Reconsidering the Value of Covert Research: The Role of Ambiguous Consent in Participant Observation

Forthcoming at Organizational Research Methods

61 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2017

See all articles by Thomas J. Roulet

Thomas J. Roulet

King's College London; University of Oxford - Said Business School

Michael Gill

University of Bath

Sébastien Stenger

HEC Paris - Management & Human Resources

David James Gill

University of Nottingham

Date Written: February 16, 2017

Abstract

In this article, we provide a nuanced perspective on the benefits and costs of covert research. In particular, we illustrate the value of such an approach by focusing on covert participant observation. We posit that all observational studies sit along a continuum of consent, with few research projects being either fully overt or fully covert due to practical constraints and the ambiguous nature of consent itself. With reference to illustrative examples, we demonstrate that the study of deviant behaviors, secretive organizations and socially important topics is often only possible through substantially covert participant observation. To support further consideration of this method, we discuss different ethical perspectives and explore techniques to address the practical challenges of covert participant observation, including; gaining access, collecting data surreptitiously, reducing harm to participants, leaving the site of study and addressing ethical issues.

Keywords: Covert Research, Covert Participant Observation, Field Observation, Ethics in research, Qualitative research.

Suggested Citation

Roulet, Thomas J. and Gill, Michael and Stenger, Sébastien and Gill, David James, Reconsidering the Value of Covert Research: The Role of Ambiguous Consent in Participant Observation (February 16, 2017). Forthcoming at Organizational Research Methods, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2919049

Thomas J. Roulet (Contact Author)

King's College London ( email )

Strand
London, England WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom

University of Oxford - Said Business School ( email )

Park End Street
Oxford, OX1 1HP
Great Britain

Michael Gill

University of Bath ( email )

Claverton Down
Bath, BA2 7AY
United Kingdom

Sébastien Stenger

HEC Paris - Management & Human Resources ( email )

1 rue de la Liberation
Jouy-en-Josas Cedex, 78351
France

David James Gill

University of Nottingham

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
105
Abstract Views
567
rank
346,764
PlumX Metrics