This paper is bout business research ethics. Generally, when undertaking a business research, the researcher needs to understand that the exercise involves dealing with many other societal issues that can directly affect the final outcome of the research.
This paper explores in detail various aspects of research ethics in business. Even though personal values are an important consideration in ethical decision making, they are regarded by some scholars as just one of the components that guide the decisions, actions, and policies of organizations (Carrigan, 2005).
It has been noted that the burden of ethical behavior relates to an organization’s values and traditions, not just to the individuals who make the decisions and execute them.
Various business research ethical issues and how they affect the world of business research are discussed. In some cases, suggestions are made on how to ensure that researchers emerge victorious despite the challenging social environment that they have to operate in.
Ethics, be it in management practice, or in research, requires very strong leadership. To a large degree, ethical behavior within an organization is controlled by existing values and the culture.
However, it is important to note that values and culture in an organization are just some of the components that affect the decision making process. Other components are existing competition and the operating environment, whether political or technological.
As noted by John Maxwell, the level of a person’s effectiveness is, to a large extent, determined by his or her ability to lead others (Maxwell, 2007). This is an important characteristic in research and researchers must work hard to improve their leadership qualities in order to achieve a high level of effectiveness. A researcher with strong leadership skills exhibits a high level of influence and this leads to a greater impact.
The ability to prioritize issues is a critical quality of any leader, manager, or researcher. According to Maxwell’s law of priorities, the fact that a researcher may be busy carrying on with his or her research does not necessarily imply that he or she is realizing the original objectives of the research.
It is, therefore, extremely essential for the researcher to assess the weight of every research issue in order to determine how best to approach the whole research process without causing harm to any one (Maxwell, 2007).
The Nature of Business and Management Research
A misconception within the business world is that research, regardless of what it is about, is simply an academic activity meant to help the research receive his or her academic qualification. This, however, is not true. These circles also believe that researchers are not familiar with the managerial environment and the type of issues faced by managers in the business world (Ferrell, Fraedrich & Ferrell, 2009).
This situation is further exacerbated by the fact that most managers do not know how to use research findings and as such, they can not utilize the results and conclusions of research. However, there are similarities that cut across research for academic qualification and that for solving business related problems. The nature of the research is what will guide the planning process.
Typically, business research plays two critical roles for businesses. First, it is part of the business intelligence feedback process. It, therefore, provides decision makers with data on the effectiveness of the current business strategies and provides insights for essential changes.
These may be strategies for marketing, production, quality assurance, and distribution (Carrigan, 2005). Secondly, business research is the principal instrument for exploring and pinpointing new opportunities in the market place such as identifying potential customers, forecasting the number of customers, and learning as much as possible their life styles, ages, genders, incomes, and professions.
Research contributes to management activities through three distinct functional roles. Firstly, research has a descriptive function, which deals with the collection and presentation of data. Secondly, research has a diagnostic function which is about trying to explain the data with a view to finding specific solutions to particular business issues.
For example, determining the impact on sales when the sales strategy changes. Thirdly, research has a predictive function. In a continuously changing global business environment, the concern is how businesses can forecast future developments in order to take advantage of opportunities as they arise (Ferrell et al., 2009).
Among other things, research facilitates effective management. In the business world, undertaking a research is a way clearing any doubts about the business operations. Based on research findings, an organization’s decision making process may be greatly enhanced and any decision arrived at will be backed by existing facts rather than assumptions.
Ethical Issues in Business Research
Generally, ethics is about how people relate with one another based on what is morally acceptable. It is different from law in that while under law, there is always punishment for wrong doing, this is not the case where issues are dealt with ethically. To a large extent, having a code of ethics in place is meant to protect all parties involved in a research project (Herbst & Coldwell, 2004).
Despite the fact that ethical considerations are philosophical in nature, there is no common agreement among philosophers regarding such beliefs.
However, there is a common trend among different societies seeking to determine their own norms in order to control how individuals behave towards one another. Generally, these norms are about suggesting what a member of a group should do under certain conditions (Herbst & Coldwell, 2004).
