The ethics of reimbursement

Social Work in Health is undertaking a project that involves two groups of participants: people who live on the streets and in the bush, and people who have management roles in local health services. When I was preparing for my first meeting with the managers I organised some drinks and nibbles for the 1 1/2 hour session that was held at midday. This led to my thinking about not having done this for the homeless participants. While my meetings with them had been held at a food service, it still didn’t seem equivalent that I had, by comparison with the managers, not provided them with anything. I felt I was falling into the trap of taking advantage of people whose voices I was interested in amplifying.

It has been a view that researchers shouldn’t ‘reward’ participants  because that may influence both their decision to be involved and the  nature of their participation. In this case however the homeless participants had chosen to be involved without any inducement, as had the managers, so why should one group receive something, however humble, and not the other?

I decided on $20 grocery vouchers as a thank you after the first round of what will be 3 rounds of discussions. I feel better about this. It is a small gesture. It was appreciated. It was unexpected and I think it also lends some credibility to the project.

My relationship with most participants, both groups, predates the project. I’m conscious of managing those relationships carefully  to transition into a researcher role and to maintain respectful and valuable working relationships.  The managers were participating during their paid hours so I am happy to have found a strategy for reimbursing the street participants too.

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