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Equitable partnerships

When undertaking research and innovation activities outside the UK, you must recognise and address the possible impact of contextual, societal and cultural differences on the ethical conduct of those activities.

Researchers and innovators should also adhere to the principles of equitable partnerships to address inherent power imbalances when working with partners in resource-poor settings.

The sections below provide information about key principles and considerations, with links to relevant guidance and policies.

Key principles

Key principles for undertaking research in an international context

Research being undertaken outside the UK, and particularly in resource-poor settings:

  • must be relevant to the country in which it is carried out
  • should be subject to an ethics review in the UK and the host country
  • should require appropriate informed consent (from individuals).

Health research

  • should be scrutinised carefully if it has no therapeutic benefit to participants
  • provide a universal standard of care (if not, the best available in the country)
  • make arrangements for any beneficial treatments/policy to be widely provided/implemented.

Ethical conduct of research in resource-poor settings

Research with human participants in resource-poor settings may have additional ethical implications to be considered in designing the research protocol and developing research partnerships. The Global code of conduct for research in resource-poor settings (PDF, 2MB) sets out principles to ensure fairness, respect, care and honesty in global research partnerships.

Obtaining an ethics review for international research

Research involving human participants requires approval from an independent ethics committee in the UK. Where research is to be conducted outside the UK or involves international partners, researchers must establish whether ethics review is required by non-UK ethics committees.

Consideration of ethics in an international context

Researchers and innovators may need to consider whether there are different cultural approaches to ethics and consider the diverse views on ethics, as well as political and cultural sensitivities within the research and innovation context and area where the study is conducted.

Situations of conflict and disadvantage

Ethics issues relating to power differentials may be more prominent in international research and innovation conducted in or involving low-income countries, or countries experiencing conflict and political instability.

Voluntary participation

In some international contexts, it will be important for researchers to consider what participants understand research to be, in particular, how it differs from aid or intervention projects, and whether (and how) participants can be appropriately informed to understand the purpose and long-term intended benefits or economic and societal impact of the research project.

Informed consent

The process of eliciting informed consent should be guided by accessible and meaningful information to participants (for example, translated or presented orally to non-literate participants). It should address UKRI’s core principles and include participants’ right to withdraw, intended uses and potential sharing of research data, and explanation of the limits to confidentiality and circumstances where this may occur.

Political and cultural sensitivities

Researchers and innovators should be sensitive to differences of cultural, political or other opinion as well as awareness of actual or perceived differences in income, status or power.

Researchers’ responsibilities

Researchers and innovators working internationally with vulnerable populations or those at higher risk of harm and exploitation or coercion should identify possible risks and develop a framework of responsibilities and possible actions in advance.

Equitable research and innovation partnerships

Partnerships with researchers or others in resource-poor settings should be transparent, based on mutual respect and deliver mutual benefits.

General policies and guidance

OECD Global Science Forum, research misconduct in international call projects (PDF, 1MB)

Research involving human participants in developing societies (MRC)

UKRI preventing harm (safeguarding) in research and innovation

This policy sets out our expectations of individuals and organisations in their approaches to safeguarding those involved in research and innovation activities.

Global code of conduct for research in resource-poor settings (PDF, 2MB)

This establishes key principles to ensure fairness, respect, care and honesty in global research partnerships.

Nagoya Protocol

Rethinking Research Collaborative: promoting fair and equitable research partnerships to global challenges

The Rethinking Research Collaborative has identified eight principles for working towards fair and equitable research partnerships and provides modules with ideas to translate the principles into practice.

UKCDR – guidance on safeguarding in international development research

UKCDR’s guidance on safeguarding in international development research provides tailored guidance for those involved in the research process.

NIHR model sites agreements

HRA model agreements

Foreign, Commonwealth Development Office / Department for International Development: ethics principles for research and evaluation

Medical Research Council ethics guide: research involving human participants in developing societies (PDF, 225KB)

Practical ethics in social research with children and families in Young Lives (SAGE)

Nuffield Council on Bioethics: the ethics of research related to healthcare in developing countries

Due diligence guidance and questionnaire for research organisations (PDF, 252KB)

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