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Research on vulnerable groups

In some cases it may be necessary to conduct research on vulnerable groups, also referred to as "groups at risks". This includes people that have a life situation that make them more vulnerable than others. Patients, mentally disabled, residents at nursing homes and refugees are just some examples. Children can also be regarded as a vulnerable group.

In research involving vulnerable groups, please be aware of the following:

  • Research on patients/vulnerable groups should only be carried out if it is not possible to solve the research question in any other way.
  • Recruitment of participants through a hospital or other institutions must be carried out in such a way that professional secrecy is maintained, and research participation is perceived as voluntary. We recommend that the request is communicated by someone who has natural access to direct contact information of the patient/client, but who does not have a direct treatment relationship with the person (e.g. a division manager).
  • Participating in a research project can sometimes be experienced as stressful. Strain inflicted on informants must be relative to the social and scientific value of the project in question. In student projects, the supervisor should assume a special responsibility in this regard and ensure that the project is carried out in accordance with ethical guidelines.
  • The person undertaking data collection should be competent to do so in such a way that any strain inflicted on participants is minimized. One should be prepared to deal with any problems that might arise both during and after data collection. For example, some informants may have need for special attention, or difficult situations could arise where the researcher must consider professional confidentiality versus obligation to give notice. It is useful to have experience with the group or field that is to be researched, or be affiliated with a research group with such expertise. In student projects, supervisors have a special responsibility for the planning of data collection and proper follow-up of both students and informants.

It can also be helpful to read NESH's (The National Committee for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences and the Humanities) ethical guidelines regarding research involving vulnerable groups.

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