Hosted by Dr. Glen Lowry, Chair of the ECU-REB, August 26, 2015
The dialogue on supporting risk in research featured presentations from Emily Carr’s Director of Research, Dr. Maria Lantin, and Mimi Gellman, Associate Professor at Emily Carr’s Faculty of Culture and Community, and Ph.D. candidate at Queen’s University, in Cultural Studies.
Dr. Lowry outlined the context and purpose of the workshop— highlighting that its general focus on risk—aimed to provide opportunity for dialogue around two broad ideas: risk and the role of the research ethics board; and advocacy in research.
- Risk and REBs
How can researchers ensure that research participants are equitably, and in an informed manner, involved in the creation of new knowledge, while recognizing the different types of risk participants are expected to withstand: economic, social, psychological, emotional and physical? How can REBs address expectations regarding participants’ contributions to research work?
Importance of a greater understanding of how ECU-REB seek to work with the community, and to support Art and Design research by recognizing the complex social relations involved in meaningful work, such as advocacy, social location, mediation and support.
Risk and REBs
The workshop focus on supporting risk recognizes that there is no meaningful research in art or design without some sort of risk. Rather than perceiving the REB as a policing body, responsible mainly for protecting the interests of the university, (i.e., managing legal exposure), the situation is, in practice, considerably more nuanced and multifaceted than this. Whilst the ECU-REB is responsible for protecting the Faculty (researchers) and the University (management), the Board does this by attempting to ensure that ethical research standards are understood and upheld in Emily Carr supported projects. To put it simply, the ECU-REB is an arms-length, quasi-autonomous body that is mandated to upholding professional standards with regard to participant engagement and involvement.
To this end, the ECU-REB seeks to identify and recognize the risks (both expected and unexpected) that participants may face as part of their involvement in the research venture. As REBs begin to find ways of coming to terms with the fluid nature of risks, and to understand how these move across the social networks underpinning many research projects, risk takes on increased importance. How do we support participants? How do we support researchers and students who agree to take on the burden of risk involved in a given project? For example, when we engage with healthcare settings, or research involving trauma, or when we seek personal information that might be used against a participant in some other social context, the researcher takes on a burden of responsibility. That responsibility often takes a toll on the researcher, and the REB also considers these implications.
The Board is charged with weighing identified risks against articulated benefits. This type of risk-benefit analysis requires careful consideration of the researchers’ goals, their expectations and training, as well as the capacity of the university to offer appropriate support and mediation. It is also contingent on a clear awareness of research contexts.
It is important to recognize the relationship between researchers and participants and in particular to consider how the researcher’s social location impacts research design. When it comes to thinking about how research involves vulnerable populations, or individuals who may be putting themselves or their families or communities in harm’s way, Research Ethics looks to the researchers’ recognition of the potential pitfalls in relation to their experience. What is their practical knowledge; their plan for gaining access to support structures that may be required? The ECU-REB is charged with thinking and responding on behalf of participants.
For this reason, coming to terms with the research context is vitally important. One set of research methods or goals might be appropriate in one social context, but might not make sense in other contexts. It is the social context and the identification of participants in their context, which are crucial to what is discussed at the ECU-REB.
Thus, REBs are increasingly interested in considering the relationship between researcher and participants and resisting an idealized set of differences, which tend to position the researcher outside or at a distance from participants. While this is crucial to conventional academic research and to scientific and social scientific understandings of methodology, there is a growing body of knowledge that challenges the supposed neutrality or scientific objectivity of the researcher. In Canada, the need to recognize social groups alongside the autonomy of individuals is of vital importance, and thus respecting concerns about the relationship between a researcher and her participants is important. I would go further and say that for artists, designers, and media makers, blurring the boundaries between the academic researcher and communities is often a strength of the work. Understanding and supporting advocacy is a key issue in such work.
These issues are exactly what the presentations from Mimi Gellman and Dr. Maria Lantin will help us to consider.
WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW/ MITIGATING RISK IN RESEARCH WITH ABORIGINAL PEOPLES
Mimi Gellman, Associate Professor, Faculty of Culture and Community, Emily Carr University of Art + Design; Ph.D. candidate at Queen’s University, in Cultural Studies.
Over the last number of years there has been a growing interest by faculty, students and researchers at Emily Carr on the subject of Indigenous research protocols and methodologies. One can find guidelines for research in Chapter 9, Research Involving the First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples of Canada, within TCPS2 (the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans). These guidelines though fairly comprehensive, delineate basic principles for research with Aboriginal participants. However, given the diversity of Nation specific ontologies and epistemologies, these guidelines are often not culturally nuanced enough.
Working and conducting research with Aboriginal research participants requires a deep understanding of Aboriginal protocols, specifically the need to develop a pre-research relationship with the individuals and/or communities built on the attributes of respect, trust, responsibility and reciprocity. Each community/band or Nation has their culturally predicated protocols (ways of doing things) and if successful relationships are to be established, the researcher needs to identify these protocols and adhere to them.
