Ethical Insight: When to Observe and When to Act

Often when it comes to ethics in daily situations our moral compass kicks in, determining how we act upon a situation. In a specific context, such as a job role, title etc. the many different contexts and cultures that we find ourselves in can influence our actions.

Management of Legal and Human Ethics in Research

As researchers, it’s important to recognise things that can go wrong and we need to act on them if they do. In terms of confidentiality, researchers must remain impartial at all times and ensure participant identity is protected. A breach in confidentiality would be in breach of the recently instated GDPR and instantly make the research unethical.

Ethics in Organisational Culture

The extent to which an organisation’s underlying assumptions are experienced has a significant impact on the actions of those working within it. In other words, we get stuck in our ways, so as moderators, it’s important to try not to make assumptions based on previous experiences.

Ethics in Moderation

Moderation is the communication key to unlocking that extra detail that may otherwise be missed. In general terms, a ‘moderator’ is defined as someone who is an ‘arbitrator or mediator’ and have a level of authority over a group of individuals whilst setting rules, actioning inappropriateness and keeping the peace. Naturally then, moderators have ethical responsibilities, knowing when to act if a situation arises.

When to act and when to observe

There comes a time in research when the best thing to do is simply sit back and watch the results come in. Let the participants do the talking! Often with quant research (such as surveys, polls) there is no moderation needed, unless you feel a follow up qual task would provide you with further insight. Qual tasks such as online focus groups benefit from a set of pre-decided prompts that will come into action when the time is right. You can often predict where prompting for more detail will be needed.


No research can really be classed as ethical unless it complies with the MRS code of conduct. Although a participant may tick to agree to your terms and conditions, privacy policy etc., a researcher/moderator is still required to ensure that all participants are in full understanding and awareness about what is required of them, what rights they have and more. Not only this, but the actual researcher/moderator is responsible for ethical communication throughout the research, knowing when to observe and when to act.

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