According to Bryman, Bell and Bryman (2007), the subject of ethics in business research spins around a number of issues that occur quite frequently in the process of carrying out a research project. First, there is need to determine whether any harm was caused to participants.
Secondly, it is important to find out whether participants consented to working closely with the researcher in whichever way. Another critical thing for the researcher to concern himself or herself with is privacy. Intruding a participants’ private space is another thing that is ethically not acceptable by researchers. Finally, it is vital to check if there is any form of deception.
These four principles, nevertheless, overlap somewhat (Ferrell et al., 2009). As an example, one can not easily figure out how the concept of informed consent can be embedded into a research activity where a researcher conceals so much information from the participants in order to fool them into taking part in the research.
Human Rights and Onuses of Parties
There are three groups of people in any research process. These include the researcher, the user of the research results, and the respondent. Ordinarily, a number of ethical issues arise when members of these distinct groups interact with one another.
Rights and Obligations of the Researcher
Ordinarily, any business research should concern itself with providing scientific proof for any business phenomena being examined. The rights and obligations of the researcher include the following:
Harm to Participants
Any research that will eventually harm participants is dangerous and must be rejected by all means. According to Bryman et al. (2007), harm may happen in a number of ways. In some cases, the participants may suffer physical harm while in some the harm caused may ruin a respondent’s reputation or his or her self esteem.
It is also possible that harm may affect one’s career development, ruining his or her opportunities to work in other places. Sadly, this may be accompanied with disgraceful acts. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to identify cases where harm may be caused to participants.
However, a researcher must take all necessary precautions to ensure that the research being undertaken will not cause harm to the participants (Carrigan, 2005).
The aim of the researcher should be to maintain high moral standards by ensuring that research data is objective and factual. Furthermore, it is completely unethical for a researcher to take a stand because of a desire to see the research turn out in a certain way.
Distortion of Research Findings
Ensuring that a research is carried out in an honest manner is the responsibility of all parties involved in the research. Obviously, it is wrong for any one to interfere with the results of a research whether for personal or other reasons. In addition, it is ethically wrong for any researcher to blow up the outcome of a research by altering results.
In other words, it is up to the research professional to ensure that clients as well as participants get results that are genuine and reliable. For example, a researcher must do everything within his or her powers to get questionnaires filled by participants rather than collecting only a few responses and completing the rest.
The researcher should also be willing to explain any unexpected events that may have happened in the process of conducting the research. There is no doubt that the concealment of errors and variations from specific required procedures will lead to a misinterpretation of the results.
Where it is the wish of participants to remain unidentified, the researcher must do everything within his or her powers to make sure that this agreement is not broken. Vital information such as name and address of the respondent must be kept a secret and should never be made available to any one without the express authority of the respondent.
Any private information gathered from a participant must never be left in the hands of any other person. Researchers must also ensure that the results of the result are true and not compromised to present a falsified outcome.
This is part of what the user of the research results is entitled to and this right must never be interfered with. It is, therefore, in order for users of the research results to find out if issues of confidentiality were fully addressed by the researcher (Ferrell et al., 2009).
Where a researcher fails to carefully address the participants’ concern of confidentiality, participants eventually develop a negative attitude about taking part in any research. Clearly, this will poses a serious problem for any future research to be undertaken. The researcher’s reputation goes down and unfortunately, this behavior ends up affecting other innocent researchers (Bryman et al., 2007).
Disclosure of Defective Information and/or Erroneous Conclusions
Despite the fact that this does not amount to ethical dilemma, it is, nevertheless, a requirement that the researcher undertakes the research based on acceptable scientific standards. The problem arises when the final outcome of the research is not well aligned with the research data collected.
The researcher must also not use his or her understanding of research methods and techniques to manipulate the results of the research or, to deliberately blind his or her audience (Herbst & Coldwell, 2004).
