Myspace to explore action learning, action research of mypractices, one of which is learning to act and research of action - what I call the reflexive turn: subject-becomes-object-becomes-subject

Cooperative Collaborative research and informed consent and member checking

Dianne.ALLEN's picture

Back in March, in conversation with MargO and VickiV, about participatory action research, and about operating as a participant-observer, and about what might be involved in cooperative and/or collaborative research, or participatory action research, a number of issues were raised:

  • The process, in such a context, of the prime researcher (who is undertaking accredited studies), and ‘farming’/ ‘harvesting’ data with/from peers and say, peers’ practice and their practice knowledge
  • The extent to which the peers might also gain qualifications while co-researching
  • The nature of the level of writing up that constitutes an accredited (because assessed/examined) qualification, compared to ‘working knowledge’ developed, say, for the participants
  • Equity and equality issues in such a context.


Since posting my remarks about my own practice*, and the need to disclose (some of) that practice here at ALARPM to demonstrate congruence, by having my ‘research practice’ open to equity of observation and evaluation, (27/6), the question of ‘member checking’, and/or what might be involved in cooperative or collaborative research, and individual activity here at ALARPM, has come into sharper focus for me.


If I am to collaborate with others, for example members of ALARPM on this website, in researching AL/ AR/ what-not practice, and where I am putting my practice, and my thinking about that practice, out there, for critique, and observing my own practice as I go, and as I interact with members here, what will constitute ‘informed consent’, and/or ‘member-checking’ (a la Guba and Lincoln and others) for the ‘others’ with whom I interact, who might be considered to be co-researchers in my research?


For instance in Tapped In, in the After School Online room Welcome text, and attached to the Calendar of events preamble, there is a caveat about the contents of the transcripts of ‘public sessions’ being ‘published’ in the Transcript archive, and thereby ‘in the public domain’ and perhaps open to use for research.   Clearly, Tapped In needs to use this material for any qualitative analysis of its effectiveness to justify its support funding.


It seems to me that this is something I have overlooked in considering how I go about self-study, and something I have overlooked attending to when I am reading about how others go about self-study.


*My own practice: 

I am beginning to appreciate more of what Sarah Fletcher means by ‘multiplicity’ in professional being.  

I am a teacher by vocation.  

I am an inquirer by habit.  

I am a novice researcher with the field of educational practice.  

I am a developing self-study practitioner.  

Within those broader categories I am currently exploring developing cooperative/collaborative research, and endeavouring to establishing myself as a contributor to a number of ‘communities of practice’.  

One of my practices under self-study scrutiny is the communications involved interpersonal interactions, especially for professional practice. 


Another of my practices under self-study scrutiny is how I improve my Computer Mediated Communications, and especially about teaching, learning, inquiry, evaluation, reflective practice and self-study.  

As I seek to examine and draw on my experience, I cannot do that effectively without relying on and examining the responses of others to my communicative inputs.  

How then, do I ethically, respectfully, and appropriately, use the contents of such responses of others to my communicative inputs, to proceed, in the ‘research process’, to publication of my findings?

Dianne.ALLEN's picture

My next step – A-Self-Study-of-Process reflection

As noted above, arising from the considerations of these three posts, and activity at ARLIST, I have in mind developing some more posts, to document my process, as I understand it, touching on what is: 'informed consent'; 'member checking'; 'ethical research'; and arising from those, what might be practical protocols for dealing with these issues, prior to publishing outcomes from any such research.

The documentation process, right now, would constitute my 'mobilisable knowledge', and establish a 'benchmark'.   Then, as I proceed, with the process, and with engaging with other practitioners, here and elsewhere, I can track my development, some of which may be co-constructed (as I understand this term) with others.

The first thing I noticed as I started to draft 'What I understand 'informed consent' to be', was my resort to some authoritative resources.

As in my post Committing Myself, I was partly involved in doing the work to 'get it right' before exposing my thoughts, and myself to the scrutiny of others.

I checked out my computer file archives for a 1999 copy of the UoW Research Ethics Committee's advice, and form, for post graduate candidates. That threatened to snowball into a task on my longstanding to-do list, of tidying up my thesis work (1999-2005) files. I started to re-read those documents, with a mind to try and reconstruct my process and my thinking at the time. As I did that, and saw a rather long period of re-working in front of me, I stopped and asked: What am I doing? Is this practical (in the sense of being 'timely', and 'efficient')? Why am I doing it? What else can I do?

