NSF Grant: Internet Research and Ethics 2.0

Congratulations to Elizabeth Buchanan and Charles Ess for being awarded an NSF grant to create a much-needed repository and advisory board to address the challenges that emerging Internet and Web 2.0 platforms are placing on research ethics.

I’m thrilled to be among the senior personnel on this grant, and look forward to the collaboration and results.

[Note: The Internet Research Ethics Digital Library, Resource Center, and Commons website is now live]

Here is the summary of the research project:

Internet Research and Ethics 2.0:
The Internet Research Ethics Digital Library, Interactive Resource Center, and Online Ethics Advisory Board

The working knowledge, professional and disciplinary norms and practices, and body of Internet Research ethics literature, is scattered across disciplines and locales, often contributing to uncertainty in ethical and methodological decision making among researchers and ethics boards which review research in academic institutions. This occasionally prevents research from being pursued and unnecessarily lengthens the time and effort that such bodies as Institutional Review Boards put into internet-research based protocols, as Buchanan and Ess have discovered in their current NSF funded research on IRBs and IRE protocol review. This uncertainty also contributes to a growing confusion and frustration among researchers, who see an ethical rigidity imposed from extant ethical review models, as more research is conducted across an array of technological and global boundaries.

This project brings the IRE literature together into a comprehensive database and couples it with it an interactive resource center, thus, centralizing and simplifying the task of developing standards, best practices, and guidelines around IRE. It also develops an Online Ethics Advisory Board, which will provide professional advice and guidance for researchers, ethics boards, and any research participants. The project is an exemplar of a new concept, “research ethics 2.0,” borrowing from web 2.0 to describe the emerging interactivity, user-developed content and resources, and technologies such as social networking and hyper-blogging that are stretching traditional notions of subject-object, creator-created, owner-consumer, and ultimately, researcher-researched. This emergent model of research ethics has the potential to transform the types of research itself that is conducted across universities and beyond.

The intellectual merit of this project lies in its cross-disciplinary breadth and depth that will benefit a range of scholarship in understanding “research ethics 2.0,” or, “transformative research ethics,” its focus on the ever-increasing literature concerned with Internet research ethics and the various discourses in play across disciplines around such relevant issues such as privacy, consent, ownership; and, its transformative nature, contribute to the model of a traditional ethics board with an online advisory board that is highly versed in Internet research ethics problems and scenarios.

The broader impacts resulting from the proposed activity stem from the intellectual merits: The project will push the boundaries of traditional research ethics issues, allowing transformative models for managing Internet research. It provides sound resources, a solidified research base, and expert advice as more researchers and more IRBs/ethics boards struggle with the complexities of Internet research ethics. The greatest overall significance lies in the broad impact the project will have for Internet researchers from all disciplines and on the foundations of their research ethics systems and information ethics in general, and on the nature of research itself in an ever-connected, online environment.


  1. Michael,
    I’d be very interested to know if you will have any anthropologists on board, I have been looking at these issues from an indigenous cultural heritage perspective as have others and these voices, I find, are usually fairly marginalized in these discussions.


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