Natural resource researchers have long recognized the value of working closely with the managers and communities who depend on, steward, and impact ecosystems. These partnerships take various forms, including co-production and transdisciplinary research approaches, which integrate multiple knowledges in the design and implementation of research objectives, questions, methods, and desired outputs or outcomes.
These collaborations raise important methodological and ethical challenges, because partnering with non-scientists can have real-world risks for people and ecosystems. The social sciences and biomedical research studies offer a suite of conceptual tools that enhance the quality, ethical outcomes, and effectiveness of research partnerships. For example, the ethical guidelines and regulations for human subjects research, following the Belmont Principles, help prevent harm and promote respectful treatment of research participants.
However, science–management partnerships require an expanded set of ethical concepts to better capture the challenges of working with individuals, communities, organizations, and their associated ecosystems, as partners, rather than research subjects. We draw from our experiences in collaborative teams, and build upon the existing work of natural resources, environmental health, conservation and ecology, social science, and humanities scholars, to develop an expanded framework for ethical research partnership.
This includes four principles: (1) appropriate representation, (2) self-determination, (3) reciprocity, and (4) deference, and two cross-cutting themes: (1) applications to humans and non-human actors, and (2) acquiring appropriate research skills. This framework is meant to stimulate important conversations about expanding ethics training and skills for researchers in all career-stages to improve partnerships and transdisciplinary natural resources research.
Wilmer, H., Meadow, A. M., Brymer, A. B., Carroll, S. R., Ferguson, D. B., Garba, I., Greene, C., Owen, G., & Peck, D. E. (2021). Expanded Ethical Principles for Research Partnership and Transdisciplinary Natural Resource Management Science. Environmental Management. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-021-01508-4