Ethical Principles for Collecting Primary Data and Conducting Fieldwork


ISDC regularly collects primary data and conducts fieldwork around the world, including with vulnerable populations and in high-risk settings.

ISDC cares about its responsibilities when collecting and analysing primary data and conducting fieldwork. ISDC is committed to act ethically and responsibly towards communities engaged in and affected by ISDC’s data collection and fieldwork.

To ensure the highest standards of scientific and ethical practice are observed when doing so, ISDC has adopted these “Ethical Principles for Collecting Primary Data and Conducting Fieldwork” (henceforth “Ethical Principles”). The Ethical Principles complement ISDC’s “Code of Conduct”, its “Guideline for Ensuring Good Scientific Practice” and its “Data Protection Policy”.

ISDC will not engage in research violating the Ethical Principles.
The Ethical Principles are binding for all staff and sub-contractors of ISDC.

1. Do no harm

In planning and implementing its primary data collection and fieldwork, ISDC is committed to do no harm. This means that the security, safety, integrity and wellbeing of participants, enumerators, partners and researchers are paramount and that the basic human rights of individuals and groups with whom its staff, sub-contractors and representatives interact when collecting primary data or conducting fieldwork are respected and protected.

Furthermore, ISDC is committed to go beyond the principle of “do no harm” by pro-actively aiming to do good. ISDC will design its research so it will yield insights and knowledge that aim to improve the lives and livelihoods of respondents and their communities.

2. Travel advice

For all ISDC staff, respondents, enumerators and partners, security takes priority over research. ISDC follows respected providers of travel advice such as the German Foreign Office, the UK Foreign Office, the United Nations, national governments or trusted local partners, as appropriate. In situations of rising or high insecurity or uncertainty, security assessments will need to be updated continuously. In case of doubt, travels or data collection should pause, cease or be abandoned.

All ISDC staff conducting fieldwork are expected to obtain the UN certificate on “Basic Security in the Field” and also, when travelling to high-risk countries for any purpose, the UN certificate “Advanced Security in the Field”.

3. Ethical approval

ISDC seeks advance ethical approval for studies which involve primary data collection, in line with applicable laws and regulations.

4. Rights of respondents

Participation as a respondent in ISDC’s data collection is voluntary and free from external pressure. Information that might affect a respondent’s willingness to participate is never knowingly withheld.

All respondents have the right to withdraw from a study at any point without fear of penalty.

ISDC obtains and documents informed consent from all respondents. When working with children, informed consent is obtained from the legal caregivers. Enumerators are trained on how to request informed consent and how to document this process appropriately.

5. Confidentiality

ISDC ensures the confidentiality of all personal information and the privacy and anonymity of respondents. Records of names and contact information will be stored separately and securely from survey responses. No personal identifying information will be linked to survey responses. Any limits to confidentiality are clearly communicated in advance as part of the obtained consent.

6. Laws and norms

ISDC conducts primary data collection and field work in accordance with international human rights conventions and covenants to which Germany is a signatory, regardless of respective national standards. In addition, ISDC takes into account local and national laws.

ISDC respects cultural sensitivities, taking account of differences in norms, local behaviour, religious beliefs and practices, sexual orientation, gender roles, disability, age and ethnicity and other social differences such as class when planning primary data collection and fieldwork.

Where national laws and/or norms directly contradict German laws and/or ISDC’s values, a case- by-case decision will be made by ISDC’s management if and, if applicable, how to proceed with the primary data collection or fieldwork.

7. Collaboration with practitioners

ISDC values cooperation with practitioners in research projects. ISDC involves stakeholders in the research design and implementation of the research to strengthen the relevance and quality of its research and of the research uptake (what ISDC calls an “embedded approach”).

In research where ISDC works closely with practitioners, ISDC ensures that the research is independent from those designing or implementing a policy, intervention or programme. Likewise, ISDC does not seek to influence the design or execution of a policy, intervention or programme, unless explicitly asked to provide guidance based on academic considerations.

ISDC transparently and pro-actively communicates any potential conflicts of interest that might jeopardise the (perception of) integrity and objectivity of primary data collection or of fieldwork. This applies especially to any publication derived from such research.

8. Ethics officer

ISDC appoints an Ethics Officer from among its staff for the duration of 3 years. The Ethics Officer provides guidance on the update and the implementation of the Ethical Principles across ISDC’s research projects and is available to staff, management and partners for information on how to collect primary data and conduct fieldwork ethically.

9. Other regulations and entry into force

ISDC reserves the right to update or amend the Ethical Principles to safeguard further ISDC’s primary data collection and fieldwork.

In case of discrepancies between the German and English versions of the Ethical Principles, the German version shall prevail.

These Ethical Principles are effective from 30 September 2019.

Ghassan Baliki was appointed ISDC’s Ethics Officer from 1 December 2022 for the duration of three years.

German Version: Ethische Grundsätze für die Erhebung von Primärdaten und der Durchführung von Feldforschung

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