Ethical Considerations in Geography Fieldwork (2023)

When planning a geography fieldwork independent investigation, all students should consider the ethics of their fieldwork research methods.

Why are Ethical Considerations Important?

Ethical considerations are important to protect the rights and wellbeing of the people involved in research, including the researcher, and to minimise any potential harm from the research to people or the environment. Fieldwork and research involves the pursuit of truth and ethical questions and concerns should be considered at each stage of the process to help maintain integrity and honesty and avoid bias and deception.

This is a core part of good research practice and for the UK Geography A Level NEA, marks are awarded to students for showing an understanding of ethical considerations by all examining bodies. Teachers are allowed to advise students on the ethical considerations of their research, as well as on risk assessments. Students should include a summary of their ethical considerations and practice in their coursework.

What are the Principles of Ethical Research?

Informed consent

It is important that the people who participate in the research understand the purpose, aims and methods of the research and freely consent to take part. Participants should be able to withdraw from the researchat any time.

Research which involves in-depth interviews with people on asensitive topic and in which the people are identifiable in the student's report will necessitate greater ethical scrutiny and more in-depth informed consent than research which involves a short questionnaire ona non-sensitive topic in which the data is anonymised.

The standard practice for academic researchers is to provideparticipants with an information sheet which explains theresearch in clear, accessible language and to obtain consent via aconsent form. Students should consider the best way to achieve informed consentfor their proposed research methods.

These could include:

(Video) Field Work in Geography| ETHICS OF FIELD WORK |Session: 5

  • An information sheet for the participants toread before taking part and consent form for participants to sign.
  • A description at the top of a questionnaireoutlining the research. It could state that participants consent to take partby completing the questionnaire (implied consent).
  • A pre-written description of the research which is read to the participant with consent given verbally.
  • A description on a webpage with an online consent form for research taking place online.

For research undertaken in Spain itis advised to have a version of all research materials in Spanish and English.

Photography is essential to all types of geographical research. Besides seeking consent from individuals, consent to photograph more general scenes, for example of street markets or domestic characteristics, should also be considered.

Anonymity and confidentiality

Students should consider whether the data they collect will be made anonymous by removing names and any other personal identifiers. Best practice is that research data shouldbe anonymised unless there is a specific reason not to do so. Studentsshould also consider if they will share the data collected with others (forexample, other students or research participants). Students must informparticipants whether their data will be anonymous and confidential.

Researcher behaviour

Students should behave in a professional manner whenconducting their research. This includes adopting the role of a neutralresearcher and respecting people's opinions (particularly when they may differfrom their own), and people's right to not take part in the research.

Bias is antithetical to a researcher's role. We all see the world through our own lenses and the difficulty of adopting a neutral role in a time of fake news[1], declining objective journalism and increasing media activism and agenda bias should be acknowledged. The report from the UK Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in Schools[2] found that only 2% of children and young people in the UK have the critical literacy skills they need to tell if a news story is real or fake. 'We are increasingly faced with a (mainstream) media that barely hides its prejudices' is the conclusion of[3] in its discussion of the demise of press diversity and openness in the US. To help identify fake news and reduce bias in their research, students should make efforts to use triangulation[4] and explore alternative facts, values and viewpoints within and beyond mainstream media, particularly of those they may tend to disagree with[5].

There are many ethical considerations to be taken into account in making use of photography in geographical research. These include image selection, accurate representation, image cropping and manipulation as well as subject consent mentioned above. The researcher should adopt techniques that avoid filtering images based on prior ideas and opinions. A mosaic of 'ordinary' images of the same feature taken over time rather than selecting the 'best' one can assist in a more objective and honest analysis and help identify contrary evidence.

Students should consider how they present themselves whenundertaking the research. For example, they could wear a badge to identifythemselves and their role as a researcher and avoid wearing sloganed or 'statement' clothing.

The safety of the researcher is also an important ethicalconsideration. Students should consider their safety and ensure appropriatesteps are taken to minimise risk. This should beincluded as part of the risk assessment.

(Video) Ethical Issues & Concerns in Fieldwork

Environmental impact of research

Students should consider the potential environmental impactof their research. This could include considering whether it is necessary toremove samples from the natural environment for further analysis in thelaboratory or classroom and how they will minimise any harm or damage caused to theenvironment by undertaking their research. Students should also considerconsent to access their research study sites.

Data collection

Where sampling is used to study people or places, random or systematic techniques may be combined with stratified sampling to help avoid bias and to ensure that data collected is a fair representation of the whole population studied.

