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Ethics & Risk

Every design research activity presents some type of risk to the participant. Types of risks may include

  • Physical
  • Social
  • Psychological/emotional
  • Repercussions for (or for not) participating

Design researchers are responsible for participant’s confidentiality and reducing the risks of conducting research. A good question to ask yourself is “is the level of risk greater than what the participant would encounter in their everyday lives?” If the answer is a maybe or yes, please consult with your ministry Privacy Officer.

If your research is relatively low risk, you should use this guide as a starting point. Basic information on consent, recruitment, retention of information and compensation are found in this guide.

Participants that need special attention

All research, with any type of person, involves a power dynamic. If you are looking to gather insights from people where there is a large power imbalance, you may need assistance beyond this guide and will require more extensive review or expert guidance. Review the researcher code of conduct and ethical research practices to make sure you working in a safe, ethical, and cultural appropriate way.

Examples of participants where the power dynamic should be carefully considered may include

  • Children (under 19 requires parental consent)
  • People who are from a historically racialized, marginalized or oppressed group
  • Indigenous peoples (for example, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples)
  • Diminished decision making capacity
  • Captive or dependent on others (for example, seniors in care homes)
  • Research projects taking place outside of Canada
  • Research with over-researched populations, such as people who are homeless, people who work in the sex industry, or people who use illegal drugs

If you are unsure on how to approach your design research study, always ask for a second opinion and talk to the Service Design Team for advice.

Complex Research Activities

Formal approvals from your executives may be required for complex design research activities. Complex design research activities may look like

  • Research with participants in vulnerable situations where they may not be able to provide consent, or may be able to provide consent but not fully acknowledge the repercussions
  • Participants with higher risks involving physical, social, psychological/emotional, and repercussions for or for not participating
  • Data with special arrangements on who can access, how it is shared, security protocols, and storage
  • Collecting personal information that will be identifiable to the participant
  • Research done outside of Canada