Can a participant be involuntary

Julesa

New Member
Australia English
Hi

Can a participant in a study be called a participant if they are unaware they are included? The scenario is that we do a study on a group of companies who are clients. These clients wish to be benchmarked against other companies. In our final study, we refer to all of the companies as participants so that we don't identify one client to another client. Our company has done this for over a decade but a new manager believes the terminology is misleading and dishonest -What are the views out there?

Thanks
 
  • Julesa said:
    Can a participant in a study be called a participant if they are unaware they are included? The scenario is that we do a study on a group of companies who are clients. These clients wish to be benchmarked against other companies. In our final study, we refer to all of the companies as participants so that we don't identify one client to another client. Our company has done this for over a decade but a new manager believes the terminology is misleading and dishonest -What are the views out there?
    I don't quite understand what you're saying. If the companies (your clients) asked you to do a study, obviously they know they are going to be in the study. But if you're refering to the 'Control' Companies (ie, those you are comparing your clients to) as participants I think that is misleading. Because they weren't participants, you just used them as a comparison.

    I personally think it's unethical to use 'involuntary participants', or 'unknowing' participants. Although you might get some of the best data using people who don't know they're being studied.

    There is actually documented evidence of people's behaviour changing when they're studied (I've forgotten the name of it), but I don't think this is really what you're asking.
     
    Julesa said:
    Hi

    Can a participant in a study be called a participant if they are unaware they are included? The scenario is that we do a study on a group of companies who are clients. These clients wish to be benchmarked against other companies. In our final study, we refer to all of the companies as participants so that we don't identify one client to another client. Our company has done this for over a decade but a new manager believes the terminology is misleading and dishonest -What are the views out there?

    Thanks
    I think that the more correct word is "subjects" or "subject companies." I'm sure there are other appropriate words and perhaps someone who does these kinds of studies will post a word they would use. The word "participant" infers that there is some sort of voluntary interaction. You can't really be a passive participant.

    However, if you are doing the study on a group of clients, and they all want to be benchmarked against each other, then they are participating. That is, they have volunteered to have you compare and rate them. If you are just going into data bases and some how collecting information so you can rank client companies against companes that are both client and non-client, then the non-clients were not participants. You could call them "members of the comparator group." You coudl start off in a paragraph stating how you collected the information, and say that all members of the comparator group are going to be referred to as "Group Members." Or something like that.
     
    I disagree. IMHO, the definition of participant has no ethical aspect, and means only someone who takes part in an activity, without specifying if this be knowingly or unknowingly, willingly or unwillingly.
     
    lsp said:
    I disagree. IMHO, the definition of participant has no ethical aspect, and means only someone who takes part in an activity, without specifying if this be knowingly or unknowingly, willingly or unwillingly.

    But surely, using someone in a study, as a participant, without their knowledge is unethical? Because that would mean they participated when they didn't.
     
    Meysha said:
    But surely, using someone in a study, as a participant, without their knowledge is unethical? Because that would mean they participated when they didn't.
    Not according to my understanding of the definition. Hence the need for the adverb. They participated unknowingly.

    I believe in order to be recapped ethically, the report must include the adverb. Otherwise it may be misleading. I disagree that in order for the study to be conducted ethically the degree of prior understanding of the participants is absolutely and always in question. It depends of course on the topic, a blind taste test for diet soda v. regular soda would have different ethical requirements than a study for a new heart disease medicine, naturally.
     
    I agree with Isp. One can stand on a street corner and count all the people with a certain attribute (hair color, clothing, etc.). Someone walking by would be counted as a participant. However, there's nothing unethical about it!
     
    If you are going to conduct a study, I assume that you need to pass it by an IRB (Institutional Review Board) first. WHat do the guidelines say? Each state, University, and/or agency that conducts research should have a Board, and should have their guidelines readily available.

    For example, here is the homepage for my University's IRB.

    Otherwise, calling them "participants" although may sound "voluntary", in the world of research, it is a completely appropiate name for subjects in a study of any sort. You also must remember, that while anonymity is important is any study, it is vital with involuntary subjects.
     
    Thanks for all your help.

    Lots of issues to ponder.

    One point of clarification - the participants are companies not people. An hypothetical parallel would be doing a Market Research study for Coca Cola but Coca Cola did not want to be identified as the company commissioning the report. Pepsi and Schweppes would be the two companies used in the benchmarking. Do you think market researchers would be obliged to inform the other two companies the research was being undertaken?
     
    I too agree with ISP. Even though somebody may not know they are being studied they are still taking action in what ever they are doing. In conclusion they are participating so the are participants...wow that sounded like a math problem
     
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