Ethics

The Code of Ethics from the International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE) was officially adopted by the Society of Ethnobiology board in 2010. 

During the 2010 annual meeting of the Society of Ethnobiology (in Victoria, BC, Canada), an Ethics workshop was held to evaluate and discuss best practices for ethics within the SoE. Some of the topics discussed during this workshop included:

  • The role of Institutional Review Boards (IRB) in assessing the ethical considerations of ethnobiological studies. Some specific topics discussed included:
    • IRBs are based on guidelines developed for medical studies and may not always be appropriate for assessing risks and other considerations associated with studies in the social sciences.
    • Requiring study participants to sign human consent forms can be destructive to researchers' relationship with informants. This may be avoided by obtaining a waiver for oral consent in studies.
    • In some situations, facilitating the communities that you work with to create their own IRB, consisting of community leaders and representatives may be most appropriate. However, this may not always be feasible.
    • There is a big gap in medical versus social IRB approval. Traditional IRBs recognize research with individuals, however they do not typically address community factors. Researchers should be encouraged to obtain a consensus of approval from communities involved in ethnobiological studies.
  • What is intellectual property and how is it embodied within the community?
    • Researchers should explore ways to promote benefit sharing. One example is to allocate funding in research grants to the community to enable participation in conferences.
    • Another example is that researchers could submit papers to the community for local peer-review. This involves co-management of research and researchers may lose some control of the project in this scenario. However, this can also lead to a profoundly different and better understanding of the research material.
  • Ethical guidelines should be updated as new technologies emerge. For example, some digital cameras record the location of where a photo is taken, and this could be problematic in the maintenance of confidentiality. See also http://ethnobiology.net/news/use-of-images/
    • There can be unintended consequences to the use of certain technologies and researchers need to be cognizant of these.
  • We need better incorporation of ethics education and lessons on benefit-sharing in undergraduate and graduate studies.

Overall, the consensus of the workshop was that as a society, we need to make it clear that the SoE expects members to conduct research in a respectful way. Moreover, we discussed the value of having a broadly accessible ethics resource toolkit consisting of case studies, benefit-sharing agreements, examples, templates, and video stories, amongst other materials. The ISE is currently working on assembling an Ethics Toolkit  to be included on their website. SoE members are encouraged to assist in the creation of the toolkit. If you have any applicable resources to contribute, please contact Kelly Bannister by E-mail: kel@uvic.ca.