Ethical challenges in accessing participants at a research site
evidence and practice    

Ethical challenges in accessing participants at a research site

Sherry Dahlke Associate professor, Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta, Edmonton AB, Canada
Sarah Stahlke Associate professor, Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta, Edmonton AB, Canada

Background One of the main requirements of qualitative research is to obtain access to participants. Researchers rely on gatekeepers for access to study sites and their communities of stakeholders, opportunities to communicate their studies to potential participants, and to locate meeting and interview spaces.

Aim To share the challenges the authors encountered with gatekeepers during a study and how they managed these challenges.

Discussion The authors conducted a focused ethnographic study in two healthcare organisations. Their goal was to recruit, interview and observe staff from across the institutions and a range of occupational groups, to explore their experiences of teamwork and the effects their work relationships had on their job satisfaction. Managers in the organisations were enthusiastic about the study, providing much needed support to the authors. However, the authors became concerned that staff might have felt inadvertently coerced to participate in the study. This challenged the authors’ notions of research ethics, prompting discussion about how to best manage aspects of the study, such as information sessions, snowball sampling and consent.

Conclusion Explaining the principles of research ethics to gatekeepers can prevent them inadvertently making employees feel coerced into participating. Ensuring potential participants are fully aware of their rights and the voluntary nature of the study can make them more likely to participate.

Implications for practice Before any study begins and frequently during the study, it is important that researchers discuss with potential participants and gatekeepers ethical principles, including confidentiality, anonymity and the right to participate or withdraw from the study.

Nurse Researcher. doi: 10.7748/nr.2020.e1665

Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and has been checked for plagiarism using automated software


Conflict of interest

None declared

Dahlke S, Stahlke S (2020) Ethical challenges in accessing participants at a research site. Nurse Researcher. doi: 10.7748/nr.2020.e1665

Published online: 09 January 2020

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