Every project will present a vast array of ethical challenges and dilemmas. It was clear from our workshops that a handbook or ‘check list’ will never address all possible challenges. However, our workshop participants identified key principles that can be a compass to help us respond to new and unique situations when we don’t have a map to guide us.

Principles to guide us

  • Research impacts lives. Ethical global research is compassionate and accountable in equal measure.
  • Ethical challenges are not always obvious and finding solutions can be challenging. Partnerships can be strengthened when this work is undertaken together.
  • There is often more than one ethical solution to the same problem. Sometimes it is a question of choosing ‘the most ethical, albeit, imperfect, option, for now’.
  • Both challenges and solutions exist in a dynamic interplay – what works this time may not work next time – our solutions need to be responsive to unfolding circumstances.
  • Openness to new ideas can drive innovation at unexpected moments. Often creative solutions can be ethical solutions.

The Big Picture: Being Guided by the Sustainable Development Goals

We all want our global challenges research to enable impact for society.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can provide us with some clear direction about how to achieve this – both in the way we do this work as well as in the outcomes and transformation our research can enable.

More information about Sustainable Development Goals

A Researcher's Pledge

Our researchers felt that the following commitment can help to guide us:

Do no harm* Recognise the gravity and ethical implications of doing harm. We are interconnected. Harm to people, animals, plants and the environment – even unintended – affects individuals, communities and planetary wellbeing.
Enable flourishing Enable necessary and urgently needed change.
Connect: People and planet first Invest in relationships – recognise they are the heart of research – listen carefully, be trustworthy, transparent and accountable, and behave honourably, including in relation to the earth’s resources.
Be aware. Be brave. Be safe Identify and respond vigilantly to ethical challenges, being alert to safety considerations.
Invest in our own learning Be self-aware and actively strengthen interpersonal skills and reflective practice.
Prioritise context and compassion  Work in a contextually appropriate compassionate way.
Maintain Commitment Be reflective, accountable and persistent, particularly when faced with challenges.

* All Research is subject to country specific national regulation. Where scientific and clinical research involves animals, rigorous regulatory controls must be adhered to to examine likely harms and benefits before proceeding. For instance, in the UK, research on animals is governed by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. This requires ethical review of proposed research, including weighing any harm that may be caused to experimental animals against the potential benefits to other animals or society (e.g. from the discovery of new medicines, or other discoveries).

What ethical solutions do (and don’t) look like

Ethical solutions
  • are designed to encourage social equity and thriving, sustainable communities
  • can be found in many places
  • are built on shared humanitarian and communitarian values
  • take the whole research journey into account, including research legacy
  • should be aligned with essential principles and relevant regulation
  • are enabled through collaboration, reflective practice and openness to innovation
  • are mindful of the impact of power differentials on research agendas, processes and reporting
  • are supported by institutional processes and ongoing support
  • may require that we (and our partners) are prepared to ‘take the long road’
Ethics in global challenges research is not
  • adopting and following a standardised process or rigid procedure
  • a ‘one time’ action (e.g. completing a form or an approval process)
  • driven primarily by funding decisions or political agendas
  • conducted in isolation from the communities involved