"Acting ethically is down to you": Applying ethical protocols in qualitative fieldwork in care homes

Tamara Backhouse, Rachel Louise Daly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Purpose: Research ethics committees (RECs) and ethical standards govern research. To conduct research involving participants, researchers must first gain a favourable opinion on their protocol from a REC. This paper aims to promote researcher reflexivity and openness about applying agreed ethical protocols in practice.   

Design/methodology/approach: Using examples from qualitative fieldwork in two care home studies, the authors critically reflect on the issues encountered when applying ethics committee agreed protocols in real-world situations.  

Findings: Three areas of research practice are reflected on given as follows: recruitment and consent; approach to observations; and research processes, shared spaces and access to data. The interface between researcher and participant did not always mirror textbook scenarios. Ultimately, this left researchers accountable for taking ethically acceptable actions while conducting research.  

Originality/value: Drawing on research experiences in care homes, the authors consider the reliance on the researcher to be authentic and morally driven over and above formal ethical approvals. The authors conclude that the researcher is the bridging agent between ethical protocols and ethical practice in the field. As such, researchers need to be open and reflexive about their practices in fieldwork.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2-13
Number of pages12
JournalQuality in Ageing and Older Adults
Issue number1
Early online date12 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jun 2022


  • Care home
  • Dementia
  • Ethical practice
  • Ethics
  • Interviews
  • Observations
  • Qualitative

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