What’s trust got to do with research: why not accountability?

Authors : Morẹ́nikẹ́ Oluwátóyìn Foláyan, Bridget Haire

This paper explores the intricate dynamics of trust, power, and vulnerability in the relationship between researchers and study participants/communities in the field of bioethics.

The power and knowledge imbalances between researchers and participants create a structural vulnerability for the latter. While trust-building is important between researchers and study participants/communities, the consenting process can be challenging, often burdening participants with power abrogation.

Trust can be breached. The paper highlights the contractual nature of the research relationship and argues that trust alone cannot prevent exploitation as power imbalances and vulnerabilities persist. To protect participants, bioethics guidance documents promote accountability and ethical compliance.

These documents uphold fairness in the researcher-participant relationship and safeguard the interests of socially vulnerable participants. The paper also highlights the role of shared decision-making and inclusive deliberation with diverse stakeholders and recommends that efforts should be made by researchers to clarify roles and responsibilities, while research regulatory agents should transform the research-participant relationship into a legal-based contract governed by accountability principles.

While trust remains important, alternative mechanisms may be needed to ensure ethical research practices and protect the interests of participants and communities. Striking a balance between trust and accountability is crucial in this regard.

URL : What’s trust got to do with research: why not accountability?

DOI : https://doi.org/10.3389/frma.2023.1237742