Participants in Dire Situations

Admittedly this is a broad category and could include a variety of situations, including participants in a refugee camp or someone living on the street. Individuals in dire situations often navigate daily life struggling to keep the delicate balance of survival. Thus it is important that these studies proceed carefully and thoughtfully. It is important that you provide the Board with accurate and detailed descriptions about the participants’ situations and how their participation in the study will impact their lives.  Some of the pedestrian elements of a normal study may actually create risk for participants. Consider the following when constructing your protocol:  

Payment and study benefits

If you decide to offer payment or if your study offers any benefit to the participant, it could induce participant to do something they wouldn’t normally do. Obviously if you have the opportunity to help your participants in their dire circumstances, your efforts should even be applauded. However, make sure that you consider balancing payment with the possibility that the payment could have a coercive effect on participation. 

Documentation of consent

For some studies, even having the participant’s name linked to the study could be a risk to the participant. It may be necessary for you to consider alternative methods for obtaining consent, such as an Oral Consent


In addition to the point above, if being linked to the study is a risk, you may need to collect anonymous data or have the data stripped of identifiers. The when and how of data collection can also be important and it may be vital to  interact discretely with your participants. 

Researcher experience

The Board will weigh the sensitivity of the participant population with your experience in working with that population. For example, if you are a student interested in studying a population in a refugee camp, consider interviewing international aid workers (or a similar population that is less likely to be at risk because of the study) about the refugee camp residents instead of the residents themselves