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Safeguarding research staff “in the field”: a blind spot in ethics guidelines

Across disciplines there is a large and increasing number of research projects that rely on data collection activities in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). However, these are accompanied by an extensive range of ethical challenges. While the safeguarding of study participants is the primary aim of existing ethics guidelines, this paper argues that this “do no harm” principle should be extended to include research staff. This study is a comprehensive review of more than 80 existing ethics guidelines and protocols that reveals a lack of safeguarding research staff regarding the ethical challenges faced during data collection activities in LMICs. This is particularly the case when it comes to issues such as power imbalances, political risk, staff’s emotional wellbeing or dealing with feelings of guilt. Lead organizations are called upon to develop guiding principles that encompass the safeguarding of research staff, which are then to be adapted and translated into specific protocols and tools by institutions.