Liverpool research team develops collaborative safeguarding guidance for research

Seamless pattern with books on bookshelves in flat design style.

Professor Alex Balch and Dr Leona Vaughn successfully bid for and led an international consultation by the University of Liverpool (Department of Politics), in collaboration with Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and independent research consultants, to undertake and develop a report and new guidance for the UK Collaborative on Development Research (UKCDR) on safeguarding in international development research.

Safeguarding is an area which has attracted increased interest and criticism in recent times, especially in the wake of scandals surrounding the behaviours of UK international development organisations in Haiti, which instigated a national response by the UK Government in 2018.

UKCDR define safeguarding as preventing and addressing:

‘any sexual exploitation, abuse or harassment of research participants, communities and research staff, plus any broader forms of violence, exploitation and abuse… such as bullying, psychological abuse and physical violence.’

The new Report and Guidance outline the issues for anticipating, mitigating and addressing harm in research and are framed around four underpinning principles – the rights of victims/survivors and whistle-blowers of safeguarding breaches; equity and fairness; transparency; and accountability and governance. The documents are described by UKCDR Executive Director Marta Tufet as: “a vital resource to ensure everyone involved in research is able to reflect on best safeguarding practice to ensure all involved are safe.”

The research team drew upon collective expertise and research in relation to safeguarding and anti-slavery, anticolonial research methodologies, urban health in informal settlements and community development, to deliver this consultancy between October 2019 and February 2020. Dr Leona Vaughn, Derby Fellow for Slavery and Unfree Labour Research Theme, was the Research Director:

“We wanted to demonstrate that collaborative working with partners in developing countries and co-developed documents are the best way to ensure that the lens of safeguarding is not purely framed by a Western perspective of what and who is risky, or not. We co-designed and delivered an international survey of over 500 people involved in research, and 15 key informant interviews were carried out by our partner community consultants in South Asia, West Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. The findings from these activities greatly informed and shaped the final documents.”

The Report and Guidance were published on 17th April by UK international development research funders – Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Wellcome, Department for International Development, Department of Health and Social Care and UK Research and Innovation. This was alongside a specific and timely companion piece written by our lead research consultant partner Linnea Renton MPH on the practical applications of the safeguarding guidance in the context of COVID 19.

The University will be adding this new Guidance to its institutional Research Ethics Guidance. Professor Alex Balch, the University’s member of the national Policy and Evidence Centre for Modern Slavery and Human Rights, outlines the importance of this work beyond research in international development: “The documents were specifically devised with partners in Lower and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) and focus on the challenges they face, but these safeguarding principles equally apply to all of our research and present an opportunity for universities in particular to think about how we are protecting participants, researchers and wider communities from any potential harm’.

Dr Leona Vaughn, who also co-leads the NWSSDTP Network for Researching Risk Work in Young Lives, will be delivering a session in June for ‘Making an Impact 2020’ for those who want to know more about the guidance and discuss how safeguarding issues affect research.