How do researchers foster trust?

Categories: Impact, Other, Research Ethics, Research Roles


The focus for December is on trust and credibility for researchers. Find the unfolding series here.

“Trust may be the researcher’s most precious commodity” (Austin, 2018). This comment in a Journal of Music Teacher Education editorial establishes an important premise. If, in this alternative facts era, researchers lose public trust, how will we find participants willing to share their experiences and insights? How can we create substantive impact, if research findings are regarded no differently than a social media post?

Read this multidisciplinary collection of open access articles to learn about ways researchers can develop and build trust with participants, community fieldwork sites, and the public. You’ll see that these writers point to reflexivity, cultural competence, and the role of institutional affiliations. I hope you will share them with your research colleagues and students– and have a conversation about your own commitment to being a trustworthy researcher.

Denner, J., Bean, S., Campe, S., Martinez, J., & Torres, D. (2019). Negotiating Trust, Power, and Culture in a Research–Practice Partnership. AERA Open.

This article describes the role of culture and power in building a research–practice partnership (RPP). The original aims that drove the building of the RPP were to generate and use research to inform the programs and services provided by the youth-serving organization to Latinx youth and to use the findings to inform research on how to broaden participation in computing. In this article, we describe how the RPP evolved. Data include documentation from meeting notes, e-mails, and observations as well as interviews with practitioners. The results suggest that the research goals and process changed when the partners began to critically analyze and discuss the role of power and culture, and adjustments to the methods and theoretical grounding of the research were made as a result. The lessons learned are summarized in terms of their implications for generating research that has both theoretical and social justice implications.

Edwards, K., Lund, C., Mitchell, S., & Andersson, N. (2008). Trust the Process: Community-based Researcher PartnershipsPimatisiwin6(2), 186–199.

In recent years, Aboriginal communities across Canada have begun to seek ways to increase their participation and control of research that affects them. Similarly, academics are seeking new methods to include parallel and complementary knowledge in their research, including traditional knowledge and community experience and expertise. New approaches, theories, and methods related to, or derived from, Indigenous ways of knowing are appearing. Among the approaches that have emerged are community-based participatory research (CBPR), and, closely related, the role of the community-based researcher (CBR). This paper reviews some of the literature that traces the emergence of the role of CBRs as a strategy for community engagement in research. We discuss ethical issues that CBRs encounter in their practice, and some of the lessons we have learned together as a CBPR team.

Gray, B., Hilder, J., Macdonald, L., Tester, R., Dowell, A., & Stubbe, M. (2016). Are research ethics guidelines culturally competent? Research Ethics, 13(1), 23-41. doi:10.1177/1747016116650235

Research ethics guidelines grew out of several infamous episodes where research subjects were exploited. There is significant international synchronization of guidelines. However, indigenous groups in New Zealand, Canada and Australia have criticized these guidelines as being inadequate for research involving indigenous people and have developed guidelines from their own cultural perspectives. Whilst traditional research ethics guidelines place a lot of emphasis on informed consent, these indigenous guidelines put much greater emphasis on interdependence and trust. This article argues that traditional guidelines are premised on relationships of equal power, and that often the researcher has more power that is not fully equalized by providing information. Where there is a relationship of unequal power, then focusing on interdependence and trust is more likely to achieve ethical safety. We illustrate this thesis by describing the detail of a research project looking at the use of interpreters, where we video-recorded live consultations and then interviewed the patient, interpreter and doctor. We conclude by suggesting that mainstream research ethics guidelines should pay more attention to the development of a trustworthy relationship between subject and researcher, and that, following the lead from clinical medicine, we should develop a culturally competent ethical framework for research on human subjects.

Guillemin, M., Barnard, E., Allen, A., Stewart, P., Walker, H., Rosenthal, D., & Gillam, L. (2018). Do Research Participants Trust Researchers or Their Institution? Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics, 13(3), 285–294.

Relationships of trust between research participants and researchers are often considered paramount to successful research; however, we know little about participants’ perspectives. We examined whom research participants trusted when taking part in research. Using a qualitative approach, we interviewed 36 research participants, including eight Indigenous participants. Thematic analysis was used to analyze the data. This article focuses on findings related to non-Indigenous participants. In contrast to Indigenous participants, non-Indigenous participants placed their trust in research institutions because of their systems of research ethics, their reputation and prestige. Researchers working in non-Indigenous contexts need to be cognizant that the trust that participants place in them is closely connected with the trust that participants have in the institution.

