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The ethical implications of community engagement can be profound and require deliberate and sensitive reflection.

Bottom-Up Infrastructure means engaging impacted community groups to make solutions that work well for them.

However, community groups may not hold the balance of power in such processes and it is crucial to reflect on a project’s ethical implications to ensure that a community group member can engage on their own terms. 

Project team members should reflect on what, why and how their project achieves any outcomes in order to produce benefits for the community through engagement and reduce burdens of participation. Ideally this is reviewed by an appropriate external authority such as an ethics committee.

Some core areas to reflect on: 

  • Inclusivity: How do project processes address structural inequalities or systemic failings that lead to enduring societal exclusions for example on grounds of ability, race or gender.  
  • Emotional or psychological burden: Participating in community work can be emotionally draining. Project leads could reflect on what they are asking of participants, what forms of support or compensation are appropriate and how project failures or disappointments are managed.
  • Transparency: Institutional processes and lines of management can be unclear to external groups. Clear communications about the project, it’s processes, the roles of people involved and where to seek help or complain are necessary.

Some steps that can be taken to ensure an ethical approach:  

  • Design an appropriate consent process. Give clear explanations about what participation involves, how to consent to join in and whether/how consent can be withdrawn. 
  • Write a data management and privacy plan. Participants should understand what form of data is being collected by whom, how is it being processed, stored and shared.  
  • Write a recruitment and communications plan.  Reflect on how best to recruit participants and communicate with them (eg. Email or newsletter).