GREAT NEWS: my application to UBC’s Office of Research Services ethics committee has been approved!
This is one of the interesting things about doing research in North America. Because of a long history of research with questionable ethics (largely within psychology), many North American universities have decided to screen any research involving human subjects. This ranges from anything including simple interviews and surveys to more complicated things like deception to get information (which I do NOT engage in). There’s a science version too for lab subjects and animal safety (which I also don’t do). All of this gets put under an umbrella at UBC called the Behavioural Research Ethics Board. I applied for clearance in human subjects.
My application was actually very simple because there weren’t too many ethical risks in my project to begin with. My project is very simply talking to people in interviews and focus groups, observing people at churches and organizations, and stuff like that. The key thing about this kind of research is that everything has to be up front, i.e. I have to let people know when I’m taping what they’re saying, I have to let them know that I’m a PhD Candidate doing research, and all the rest of that. As a very simple formality and also a common courtesy, people that I tape also have to sign consent forms that say that they give “free, informed, and voluntary consent” and that they know what the project is about. For the record, I use a digital voice recorder that records in mp3s made in Korea that I got from this tech shop in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong that just plugs into the USB port with a wire on my laptop. I use the recordings as another note-taking device so that I don’t have to scribble down verbatim what everybody says, and I transcribe the interviews and make sure nobody besides me and the person being interviewed hears the interviews or looks at the transcriptions (confidentiality MATTERS!). I always leave the recorder on the table out in the open, and I never tape secretly. It’s really just about being forthright that I am an academic researcher interested in Cantonese evangelicals. That’s not very hard to do, especially because I like the project so much!
The whole process only took about two weeks. I was put under the category of minimal risk and assigned for expedited review. This means that really, the project doesn’t have too many ethical risks. The key thing is just to be honest that I’m doing research. I think that’s what any decent person would do.
But yes, this means I’m cleared by UBC to do research. Vancouver, San Francisco, and Hong Kong, here we come!