Who Says Yes or No? Models of Ethical and Safety Oversight for Student-Led Political Violence Research

Who Says Yes or No? Models of Ethical and Safety Oversight for Student-Led Political Violence Research

By Kristine Eck, Uppsala University and Dara Kay Cohen, Harvard Kennedy School

The ethical risks inherent in student research on political violence that involve human participants are myriad. Undergraduate and master’s students face constraints that are different than those for many doctoral students and faculty researchers, and it is the responsibility of educators and academic institutions to ensure that students engage in ethical practices and to mitigate risks. This article focuses on formal mechanisms of oversight. Drawing on discussions with colleagues across the globe, we describe how institutions can design oversight mechanisms to manage student research. We present five distinct models for how ethical oversight of student research is provided in academic programs around the world, considering the costs and benefits of each model. The article concludes that whereas the creation of oversight systems can seem daunting, it is useful to start small—indeed, moving from no oversight to some oversight is a significant improvement. Programs and academic units then can build on these early efforts, experiment with other systems, and eventually develop a system that is adapted to an institution through iterative improvements based on student and faculty experiences.