Receiving funding

Working with subcontractors or remote researchers?

It is now common for researchers to hire contractors to do some or all of the data collection in a study. Similarly, it is becoming more common for funders to ask researchers to design projects for other people (e.g. their employees) to do. While there can be advantages to this approach, it raises issues which need to be thought about carefully and addressed.

The basic issue is one of supervision and training: how are you going to be sure that the people doing your data collection for you are going to act in ways that are sensitive to research participants and to the ethics questions involved in the research? It may (or may not) be the case that the people collecting data for you have a good deal less training than you do. This means that you may need to put in place appropriate training to address eventualities that could arise in the course of the research, such as disclosure by research participants of criminal behaviour, or of sensitive events from their past.

If you are contracting another agency to conduct part of your project on your behalf, then you will need to ensure that part of your agreement with them covers ethics considerations, and you should check, for instance, what code of conduct its researchers use, what sort of training they will be getting, and what procedures are in place to ensure high standards of research ethics in their work. 

There may be particular tensions, depending on the nature of your contract with the other agency.  For example, if you are paying an agency to recruit participants for you, does their fee depend on the numbers recruited?  Could their workers be under financial pressures to recruit participants that could undermine principles of freely given and fully informed consent?  Refer to our ethics principles pages, to help you identify areas in which such tensions could arise in your research.

One situation where it is quite common to recruit local researchers is when researching in communities where you do not speak the local language. Working in oversees contexts clearly raises many issues, but in this case it is particularly important that you should consider how local researchers are recruited and trained, as well as what status they have in the community which you will be working with. If you have not conducted international research before, you would be well advised to seek advice from a more experienced colleague about the sorts of eventualities you will need to consider.  Refer to our section on international research for more information about the particular ethics issues that can arise.