Stealing Ideas from other Research Proposals
This may happen where a researcher submits his or her research proposal but this is later maliciously used by a client for other reasons and without the knowledge of the research professional. The end result of this is that someone else becomes the beneficiary and illegally uses the proposal to accomplish his or her agenda.
Lack of Informed Consent
Before a research can proceed, it is vital for the researcher to fully address the concern resulting from lack of informed consent. The bulk of the discussion tends to focus on what is commonly called disguised or covert observation. Under covert observation, a researcher secretly observes participants secretly (Bryman et al., 2007).
In spite of the fact that covert research is unethical, it is also advantageous and may be used in some cases to evade serious problems. It is highly likely that participants in a research may fake their actions when being observed.
Fear among respondents may also cause them to avoid researchers. Clearly, covert methods are not acceptable given that they violate the confidentiality of participants. This certainly goes against the desire to protect the privacy of research participants (Bryman et al., 2007).
Rights and Obligations of the User
Similar to the researcher, the user of the research results takes responsibility for certain aspects of the research. Among the rights and obligations of the user are the following:
Ethics between Buyer and Seller
In some cases, a firm may act unfairly by buying a business research proposal and then proceeding to ask for competitive bidding from eligible firms in order to make the public believe that the selection process was duly followed. Unsuspecting bidders fall into this trap and innocently submit their bids.
Asking for research proposals that will not be used like in this situation is totally against research ethics and must be condemned with the strongest terms possible.
Relationship with Research Companies
Considering that each research is a completely different task, research companies must take time to understand the requirements of the research at hand. Among other things, this is meant to ensure that proper results are realized from every single research project. Certainly, each research will have its own unique problem statement, objectives, and research questions among others.
An Open Relationship with Interested Parties
All interested parties are expected to make use of the research outcomes in the correct way. It is wrong for any user to interpret the results in a manner that presents falsified results. Drawing conclusions that are not in line with what the research is expected to achieve is unethical and must not be encourage. Usually, this is done for selfish interests or for political reasons.
Rights and Obligations of the Respondents
Much like the other parties, respondents in a research also have a right to know what the research is all about. Reasons for carrying out the research must be made very clear to the respondents and nothing should be concealed. In addition, participants have a right to know how the issue of confidentiality and privacy will be handled during the research.
The Obligation to be Honest
Given that respondents play a big role in any research, it is essential for the researcher to encourage honesty. Both the researcher and the respondents must be honest with each other. While the researcher must ensure that nothing but the truth is exposed to the respondents, the respondents equally have a responsibility to remain honest and respond truthfully.
Privacy is a major concern especially for respondents. While some respondents decide on remaining anonymous, others will choose to disclose personal details such as names and addresses among others.
Very important is the fact that the researcher must make a covenant with the respondents not to disclose any confidential details to third parties. Any confidential information must be stored securely and only accessed by authorized personnel.
Among other things, this principle is meant to encourage participants to freely participate in the research and cooperate fully. Where respondents feel cheated and disrespected their level of participation will definitely be affected and the researcher may end up on the losing end.
Researchers must be aware of the fact that hiding the truth from respondents in quite unethical. Concealing the truth is a clear indicator of the fact that the researcher is not being honest. It is common for researchers to hide the truth when the type of research being done is a sensitive one that could be scary for the respondent.
Some people have, however, defended this behavior claiming that no harm is caused by concealing information from the participants. Regardless of the reason for the concealment, the practice is unethical and must not be encouraged for whatever reason. Closely related to this is the respondent’s right to be informed of everything about the research.
Opponents of this notion always wonder whether a small deception leads to any substantial increment to the value of the research. According to (Herbst & Coldwell, 2004), however, some degree of concealment is necessary in some research. An example is where undertaking a research carries some risk and the researcher has no option but to conduct the research covertly.
According to Bryman et al. (2007), deception is used by some researchers to try and model the desired results. Apparently, deception may be allowed in some cases so as to ensure that the originality of the data is not lost. For those opposed to the idea of deception in research, there are two things to bear in mind. First and foremost, it is completely wrong to encourage deception in research.
