Research in a global setting

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 follow 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 policies and guidance on due diligence, model agreements and ethics.

Key principles

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

  • be relevant to the country in which it is carried out and sensitive to cultural and political contexts, especially in situations of conflict and when operating in fragile states and areas
  • be subject to approval by an independent ethics committee in the UK and the host country, whilst recognising that there are different cultural approaches to ethics and diverse views on ethics
  • pay due consideration to ensuring voluntary participation, in which participants can enter research freely with full information about what it means for them to take part, and that they give consent before they enter the research. This should include ensuring that research participants understand how research differs from aid or intervention projects
  • seek appropriate informed consent (from individuals) which is guided by accessible and meaningful information to participants (for example, translated or presented orally to non-literate participants). This includes 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
  • be designed and developed in a way that considered any additional ethical implications in resource-poor settings and conducted in a way that is fair, respectful and honest
  • be conducted by researchers who are aware of actual or perceived differences in income, status or power, and take relevant steps to mitigate imbalance
  • embed capacity strengthening activities both within the lifecycle of the research project, and where possible, beyond
  • be based upon equitable partnerships with researchers and others in resource-poor settings, which are transparent, of mutual respect and deliver mutual benefits

Researchers and their research organisations working with vulnerable populations and those at higher risk of harm and exploitation or coercion also have a responsibility to identify possible risks and develop a framework of responsibilities and possible actions in advance. For further information, please see our information on preventing harm.

Health research

In addition to the criteria above, 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

 

External guidance

The guidance below has not been developed directly by UKRI, but may be a useful resource. Where this advice conflicts with UKRI-produced policies and guidance, UKRI policies and guidance should be followed.

Equitable partnerships

Equitable partnerships are fundamental to conducting research internationally in a responsible manner and researchers should take steps to ensure that research partnerships are undertaken in a way that is mutually beneficial to all partners and recognises and mitigates against power imbalances.

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

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

UK Collaborative on Development Research (UKCDR)

A group of government departments and research funders who work together to promote collaboration and joint action in global development research. Their website provides useful guidance and tools for global research, with resources including:

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.

Nagoya Protocol
The Nagoya Protocol provides a framework for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. Although a party to the Nagoya Protocol, the UK does not follow all of the stipulations.

Due diligence

Guidance and documents to support due diligence in international research partnerships, including:

  • Due diligence guidance for UK research organisations
  • Due diligence questionnaire (simplified)
  • Due diligence questionnaire (standard)
  • Due diligence questionnaire (enhanced)

Model agreements

Guidance on establishing agreements between research partners in the UK and internationally, including:

Ethics

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

Key ethical issues to consider when undertaking health research in resource-poor settings.

Research in global health emergencies – The Nuffield Council on Bioethics (2020)

Key ethical issues relating to undertaking research in global health emergencies.

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) ethical guidance for research, evaluation and monitoring activities

Principles for ethical practice in research and evaluation developed by the Department for International Development for their grant holders.

Ethical research in fragile and conflict-affected contexts

The following recommendations were produced as a result of UKRI funding, in partnership with UNICEF.

Funders paper (PDF, 160KB)

The paper captures the key lessons for funders and commissioners of ethical research in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.

Guidance for applicants (PDF, 335KB)

These applicant guidelines provide a unique tool for applicants to assure themselves that their research projects will give systematic and on-going consideration to the ethics of research in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.

Guidance for reviewers (PDF, 316KB)

These reviewer guidelines provide seven criteria for consideration and a checklist for reviewers to use systematically to support their review process.

Last updated: 24 November 2022

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