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Ethics Task Force – Draft Principle: Protect and Preserve Your Records

Below you will find another draft principle for your review and comment.

As a reminder, the task force has been asked to undertake a thorough review of our current code of ethics, and to suggest revisions. We have begun a process of drafting revisions, and are asking for your involvement in that process.

When reading through the postings, please keep in mind: rather than incorporating all of the complexities and areas of concern — as well as all the unique concerns and situations particular to a given subdiscipline or context of anthropological practice — into a single document, we are seeking to identify broad principles applicable to all anthropologists, principles which will be supported by layers of additional resources–explanatory text, examples from different contexts or areas of practice, case studies, and resources from other disciplines. We are asking for your involvement in drafting and refining these principles. We want to use your comments and suggestions to both revise the principles as appropriate and to help us determine if we’ve captured the concerns of the members, on the one hand, and the demands placed on the code on the other.

As you read through our blog postings over the next several months, please:
   1. carefully read each principle as it is posted to the blog, paying attention to the content  and thinking about its relevance to your practice
   2. make relevant comments and suggestions on the blog site in a timely manner.  Feel free to share personal stories, case examples, competing interpretations, etc.
   3. pay attention to the ongoing conversations about the principles and do background reading if you are late to join the discussion of a particular topic

Thank you for being part of this important discussion.

The Task Force

Here is the next principle for your review and comment:

Protect and Preserve Your Records

Anthropologists have an ethical responsibility for ensuring the integrity, preservation and protection of their work.  An anthropologist’s  ability to protect and use the materials collected may be contingent upon complex issues of ownership and stewardship.

Researchers have an ethical responsibility to take precautions that collected data and materials will not be used for ends other than those specified at the time the data were collected.  These issues are not always clear at the time of data collection, but the researcher is responsible for considering and communicating all likely or foreseeable uses of a subject’s datasets as part of the process of informed consent or obtaining permission. Researchers are also responsible for consulting with research participants regarding their views of generation, use and preservation of research records.  This includes informing research participants whether data and materials might be transferred to or accessed by other parties; how they might be transformed or used to identify participants; and how they will be stored and how long they will be preserved.

Researchers should use appropriate methods to ensure the confidentiality and security of field notes, recordings, samples or other primary data and the identities of participants. Ethical decisions regarding the preservation of research materials must balance obligations to maintain data integrity with responsibilities to protect research participants against future impacts. Given the multiple constituencies for and new uses that are often made of anthropological research, such as by heritage communities, the interests of preservation ordinarily outweigh the potential benefits of destroying materials for preserving confidentiality. Researchers generating object collections have a responsibility to ensure the preservation and accessibility of the resulting materials and/or results of analyzed samples, including associated documentation.

In the absence of other agreements or obligations, an anthropologist is presumed to own her/his notes and records, and has an ethical responsibility to ensure their integrity and continued accessibility after the anthropologist’s death.  Other factors (source of funding, employment agreements, or negotiated agreements with collaborators, among others) may impact ownership of records.  Anthropologists should determine record ownership relating to each project and make appropriate arrangements accordingly as a standard part of ethical practice.  Researchers should be aware that records may be subject to legal claim based on applicable laws and jurisdictions.

4 Responses

  1. […] Ethics Task Force has posted the latest draft principle for member review and comment. Here is a special message from the Task […]

  2. On occasions where anthropologists collaborate closely with research participants, a possible model of shared ownership might be developed. Shared ownership might extend the collaborative relationship to certain rights and benefits for others besides the individual antrhopologist. This would apply to all phases of research or applications of anthropological work.

  3. Being faced with the issue raised here, I can accept these as an advisory about what some of the issue might be. However, it is not very helpful as an “ethical” principle unless the Association or its representative is prepared to facilitate the transfer and acceptance of responsibility for the materials.

    Who, where, and how is such a transfer to take place, especial for those of us who have had a combined career in academia and practice?

    If the material has value to the profession, then the profession, through its institutional structure, needs to take some responsibility for setting up a systematic process for contacting to owners, collecting, and maintaining these materials

    The U of K’s applied archive is an example of one approach, albeit how effective it is in contacting and collecting the materials from practitioners is another question. The Human Relations Area Files is another model.

  4. Destruction of the data would be an alternative consistent with the proposed code —

    “Do no harm

    Anthropologists share a primary ethical obligation to avoid doing harm to the lives, communities or environments they study or that may be impacted by their work. This includes not only the avoidance of direct and immediate harm but implies an obligation to weigh carefully the future consequences and impacts of an anthropologist’s work on others. This primary obligation can supersede the goal of seeking new knowledge and can lead to decisions not to undertake or to discontinue a project. Avoidance of harm is a primary ethical obligation, but determining harms and their avoidance in any given situation may be complex.”

    Where is the assurance and whose burden is it to safeguard the information?

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