providing.
Young Lives is currently developing a comprehensive Safeguarding Policy, based on the principles of Prevention, Reporting and Response, in which the organisational response is based on the principle of mitigation of harm. Central to this policy is a Code of Conduct which will apply to all Young Lives staff - in whatever capacity - and which contains the principles in the Memorandum of Understanding. We will share the Safeguarding Policy once it is completed.
We are constantly updating our approach to ethical issues according to the changing environment and circumstances in which we are conducting our research. Most recently, this has been to take account of and adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read more about the ethical considerations that this has posed for our work in a recently published blog which introduces the 'ethics of disruption'.