The chapter has this far shown that research ethics are complex. Beyond protecting participants and minimising harm, we unravelled how ethics can relate to our responsibilities as researchers, to the wider society, to the academic communities and even to ourselves. From high-level ethical frameworks, we have seen how questions and principles may help to materialise these questions. However, as the text has shown, there is rarely a clear and explicit answer to ethical questions like this. (If there are, the questions are most likely also obvious.) The examples show attempts to balance between different ethical ideas and understanding your own position and perspectives.
One way to approach ethical evaluations is to list and consider different stakeholders and their potential ethical concerns. In this process, scholars can understand the multifaced nature of their research projects. Also explicating these out can help to account for different perspectives we have to consider: maybe one stakeholder of the research is the wider society or the academic community where you work.
However, this is not a sufficient step on its own. We must also address how we recognise and elaborate on the ethical issues. Science ethics educators speak about ethical sensitivity to highlight how scientists need to have the ability to understand the moral side of our research and foresee and recognise when the moral and ethical issues might become critical (e.g. Callahan, 1980). Clarkeburn (2002) has developed a tool to measure development of ethical sensitivity based on analysis of how participants engage with an ethical problem. In her work, participants understand different ethical themes and stakeholders and provide descriptions on the situations. There are four levels of how participants understood ethical challenges in their work (Clarkeburn, 2002, 447):
This measurement tool has been used in various studies to evaluate how well participants can work with ethical arguments. However, the tool can also be used to develop the ethical considerations and improve them until the most mature level is achieved in the responses. This is not a way to solve potential conflicts between different ethical issues. I believe that there is no trivial way of achieving this, as in the end there is no definitive answer. Rather, working through the ethical questions until they reach the target stage for all stakeholders ensures that the topic has been given thought and can be used to explain the outcomes in a transparent manner.