Despite the fact that scholars are fully aware of the existence of deception in research, the practice is totally unethical and the problem must be seriously dealt with in order to guarantee the usefulness of a research. Secondly, vested interest in research by professional researchers is also a major concern.
The idea of researchers behaving like spies can really work against them and make participants treat them with so much suspicion. Obviously, this will work against future research undertakings (Bryman et al., 2007). It is, however, important to note that when discussion this aspect of ethics, the biggest challenge has to do with the fact that deception is so rampant in business related research.
In most instances, researchers will rarely provide research participants with the complete details about a research. To some scholars, researchers have to condone with this practice and seemingly, there is no way they can avoid it. To such researchers, therefore, the practice of deception is justifiable. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to know when to act covertly and when not to.
Considering the negative impact of deception on research, it is critical for researchers to do every thing possible to minimize or even get rid of deception in research. No researcher should seek to glorify himself at the expense of fellow human beings. However, where a research may not succeed without deception, the onus is on the researcher to explain everything clearly to the respondents.
Researchers and their assistants must understand that it all depends on them to use inquiry methods that appreciate and respect the social side of business research. Anything else done contrary to this is in bad light and must not be encouraged.
Other Ethical Considerations
Besides the ethical principles that have been discussed above, there are other vital ethical considerations that must be carefully examined when planning to carry out a business research (Dunfee & Nagayasu, 1993). One of these concerns relates to the gathering, storing, and using electronic data.
Questions often arise regarding the extent to which data previously collected for a research may be used in a current research with similar characteristics.
However, considering that data privacy is well guarded by law, research professional have no choice but to comply with the requirements of the law. Legal advice may, therefore, be sought in order to determine how confidential data previously gathered from research participants may be used and to what degree.
Another area of concern touches on being open and honest when presenting research outcomes to interested individuals or even organizations. To some extent, this is also closely linked to the ethical issues of informed consent as well as deception discussed earlier. It is important for the researchers to ensure that there is mutual benefit from research for the researcher and the participants (Dunfee & Nagayasu, 1993).
In a way this leads to reciprocity where the research ends up benefiting the researcher as well as his or her participants. Clearly, this is in line with the principle of giving back to the society which is a very important consideration especially because research work is here to stay if participants are not well taken care of, involving them in future research projects may prove to be very challenging (Bryman et al., 2007).
Others issues are related to affiliation and conflict of interest. Obviously, where a research has been sponsored by a funding organization, it is highly likely that the organization will influence the research results given that it has a vested interest in the research outcome. Clearly, the integrity of such a research is highly questionable and doubts associated with it may render the research outcomes unreliable.
However, this problem may be lessened or fully addressed by involving an independent party in the verification of the research findings. The independent verifier may even be involved right from the planning stage of the research.
As discussed in this paper, there is so much that goes into planning for a business research activity. Clearly, a good understanding of ethical principles is necessary to ensure that research is done in a way that does not disrespect the wishes of all parties involved.
It is, however, quite difficulty to distinguish between ethical and unethical research practices. Despite this difficulty, an honest research professional and one who is determined to do what is right can easily tell the difference between these two.
Where rules have to be bent slightly, it is imperative to do so with so much caution so as not to harm anyone involved in the research. As explained earlier, there are instances this may apply such when a researcher has to carry out his or her research covertly.
Although it may be challenging to guarantee honesty on the part of the respondents, researchers must everything possible to make sure that this happens. Apparently, enough literature exists to offer guidance to the researcher in this regard.
With the advancement in technology and the increased use of the increased use of the Internet, numerous approaches may be used to gather data for research purposes. Unfortunately this presents a serious ethical concern.
Most data is available through online databases and can be accessed by any one with or without permission. Luckily, such challenges resulting from the increased use of technology are negligible considering that computer experts who can effectively deal with issues of security and data privacy are today available almost everywhere.
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