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Workshop: Ethical Research and Design in Cyberspace (Half-day Workshop)
Leaders: Robert Mason, Elizabeth Buchanan and Alpha DeLap

Research on information systems and information behavior in today’s environment increasingly involves collecting data using online approaches and from online sources. As technologies and information behaviors change, researchers must adapt their research methods to the new opportunities and research needs. Previous research models, and the rules used to assure ethical research, may be inadequate in this new environment. Most of us have found that local institutional review boards (IRBs) also are challenged by these new research opportunities and seek to be more responsive to researchers’ needs while simultaneously protecting human subjects and the interests of the institutions they represent.

This workshop combines theory and case discussions to develop new approaches to ethical decision-making in designing and conducting research in (and on) online communities, virtual worlds, the “blogsphere,” and similar settings. Workshop participants will have the opportunity to discuss their own cases to explore possible alternatives to current rule-based decision methods.

We will comprise a brief review of different conceptual frameworks for making ethical decisions in research and systems design, from the traditional deontological and utililitarian approaches to more recent suggestions for process- and discourse-based methods. Multiple scenarios and cases will be used to illustrate and discuss the difficulties that face researchers—and the institutional review boards (IRBs) of universities—as they seek to resolve the issues presented by research proposals examining new phenomena.

Examples of such issues include:

  • Does research on blog content constitute human subject research? (Are blogs public or private?) Do we apply the same rules to research on blogs as we would to research on newspaper articles?

  • How should an IRB view a proposed research plan that includes joining an online community for the purpose of doing research on this community? (Or should the researcher even be required to notify the IRB of this plan?) Does this change if the online community is in a virtual world (e.g., Second Life) instead of a listserv and text-based group?

Robert Mason (rmmason@u.washington.edu), Professor and Associate Dean for Research at the University of Washington’s Information School, was organizer and co-chair of the HICSS 42 minitrack on ethical issues and is serving in the same role for the minitrack for HICSS 43. His research interests include cultural issues in information science and knowledge management and the ethical dimension of information systems research and design.

Elizabeth Buchanan
(eliz1679@uwm.edu) is Associate Professor and Director, Center for Information Policy Research, School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She was the recipient of two National Science Foundation grants to study IRBs and their reviews of Internet-based research; she sits on the IRB of the Medical College of Wisconsin, and has been the chair and/or organizer of many professional conference sessions on Internet research ethics. She is currently Chair, Association of Internet Researchers Ethics Working Group and Co-Director, International Society for Ethics and Information Technology.

Alpha DeLap (adelap@u.washington.edu) is the Director of Research Services at the Information School of the University of Washington (UW). In this capacity, she works to nurture, promote and guide faculty and student researchers. Her current research interests focus on the ethics of on-line research, and she serves on one of the UW Institutional Review Board’s committees and reviews human subjects applications. Prior to moving to Seattle, Dr. DeLap taught communication, composition and gender and media studies courses in Colorado and Massachusetts. Her doctorate is in communication (University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 2003).