Research topics and funders

Different types of funding

There are various types of funding available to researchers, each of which will raise particular challenges in dealing with ethics. Funding ranges from:

  • open calls (for example, from research councils and charitable funders), where you have a lot of freedom to choose your own topic and design;
  • research initiatives, where the broad topic is specified, but you still determine the nature of the project and research design yourself;
  • invitations to tender or directly commissioned work, where the funder issues specific guidance about the topic and intended research design.

Sometimes, with this last category of funding, funders will specify methods, research designs and time scales that might themselves raise ethical concerns.

As researchers, we are always under pressure to bring in funding, but don’t be afraid to point out ethical concerns that you have about proposed methods, and to suggest alternative, more ethical, approaches. For example:

  • It may be difficult to ensure that research participants are giving informed consent freely if they work for the organisation that has commissioned the research – i.e. it could be harder for them to say ‘no’, if their boss is keen for the research to be done.
  • Occasionally, project commissioners might try to keep costs down by proposing methods that may not be ethically appropriate for the research topic – e.g. proposing group discussions to collect data on personally sensitive topics and questions.