UKCDR: Guidance on Safeguarding in International Development Research


Professor Alex Balch, Dr Surekha Garimella, Dr Bintu Mansaray, Linnea Renton MPH, Adriana Smith MPH and Dr Leona Vaughn – University of Liverpool Consultation Delivery Team

Everyone involved in the international development research chain, from research funders, planners and practitioners to local community members, has the right to be safe from harm.

To contribute to wider efforts across the international development sector being made to tackle this issue, UK funders of ODA research worked with UKCDR to develop a set of principles and best practice guidance on safeguarding to anticipate, mitigate and address potential and actual harms in the funding, design, delivery and dissemination of research.

This guidance is needed to ensure the highest safeguarding standards in the context of international development research, which presents specific situations in which harms that can occur are different to international development more broadly.

How can this guidance be applied during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this guidance is accompanied by a ‘companion piece’ to underline the ongoing importance of safeguarding in research in the context of COVID-19, highlighting specific issues to consider during the current crisis and signpost additional useful resources. The core values and ethical principles that underpin safeguarding, research integrity and equitable partnerships should continue to drive our approach to research during the pandemic. The additional piece can be found here: Practical Application of UKCDR Safeguarding Guidance During COVID-19

How are we defining safeguarding, in this context of international development research?

Developed in consultation with experts in law, gender-based violence (GBV), research ethics and child protection, we define safeguarding in the context of international development research as preventing and addressing: “any sexual exploitation, abuse or harassment of research participants, communities and research staff, plus any broader forms of violence, exploitation and abuse… such as bullying, psychological abuse and physical violence.” International development research is defined as any research undertaken for the social or economic benefit of low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Who is this guidance for?

The guidance is designed to be used flexibly and collaboratively by a wide range of people involved in the international development research process, whether based in low-, middle- or high-income countries. These include: Research funders / donors / granting organisations University Vice-chancellors / Heads of research institutions / Agency CEOs or equivalent Designated safeguarding officers and safeguarding focal points Research ethics committee members Research managers and administrators Human Resources, Finance and Legal teams Principal Investigators / Heads of research teams Individual researchers and other members of research teams – e.g. research assistants, data collectors and translators (NB may include under- and post-graduate students, staff members and those contracted on a casual or temporary basis) Research participants Community members or stakeholders (non research participants). While the suggested principles are cross-cutting, there are specific questions targeted at each of the above roles to encourage reflection on and application of good safeguarding practice in international development research.

Why is it needed?

Many universities and research institutes have a long history of engagement in research linked to development. However, new funding opportunities (such as the Global Challenges Research Fund and others) have recently encouraged the entry of a range of new actors, bringing some of them into unfamiliar territory regarding safeguarding policy, practice and partnerships in an international context. At the same time, in response to widely publicised cases of sexual abuse, exploitation and harassment (SEAH) in the wider development sector, there has been an urgent focus on – and an evolving understanding of – concepts of vulnerability, risk, harm and power relations that are also relevant to those carrying out or participating in international development research. UKCDR recognises the strength of good practices across the international development sector, including the valuable work of and progress made by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and private sector actors in this area. However, the nature of research presents specific situations in which abuses of power may occur and requires a tailored framework and approach. Therefore, it is imperative to draw on the research sector’s wealth of knowledge on ethics and integrity, in order to develop principles and guidance specifically for international development research. We build upon the Department for International Development (DFID) due diligence guidance that safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility and that specific policies are needed to support research to ‘do no harm’ (DFID, 2018:4). In this guidance, we consider safeguarding as applying to all people involved in and connected to research, and suggest that ‘doing no harm’ requires gaining information about what the potential harms may be, which may not always be immediately apparent. The concept of ‘victim/survivor-centred safeguarding’ is also expanded upon here from its original meaning (Orr et al., 2019) to encompass a model of safeguarding which: Responds to and addresses the needs of victims/survivors[1] of harm (through complaints, investigations, actions of redress, care and support) Responds to and addresses the needs of research participants who are or have been victims/survivors of crimes or harm (e.g. trafficking/ contemporary forms of enslavement, familial violence, violence through discrimination) Appreciates that there is the potential for all people to be victims if harm in research is not prevented or addressed, and this specifically can disproportionately harm minoritized groups (e.g. LGBTQI, women, children, older people, people in subjugated socio-economic groups or castes, Black, indigenous and people of colour, people with disabilities, people living with HIV, refugees and internally displaced people) Does not assume that victim/survivor status or geographical location automatically equates to universal vulnerability. [1] Note on terminology: for consistency, we have adopted the use of ‘victim(s)/survivor(s)’ in this report. We recognise that those potentially or actually affected by harm may use one, both or neither of these terms to refer to themselves, and respect the right of people to decide for themselves how they wish to be identified.

Using the guidance

To ensure the guidance is adaptable to different contexts, and following recommendations from consultations with key stakeholders, this guidance is not prescriptive. It provides questions framed around four key principles to anticipate, mitigate and address potential and actual harms in the funding, design, delivery and dissemination of research. These principles focus on: Rights of victims and survivors and whistle-blowers Equity and fairness Transparency Accountability and good governance The questions are tailored to different stakeholders groups in all stages of the international development research process, to consider their specific roles and responsibilities in preventing and addressing harm.

Whats next?

We have been working with other funders to harmonise our policies and due diligence around this new guidance. We are supporting promoting awareness and uptake of this new guidance, through continued funder coherence, engagement with research institutions and through key relevant events. We will also support universities and academic institutions seeking to raise their own safeguarding standards. This work represents the start of a long-term ambition. DFID, BEIS, Wellcome, DHSC and UKRI, supported by UKCDR, are all committed to going beyond policy and driving forward real change across the sector, to ensure people are safe and protected wherever they are located.

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