African Studies Association Draft

The African Studies Association Board of Directors developed the following draft guidelines for ethical conduct in research. They are designed as a framework for orienting members to the issues involved in research across cultures and nations and involving highly unequal access to means for conducting research. Ethical standards, guidelines, or codes issues by federal and local governments, universities, funding agencies, professional organizations, and other bodies with supervisory responsibility supersede the guidelines issued by the ASA.

The African Studies Association represents a diverse group of people interested in Africa and its people. The Association has a long history of commitment to fostering the study of Africa, in supporting research by Africans, and in promoting collaboration among students of Africa. No guidelines for conduct can presume to be comprehensive, nor should any presume to be prescriptive, since the range of activities conducted by our members is vast and the contexts in which we conduct our research and our work change constantly. Nonetheless, several enduring principles are considered to be foundational for ethical conduct of research across cultures, international boundaries, and among those with uneven access to financial and professional resources. These principles are not separate, but form a reasonable framework for responsible conduct of research.

1. Do No Harm

When conducting research or pursuing professional activities in Africa, members of the Association shall seek to be conscious of and to minimize the potential present and future risks their research may inflict upon those who participate in their research or projects. Such conduct necessitates that the researcher is well-informed about the wider political, cultural, economic, religious, and social contexts of her or his research and that pursuing one's research will not put collaborators, research subjects, students, or assistants at risk of retribution of any kind for their participation in one's research or activities. Members of the Association recognize the necessity of researchers to respect the integrity, morality, and traditions of the people we study. Researchers commit themselves to respect prevailing local practices of hiring, training, and using assistants and subjects. Researchers also commit themselves to pursue non-discriminatory practices whenever possible.

2. Open and Full Disclosure of Methods, Objectives, Sources of Funding, and Anticipated Outcomes

Members of the Association are committed to open and full disclosure of methods to be employed, the objectives of research, the sources of funding, and anticipated outcomes from research with all African colleagues and institutions with whom we collaborate or seek affiliation. Members of the Association shall be conscious of the potential uses and abuses of our research data and of the sponsors or funders of our research, especially when the recommendations or outcomes of our research may affect the interests of the peoples and communities we chose to study.

Our collaborators, assistants, and subjects are entitled to be fully informed about the methodology used, forms of data collection, and the dissemination and application of results. When we engage in research in Africa, we shall notify our African colleagues of the sponsors, funders, and potential uses intended for the information to be collected. We shall not engage in any research which we know or believe is funded secretly, is likely to be used for covert purposes, or has potentially negative consequences for our colleagues. We shall make every effort to keep all of our research, instructional, and service activities free of sponsorship, direct funding, or secret uses by military and intelligence agencies of all governments. We shall not knowingly engage or participate in projects which could be reasonably construed as sustaining or strengthening the powers of political leaders or states guilty of violations of human rights.

Furthermore, we are committed to keeping in the public domain all work completed under any government sponsorship.

3. Informed Consent and Confidentiality

Consent of all the people participating in our research shall be obtained before any research in undertaken and must be on a fully voluntary and informed basis. Researchers must develop instruments of informed consent that are appropriate to the context of research. Such instruments must not only inform the subjects of the nature of the research and its potential risks, but must provide guarantee to subjects that if they wish, their confidentiality will be fully respected. Researchers must be cognizant of the real difficulties of securing informed consent in contexts of uneven power relations and must develop strategies or techniques for ensuring fully informed consent.

4. Reciprocity

Members of the Association have a responsibility to support and encourage the professional activities of African collaborators and colleagues. Any research we engage in should strive to build the capacity for training and professional development for our colleagues and collaborators.

All researchers engaged in collaborative research must explain fully the nature of such collaboration, including issues of authorship, access to data collected, intellectual property rights, rights to inventions and copyrights with African colleagues, professionals, and graduate students.

Researchers commit themselves to a timely return of the results of scholarly activities, whether these may be in the form of preliminary reports, papers, dissertations, data sets, etc. Researchers must provide copies of their findings and publications to their African colleagues and institutions withwhom they have established affiliations or collaborative projects and to the communities they studied.