IST Programme RESPECT: an IST Programme Project
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RESPECT for research ethics: summary


The RESPECT project (Professional and Ethical Codes for Technology-related Socio-Economic Research) was funded under the European Commission IST programme. The aims of this project were to:

  • develop a voluntary code of practice for the conduct of socio-economic research in the Information Society

  • contribute to the development of common European standards and benchmarks for socio-economic research

  • contribute to the development of high standards in cross-national and inter-disciplinary socio-economic research

  • contribute to the broader ethical and professional debates within the socio-economic research community

  • help reduce the barriers to the mobility of socio-economic researchers with the EU and Accession States

  • provide succinct information on good practice in socio-economic research for research users, both inside and outside the IST community.

The first stage of the RESPECT project involved the development of guidelines, or codes, in a number of separate areas: data protection, intellectual property rights, research ethics, professional issues and professional competencies. Following consultation on these, an overall of code of practice was developed covering all these areas. This was accompanied by a user’s guide to socio-economic research, designed for those who commission research, evaluate research proposals and review the results.

This report addresses one aspect of the RESPECT project: the development of a set of ethical guidelines or a ‘code’ of standards to inform the conduct of socio-economic research in the European Union. These guidelines are aimed at all those involved in socio-economic research, whether commissioning, bidding for or managing projects, or working as part of a research team on a project.

Guidelines or ‘codes of practice’ offer a framework in which researchers can work. They do not, however, offer all the answers. Making ethical decisions still involves addressing a series of dilemmas and, ultimately, decisions have to be made by the researchers involved. Ethical guidelines enable these decisions to be made from an informed position. Ethical guidelines also offer protection to researchers, providing them with a source to quote if pressured by others to adopt unethical practices.

These guidelines aim to offer minimum acceptable standards for the conduct of ethical research in Europe. However, guidelines on their own are not enough; they only offer a starting point. What is needed is an ‘ethical conscience’ so that making ethical decisions becomes an automatic part of the research process. Guidelines can be used as part of the educational process leading to this.

The draft guidelines have been constructed at four levels. The first three provide a summary of the main principles and possible dilemmas, and these are included in this summary. The report is the fourth level, providing a more detailed discussion of the issues underlying the main principles, the nature of dilemmas that may be faced in ethical decision making, and how some of these ethical issues may be addressed in practice.

guidelines guidelines