Aboriginal peoples have been researched to death. Historically, bad research practices in the past have made many Aboriginal individuals and communities reluctant to participate in the present. Given the long colonial history of misunderstandings between Indigenous Nations and settlers, Aboriginal individuals and communities are often reticent to sign letters of agreement and understanding because of the history of broken agreements and the understandable fear of signing their rights away. Add to this an unscrupulous history of research on Aboriginal peoples as subjects not participants with little to no relationship building preceding the research, scant accountability to the individuals and communities in regards to harm and risk, the sharing of personal data with other bodies and institutions and no reciprocity (no giving back to the communities). I refer to this as a kind of research as “hit and run.”
There are ways however, to conduct ethical research with Aboriginal peoples and I have outlined a brief series of points below to assist in the formation of an ethical practice.
Make yourself conversant with Chapter 9 of TCPS 2
- Consider the context of your research and what kind of relationship you would like to foster with your research participants
- Learn as much as possible about the Nation-specific protocols of respect, customs and codes of conduct
- Establish a relationship of trust and respect with your Aboriginal participants BEFORE you begin the research
- Clearly identify your positionality as a researcher: this will help you clarify the power relations that may exist between you and your participants and help to alert you to potential risk and risk-management
- Questions of risk in Aboriginal communities are complex requiring a deep level of consideration. They may involve dialogue with the research participants and communities before the ethics application is submitted for review
- Clearly outline the mutual benefits of your research project and how you intend to disseminate the results
- Understand that there may be many different stakeholders within a community and that no individual speaks or represents the voice of all
- Recognize that although Chapter 9 of TCSP2 refers to research with humans, within Aboriginal populations this may also refer to the other-than-human or all-our- relations, “kinship networks and responsibilities that include multi-generational obligations to ancestors and future generations.
- Ethical obligations often extend to respectful relations with plant, animal and marine life,”(TCSP2) as well as the air, the water, the earth and the stars.
In the end, what you are trying to do is conduct yourself “in a good way” with the highest degree of honor and respect. Understand that Indigenous protocols across Nations are not homogeneous, that there is no monolithic approach but rather that these protocols are complex, diverse and Nation-specific but also up for individual interpretation and agency. In the end these “protocols” or “the way we do things” all adhere to a fundamental principle and that is, cultivating respectful relations.
ETHICS AND NON-HUMAN ANIMALS IN ART AND DESIGN
Dr. Maria Lantin, Director of Research, Emily Carr University of Art + Design
While the Research Ethics Board has been concerned with human participants in research activities, it is important to consider how we might relate to non-human animals in our work. This issue has come to the forefront recently with artworks that involved non-human animals, raising ethical questions around the treatment of the animals and the relationship between the animals and the work.
At ACAD in 2013, a student slaughtered a chicken in the college cafeteria in a performance piece targeting the killing of chickens in Asia following an outbreak of avian flu. This prompted outcry from the community and eventually the wider public. The college dismissed (and later reinstated) the Faculty member responsible for advising the student, triggering broad discussions across art and design institutions around freedom of speech and the need for policies to regulate the involvement of sentient beings in artworks. Last year, a situation where a student at Emily Carr included a flock of pigeons in an installation piece further highlighted the need for policy in our own institution. A working group has been formed by the Emily Carr University senate, to look at these questions, and draft appropriate policy to guide our activities in this area. The working group will seek the input of the community and strive to create a document that is culturally sensitive and respectful to non-human animals while supporting those who wish to engage with non-human animals in their practice.
Emily Carr University is seeking a code of practice within the art and design context that supplements existing laws already protecting non-human animals from cruelty and mistreatment. A code of practice is necessary because both federal and provincial laws provide only general guidelines for the treatment of non-human animals, deferring specific guidelines to widely accepted norms of treatment of non-human animals within different realms. For example, the treatment of farm animals is considered differently than that of domestic cats. Indeed this concept of relative harm, however problematic, is also embedded in the tri-council policy statement (TCPS) through their definition of minimal risk, which refers to risk “no greater than what the participant would normally encounter in everyday life.” It is important to note that in this context the risk is always modulated by the benefit to the participant and society at large.
In drafting a code of practice for the involvement of non-human animals in art and design, we can look to the core principles of the TCPS as a starting point. First the principle of “Respect for Persons” could be extended to non-human animals, who are not yet persons under the law, by considering their sentience, needs, and life experience. As with human participants this respect extends to biological materials that come from a participant such as DNA, hair, or skin. Central to respecting a participant is the concept of ongoing and informed consent. This is more difficult with non-humans but regular communication with and observation of the non-human participants can give a good indication of their willingness to participate. The second core principle, “Concern for Welfare”, is key to minimizing risk. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies speaks of the five freedoms for non-human animals:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom from pain, injury, or disease
- Freedom from fear of distress
- Freedom to express normal behaviour
These five freedoms can be a starting point when considering the welfare of non-human participants.
These observations have just touched on the many complex issues around the involvement of non-human animals in art and design. The Senate working group is looking forward to involving the Emily Carr community in this important addition to art and research policy and the work of the Research Ethics Board.