Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development > Vol. 5, No. 1 (2008)

“How hard can it be?” Navigating our way through an ethical storm surge

Vicki Pascoe, CQU
Kylie Radel, CQU


Conducting qualitative research in contemporary society is highly scrutinised by the ethical process. We acknowledge that ethical clearance should indeed be a strident and thorough exercise. We also agree with Stake (2000, p. 447) that: “qualitative researchers are guests in the private spaces of the world” and that “their manners should be good and their code of ethics strict”. As two intrepid qualitative researchers, we enthusiastically set out to explore a reasonably straight forward (or so we thought) research project. We wanted to explore the education stories of our students and received a Learning and Teaching grant from the university to do just that. Our potential participants represent a fragile equity group, that of Indigenous men in custody. We are familiar with their environment through our regular teaching at the correctional centre. We did not realise however, that this group would be perceived as ethically problematic “How hard can it be?” we said. In this case, we found ourselves in a storm of complex requirements and dilemmas, ones we had not experienced before and ones which seemed to almost deliberately work to deter us. We struggled to engage with the process but also resolved not to take an easier option or to give up. This paper traces our journey through the ethical storm surge and the decisions we made. At times we thought that unconditional clearance might not be granted. Eventually after numerous delays, the research went ahead and proved to be an immensely satisfying experience.

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