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Ethical issues in data collection - Community approval

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Regardless of the type of data collection, it is absolutely necessary to gain the approval of the community from which the data will collected. This is nice to state in theory, and everyone always agrees with it, but it is also true on a very practical level, as shown in the following examples:

Southern Sudan

A survey carried out in scattered emergency-affected, displaced and non-displaced populations in Southern Sudan meant to measure the prevalence of infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Because the population was quite spread out and the means of communication were very poor, the survey managers failed to adequately notify several scattered communities of the purpose and procedures of the survey in advance of the survey teams' arrival. The rumour rapidly spread that the survey teams were drawing blood to sell in Europe or that they were intentionally infecting survey participants with HIV. At several villages, survey teams were turned away by angry crowds. In some, the situation became potentially violent. Luckily, no one was hurt, but the survey was quite delayed until survey managers travelled to these villages to properly explain what the survey was and why it was being done.

Kakuma Camp, Kenya

Sometimes, it may be difficult or impossible to notify everyone who should be notified. A nutrition survey was started in the camp to measure the nutritional status of adolescents. Although camp leaders from each nationality group in the camp were informed and had plenty of chances to ask questions, some former residents of the camp who had moved to distant corners of Kenya heard that the outsiders were registering families for resettlement in the United States. Some of these families travelled very long distances to return to the camp in order not to miss this "opportunity." The survey team was greeted one morning by a crowd wanting to be registered and sent to the United States. After being informed of the real purpose of the survey teams' activities, many in the crowd became understandably upset, having travelled for hundreds of kilometres to be told they would get nothing, not even enrolled in the survey sample. It took a quick call to camp leaders to defuse the situation.

Camps in south-eastern Nepal

But now for a better example. Before another survey of adolescent nutritional status in the seven Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal, many days were spent meeting with various camp leaders, non-governmental organization (NGO) employees, local Nepalese government officials, and camp health workers. The word was spread throughout the camp and beyond as to what the teams were doing and why. Camp leaders were given ample opportunity to ask questions and suggest revisions in procedures, many of which greatly improved the survey. When selected adolescents were asked to come to the nearest clinics for data collection, the response was more than 95%.