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Real‐time Responsiveness for Ethics Oversight During Disaster Research

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Disaster research has grown in scope and frequency. Research in the wake of disasters and during humanitarian crises – particularly in resource‐poor settings – is likely to raise profound and unique ethical challenges for local communities, crisis responders, researchers, and research ethics committees (RECs). Given the ethical challenges, many have questioned how best to provide research ethics review and oversight. We contribute to the conversation concerning how best to ensure appropriate ethical oversight in disaster research and argue that ethical disaster research requires of researchers and RECs a particular sort of ongoing, critical engagement which may not be warranted in less exceptional research. We present two cases that typify the concerns disaster researchers and RECs may confront, and elaborate upon what this ongoing engagement might look like – how it might be conceptualized and utilized – using the concept of real‐time responsiveness (RTR). The central aim of RTR, understood here as both an ethical ideal and practice, is to lessen the potential for research conducted in the wake of disasters to create, perpetuate, or exacerbate vulnerabilities and contribute to injustices suffered by disaster‐affected populations. Well cultivated and deployed, we believe that RTR may enhance the moral capacities of researchers and REC members, and RECs as institutions where moral agency is nurtured and sustained.
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Keywords: disaster; ethics oversight; low‐resource settings; research ethics; vulnerability

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2015

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