Formal research and evaluation projects conducted through universities require ethics approval. University ethics offices will have a form that you must complete and submit along with your proposal. Sometimes funding agencies require approval of the project by an ethics review committee. However, these approval processes do not necessarily reflect your agency’s needs, values or ethical responsibilities. As discussed in the section on developing a research agenda for your agency, you may find it helpful to articulate ethics-related criteria specific to your agency. For example:
- Does the proposed project tap into the same client pool as other studies?
- Is there a clear benefit to your clients?
- Will the process or results of the project advance the knowledge of your agency?
One of the hallmarks of ethics in research involving humans, is the concept of informed consent. Clients (as “research subjects”) must understand what you intend to do with the data you collect on them and consent to that use.
Every province and territory has privacy legislation governing the collection, use and disclosure of personal information held by government agencies. Oversight is through either an independent commissioner or ombudsman authorized to receive and investigate complaints.
Service agencies can act as data custodians and this means that, for a specific research project, separate written informed consent from each client is not necessary. However, in the principle of informed consent, we must reflect on ways to ensure that clients understand our agency’s research agenda and that they have the opportunity to inform and engage in our research and evaluation activity.