Random sampling avoids bias in selecting specific people or places. Systematic sampling collects data at regular intervals e.g. every 50 metres along a transect line, or from every tenth person. Stratified sampling divides the target population into its representative groups or categories, e.g. different age ranges, or the upper, middle and lower stages of a river long profile.

Data interpretation and storage

Students should process, analyse and interpret their data ina fair, transparent and representative manner. Opinions expressed should be founded on honestly gathered data, supported by theory and fact. Data should never befalsified, made up or manipulated to deceive. It is important for students to understand thattheir research does not have to convincingly prove or disprove their hypothesesand that research in the real world is often messy, with unexpected and contradictory results.

Students should be conscious of cultural and cognitivebiases when interpreting their data. Our assumptions about other cultures maybias our perceptions of them and this can impact onobjectivity, including issues of stigma, stereotyping, discrimination andethnocentrism. A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking that affects thedecision and judgments that people make - see this infographic from Business Insider[6] to find out more.

Students should practice the principles of good data managementand consider how they will anonymise, file, label and store data securely. Thisincludes how data will be stored when in the field, when and where this datawill be transferred, deletion of files on mobiledevices, a systematic way of versioning files, and a system for backing up data.

Ethical Research in Practice

Human Geography Enquiry Example

(Video) Ethical Issues & Concerns in Fieldwork

Example MethodEthical considerations

Questionnaire (e.g. on cultural regeneration in El Raval)

  • Questions are written in clear, accessible andneutral language and are free from bias.
  • Questionnaire only includes questions/topicswhich are relevant to the research.
  • Questionnaire is produced in English andSpanish to ensure participants understand the questions.
  • No personal data is collected (unless there isa justifiable reason), i.e. it is anonymous.
  • Decide in advance whether the data will beshared with any other students, i.e. whether it will be confidential.
  • A statement is produced to include at the topof the questionnaire to obtain informed consent, e.g. Thisresearch is being undertaken for my Geography A Level Coursework. The aim ofthe research is <insert aims>. This questionnaire does not ask for anypersonal information. Your answers will not be sharedwith anyone else and the data will be stored securely. You are free to stopand withdraw at any time. If you are happy to take part, then please completethe questionnaire below.
  • Student behaves in a professional andrespectful manner while conducting the research. Potential participants arenot pressured into taking part.
  • Student has considered how they will identifythemselves, e.g. by wearing a badge or by introducing themselves as astudent researcher.
  • Students are always with at least one/twoothers in order to ensure their safety, have an emergency contact phone numberand only conduct their research during daylight hours.
  • Questionnaires are stored securely in thestudent's hotel room. Data is typed up and storedelectronically within one week of the fieldwork with a clear filing system.A back-up is made of the data.
  • Data is analysed in a fair and representativemanner, free from cultural and cognitive bias.

Physical Geography Enquiry Example

Example MethodEthical considerations

Beach profiles and sediment analysis

  • Check access requirements to the beaches andobtain permission if required. In Spain there is public access to all beaches.
  • Plan timings of research to avoid disruptionto other beach users, particularly relevant in summer. Maintain a respectfuldistance to other beach users. Explain what you're doing if asked by membersof the public.
  • Do all analysis of pebbles on the shinglebeach. Only remove sand samples from sandy beaches if essential to yourresearch project, and return the sand to the beach after analysis.
  • Minimise any impact to the environment: takeall equipment away, do not litter and avoid trampling vegetation.
  • Students are always with at least one/twoothers and have an emergency contact phone number.
  • Research data is stored securely in thestudent's hotel room. Data is typed up and storedelectronically within one week of the fieldwork with a clear filing system.A back-up is made of the data.
  • Data is analysed in a fair and representativemanner, free from cognitive bias.

1 Fake news is commonly defined as:

  • untrue, false, or made up information, presented as fact;
  • true information misrepresented, misused or misapplied to paint a false picture of reality;
  • false or misleading news maintained by omitting factually true contrary information;
  • misleading news choices with important news stories ignored or hidden if they do not fit the news provider's agenda bias or narrative.

2 Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in Schools (13.6.2018) Fake news and critical literacy: final report.

4 Triangulation is a qualitative research strategy to test validity of data through the convergence of information from multiple sources (Patton, 1999).

5 A current example at the time of preparing this article (30 December 2019) is the misleading reporting of the effects of climate change on the Victoria Falls. Two left-of-centre mainstream media select or omit different data to arrive at contrasting headlines: The Guardian 7.12.2019 Victoria Falls dries to a trickle after worst drought in a century and El Pais 29.12.2019 (translated from Spanish) The False Death of the Victoria Falls.