These questions asked me to pause, and reflect.  The reflection I engaged in started with reviewing my experience, and that takes me into storytelling, and for that I had best take another post.

Dianne Allen KIAMA, NSW

Dianne.ALLEN's picture

Reflecting on Experience-My sources of current practice knowledg

To consider what I do know about informed consent and member checking, that I can mobilise, I have the following experience to draw on:

1. what I did when undertaking my thesis study (1999-2005)

2. what I have been doing as I engage with students of 'research', in formal and informal engagements.

In 2001 I was offered the task of marking some final report papers for a unit of study at UoW, EDUT422-Reflective Practice, for the fourth year of B.Ed studies for pre-service primary (K-6) teachers. (This is currently being phased out.)

Over the period 2002-2006 I first of all negotiated and volunteered to audit the course.   Then I was engaged as an associate lecturer to that course, and dealt with more marking, with some class inputs, with student consultations. In marking those papers I was involved in evaluating another's practice, against set, and published (in the subject outline), criteria. That meant I was involved in thinking about (1) why am I taking off marks and for what?; and (2) in my thesis draft was I dealing effectively with what I was marking down here?! - a very useful self-education process.

In engaging with students in class, now giving live feedback on marking practice, as well as answering questions in class and in one-on-one consultations, and seeking to guide the students to the best possible report that they could develop over one semester, I was involved in enunciating succinct statements about 'ethics', 'limitations', ‘quality in research practice'.  

This year, 2007, I am again limited to marking, but I have ‘gone up a step’: now I am marking EDGZ921/900 papers for masters students, some of whom might proceed, almost forthwith, into EdD or PhD studies.

At the less formal level, I have been engaging with peers who are also engaging in research activities, usually for postgraduate qualifications, and in such engagements issues of ethical behaviour come up.   From these encounters I can document some of what is at the forefront of my mind about such issues.   When the conversation develops, and claims are challenged, more and more of my experiential knowledge gets drawn on, until I am unsettled and need to go back to some authoritative source to reconsider what I do know and how I am using such knowledge.

Dianne Allen KIAMA, NSW

Dianne.ALLEN's picture

What do I understand by 'informed consent'?

I understand ‘informed consent’ to be about the participants to a research project being as aware as possible that they and their interactions are under observation, and can be used by the researcher, as data, in the conduct of the researcher’s research project.

For my research (1999-2005), providing the wherewithal for 'informed consent' involved sharing conversation about what I was doing/proposing and why, together with a page or so of material extracted from my UoW Ethics application, of what I was committing to, and then getting a signed consent form from any who agreed to go any further.  In the group conversation, which I called a 'without prejudice' discussion - ie coming to that discussion didn't commit the group or the individuals to go any further, there was the opportunity to quiz me about what I expected to be involved.

The trouble is/was, that as the process unfolded, there were things that I hadn't expected.  Apart from alerting participants to the fact that the process was 'into the unknown/uncertain' there isn't much more that I can think to do about 'informing', so that consent is 'informed'.   Because I was dealing with adults, and gave them the right to withdraw and seek to have their inputs withdrawn at any stage they deemed appropriate, then as the event unfolded there was the possibility of such initial consent to be withdrawn.

In the context of one semester (13 weeks) studies for EDUT422 and EDGZ921/900, with the University Research Ethics committee only meeting once a month and requiring 14 copies of the research proposal and ethics application, the Faculty of Education runs with a modified ethics application form, and provides for a number of categories of research, and as staff I was involved in guiding students to design (and re-design) the research proposal so that the research did not need a full Ethics Committee approval.

For typical course study research (small scale) not leading to 'publication', beyond assignment marking purposes, the protocol of offering a page of information about the intended research, and a getting a signed consent form if data collected is not by anonymous surveys, and having the Principal's permission for research in a school, and having the vetting of Faculty staff about research design, and Faculty staff as a resort for handling any site concerns about student activity, is considered sufficient steps in 'informed consent' and 'ethical control'.   Mostly adults over 18 are the sources of data, and their consent is not coerced; and the right to withdraw consent is available.  Ordinary teaching observations of (own) teaching and (own) class work can be used as data.   The student is required to excise any identifying information about participants and schools in the final report.

Dianne Allen KIAMA, NSW

Dianne.ALLEN's picture

What do I understand by 'member checking'; 'ethical research'?