Pitard, J. (2017). A journey to the centre of self: Positioning the researcher in autoethnography. Paper presented at the Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research.

For a reader to trust the perspective of a researcher as presented in qualitative inquiry, the disclosure of the researcher’s position in relation to the data is vital. Who am I in relation to the research? becomes the central tenet in disclosing the positioning of the researcher. I contend that what we know (ontology), and how we know it (epistemology), are a result of our philosophical beliefs developed through our lifelong learning and not a precursor to them. In seeking to understand my philosophical positioning when researching my teaching a group of professionals from Timor Leste, I have found it helpful to answer four questions. What do I believe underpins my knowledge of life? Where did I gain this belief? How does this belief influence the way I react to situations and people? How do the assumptions, which I have accumulated from my life experiences, affect my reflexivity in my research? This article describes the process that I have used to reveal my position in relation to the data using examples from my autoethnography.

Scheitle, C. P. (2019). Does the public’s confidence in the scientific community affect its willingness to participate in social science research? A test examining the demeanor of survey respondents. Methodological Innovations.

Research examining the consequences of the public’s confidence in the scientific community has primarily focused on the natural or medical sciences. It is not clear whether the public’s confidence in the scientific community has implications for research and practice in the social sciences. To begin examining this question, this study assesses whether survey respondents’ confidence in the scientific community is associated with their demeanor during the survey interview. This is consequential because respondent demeanor itself has been associated with survey refusal and nonresponse to items within surveys. Analysis of the 2004–2016 General Social Survey finds that individuals expressing more confidence in the scientific community are rated as having more positive demeanors by interviewers. Respondents’ confidence in other types of institutions does not show the same association, suggesting that confidence in the scientific community is uniquely associated with respondents’ demeanor during the interview. These findings suggest that the public’s confidence in science could have implications for at least survey-based social science research.

Talleh Nkobou, A. (2020). The trepidations of a PhD researcher–Who are you and why are you here? Area.

Researchers are not a homogenous group and the world of the researcher is a non‐static social construction ridden with power struggles. A non‐native researcher may fail in their attempt to world‐travel if they are not open to self‐construction.

This paper contributes to research that has a predominant focus on Western researchers in the global South. First, the paper examines how my African identity fits into a Western discourse of being a researcher and their intersections with my other personalities as I world‐travel. “World‐travelling” is about the plurality of selves and an opening for self‐construction. Second, the paper elaborates on violence and intimidation in the field and how researchers may succeed or fail in negotiating such risks. As a non‐native researcher in a UK‐based University, I acknowledge my plurality of selves and the skills needed to navigate these social worlds.

Tubig, P., & McCusker, D. (2020). Fostering the trustworthiness of researchers: SPECS and the role of ethical reflexivity in novel neurotechnology research. Research Ethics

The development of novel neurotechnologies, such as brain-computer interface (BCI) and deep-brain stimulation (DBS), are very promising in improving the welfare and life prospects many people. These include life-changing therapies for medical conditions and enhancements of cognitive, emotional, and moral capacities. Yet there are also numerous moral risks and uncertainties involved in developing novel neurotechnologies. For this reason, the progress of novel neurotechnology research requires that diverse publics place trust in researchers to develop neural interfaces in ways that are overall beneficial to society and responsive to ethical values and concerns. In this article, we argue that researchers and research institutions have a moral responsibility to foster and demonstrate trustworthiness with respect to broader publics whose lives will be affected by their research. Using Annette Baier’s conceptual analysis of trust, which takes competence and good will to be its central components, we propose that practices of ethical reflexivity could play a valuable role in fostering the trustworthiness of individual researchers and research institutions through building and exhibiting their moral competence and good will. By ethical reflexivity, we mean the reflective and discursive activity of articulating, analyzing, and assessing the assumptions and values that might be underlying their ethical actions and projects. Here, we share an ethics dialog tool—called the Scientific Perspectives and Ethics Commitments Survey (or SPECS)—developed by the University of Washington’s Center of Neurotechnology (CNT) Neuroethics Thrust. Ultimately, the aim is to show the promise of ethical reflexivity practices, like SPECS, as a method of enhancing trustworthiness in researchers and their institutions that seek to develop novel neurotechnologies for the overall benefit of society.


Austin, J. (2018). The Inherent Trust in Researchers. Journal of Music Teacher Education27(3), 7–9.

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