Further information

(Video) Field Work in Geography| INTRODUCTION| Session: 1

Many human geographers adhere to the ethical codes of theBritish Sociological Association the Association of Social Anthropologists


This web page is informed by the UK Edexcel Examiners report 2019 and the specifications of the UK A Level Geography Examination Boards.


What are ethical considerations in geography fieldwork? ›

There are many ethical considerations to be taken into account in making use of photography in geographical research. These include image selection, accurate representation, image cropping and manipulation as well as subject consent mentioned above.

What are the 5 ethical considerations? ›

Ethical considerations during evaluation include:
  • Informed consent.
  • Voluntary participation.
  • Do no harm.
  • Confidentiality.
  • Anonymity.
  • Only assess relevant components.

What are the 4 ethical considerations in research? ›

The ethical issues of informed consent, risk of harm, confidentiality and anonymity, and conflict of interest must be considered and presented with a plan on how these ethical issues will be managed. It is intended that this Special Issue will encourage, enable, and inform further research.

What are research ethics in geography? ›

Ethical dilemmas involving issues of harm-benefit, privacy, deception, and sponsor relations are encountered frequently in geographical research.

What are ethical considerations? ›

Ethical considerations in research are a set of principles that guide your research designs and practices. These principles include voluntary participation, informed consent, anonymity, confidentiality, potential for harm, and results communication.

What is the importance role value and ethics of field work in geographical studies? ›

Fieldwork enables students to develop their understanding of different perspectives on social, political or ecological issues, enabling them to clarify and justify their own values whilst learning to acknowledge and respect other people's values (Job et al 1999).

What are the 3 ethical issues in research? ›

  • Study design and ethics approval. According to COPE, “good research should be well adjusted, well-planned, appropriately designed, and ethically approved. ...
  • Data analysis. ...
  • Authorship. ...
  • Conflicts of interest. ...
  • Redundant publication and plagiarism.
31 Aug 2006

Why are ethical considerations important? ›

It is important to adhere to ethical principles in order to protect the dignity, rights and welfare of research participants. As such, all research involving human beings should be reviewed by an ethics committee to ensure that the appropriate ethical standards are being upheld.

How do you write ethical considerations in research examples? ›

Ethical Considerations
  • Research participants should not be subjected to harm in any ways whatsoever.
  • Respect for the dignity of research participants should be prioritised.
  • Full consent should be obtained from the participants prior to the study.
  • The protection of the privacy of research participants has to be ensured.

What are some of the ethical considerations when doing anthropological fieldwork and why are they important? ›

The basic ethical principles to be maintained include doing good, not doing harm and protecting the autonomy, wellbeing, safety and dignity of all research participants. Researchers should be as objective as possible and avoid ethnocentricity. Any deception of participants should be fully justified.

What are the ethical issues in data analysis? ›

In particular, privacy rights, data validity, and algorithm fairness in the areas of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning are the most important ethical challenges in need of a more thorough investigation.

What is ethics in research methods? ›

Research ethics involves the application of fundamental ethical principles to research activities which include the design and implementation of research, respect towards society and others, the use of resources and research outputs, scientific misconduct and the regulation of research.

What is the role of fieldwork? ›

Field work enables students and researchers to examine the way scientific theories interact with real life. Field work is important in both the social and natural sciences. Social sciences, such as economics or history, focus on people, culture, and society.


1. Field Work in Geography | FIELD SURVEY METHODS PART-1 | Session: 10
2. Field Work in Geography| ROLE AND VALUE | Session: 4
3. Field Work in Geography| METHODS OF DATA COLLECTION |Session: 7
4. Ethics of field work| Field work in Geography| Ethics of field work in research| Part 2 (in Bangla)
(Geo Easy Class)
5. Field Work in Geography| APPROACH AND NEED FOR FIELD WORK | Session :2
6. Fieldwork Tradition: Approaches, Ethics, Beginning & Basics | Anthropology
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Patricia Veum II

Last Updated: 25/02/2023

Views: 6433

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (44 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Patricia Veum II

Birthday: 1994-12-16

Address: 2064 Little Summit, Goldieton, MS 97651-0862

Phone: +6873952696715

Job: Principal Officer

Hobby: Rafting, Cabaret, Candle making, Jigsaw puzzles, Inline skating, Magic, Graffiti

Introduction: My name is Patricia Veum II, I am a vast, combative, smiling, famous, inexpensive, zealous, sparkling person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.