Over the past month while I have been negotiating with 'participants' to my process of learning-by-doing, I have drafted the following as expressions of my understanding of 'member checking'

July 6, 2007

'Member check' is a technical term, used in qualitative research, when a researcher is working with the words and meanings of others, eg interviewees, or focus group members, where the researcher sends the participants a draft of what they are reporting with a view to receiving from the participants a sign-off that the draft is a fair representation of what happened, and how it might be interpreted.   It is a means of gaining some 'external validity' and checking about the tendency, in a research interpretation, to let the researcher's biases distort the picture presented of the events and/or conversation.

July 20, 2007

'Member checking': One of the 'forms' of action research is called 'participatory action research'.   This form is used frequently in the area of being a consultant to developing countries/communities, in order to conduct research amongst those communities which is directed at 'development' of and in those communities.   So the members of the community become the participants in the research.   The lead researcher, bringing the action research process as the development intervention, is frequently involved in post graduate studies, in their home country, and when it comes to preparing the report, for the World Bank, or the sponsoring organisation, and for the community itself, one of the steps in this qualitative approach involves member checking.   The report is compiled by the lead researcher, maybe collaboratively with some of the community who might have been designated as a reference group to guide the developing research, in a draft form.   That draft is then shared with the participants, for participants to respond: to affirm, to challenge, to correct, to direct what is and is not reported, and in a way that represents how they understand what they want reported as important to them, and as fairly representing what their experience of the process and its outcomes has been.  It is also a step of most 'evaluation' researches, and Guba and Lincoln, and others, in the qualitative field of research, use it as part of their validation-before-publication process.  It is a sort of 'triangulation' of data and interpretation.

Arising out of the draft July 6, and a reference here to this participant, in an even early post, I offered the following:

July 8 2007 (the attachment referred to is My Research: Current Learning-by-Doing Activity)

Now for something that is a bit like 'member checking'.


Here I attach what I have drafted, to date, to find out if anything I have said, so far, in any way misrepresents any of the exchanges I have had with you.


In thinking about what is your response, the ethics of the research process comes into view.   I am asking: Can you identify any action where the confidentiality, or the integrity, of the researcher-participant relationship is jeopardised, by what I have written so far?


What do I mean by this?  For me 'ethical research' is research which does no harm to the people with whom I am engaged, as I research my own practice.   Harm is done when a confidence is breached.   Harm is done if the evidence presented is not accurate.   Harm is done when an exchange is misrepresented - something is presented as a fact, which is better understood to be 'how I have been interpreting it', and presented in such a way that it is my construction that is in view, not an uncontestable 'fact'.


So: Is there anything here that 'offends' you?    Is there anything here that, from your point of view, is not a true representation of something you have said, or something you have heard me to say?   Is there anything here, which if you were describing it, you would have a different description?


Now, I am beginning to wonder ... is this all too much?   If this is what is involved in 'cooperative research' is it at all practical?

Later, in a face-to-face meeting (July 17, 2007), I elaborated and clarified, and checked that the reference to 'another starting out thesis-voyager' not only did not 'identify' but that it was acceptable, it did not offend.

I also added to my expression of 'ethical research' the following that I developed as I reviewed my drafting (July 15, 2007):  Harm is done if the 'research' imperative overtakes the values inherent in maintaining the relationship to be effective for the realtionship's primary objective (or initially negotiated social contract).  Since in any relationship there is a dynamic (which includes re-negotiating that relationship, whether consciously or unconsciously, inadvertently), being open about change, or perceived change, and checking for acceptance, or taking steps to develop mutuality or reciprocity, may be all that is needed to remain in a fluid/malleable ongoing relationship with appropriate ethical context.

These are some of the hazards I am beginning to see a bit more clearly as I go about working with others in any cooperative/ collaborative venture, and/or where I might want to be drawing on my experience, in order to report to the world of practice about that practice.

I also noted on July 20, in sharing my experience

What I am 'noticing' is that, while my thesis brought me to the edge of collaborative / cooperative research, I can't say that I have paid much attention to the literature of 'participatory action research' and any discussion of ethical dilemmas in that literature.   I suspect that is one of the things now to be added to my ever growing 'agenda'.

That same could be said of my inattentiveness to any discussion about ethical concerns in self-study research.

Dianne Allen KIAMA, NSW

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