Building ethics into the research design

Visual methods

There’s been a growth in the use of visual methods across social science disciplines in recent years, and they raise particular ethics questions.  Because such methods are often newly developing, with new technologies, they might be unfamiliar to funders or to ethics committees, and so you need to take particular care to discuss the ethics questions involved.  You might want to join the  ESRC-funded online Visual Methods Network discussion forum - which includes links to very useful discussion papers on ethics in visual research. 

These papers make a distinction between four different types of visual data: ’found data’; ’researcher created data’; ’respondent created data’ and ’representations’.  They discuss the ethical and legal questions you need to consider for each.  Visual methods can raise particular ethics questions.  For example:

  • If a participant is taking photos or video, do you need to get consent from the people that may appear in their photos? 
  • What are your ethical responsibilities to the people who appear in films or photographs? 
  • What if you (as researcher) or your participants film or photograph illegal activity – what are your legal and ethical responsibilities then?   Do you have a procedure in place to deal with that? 
  • Who holds the copyright when creative methods are used, such as photos, collages, drawings, maps, and so on?