I.1. There has been a steady growth of research in the social sciences and in social science research in health in India. A wide range of research topics and issues including those that have the potential to seriously invade the privacy and security of individuals are being studied. Methodologies employed for such research have also expanded in range and depth. There is a considerable increase in the types and numbers of individuals and institutions undertaking such research and those sponsoring and funding it.
I.2. While it is encouraging that social science research and social science research in health are getting the attention they deserve, the growth of research without social and ethical commitment could adversely affect the credibility of research, the autonomy of researchers, the quality of research and the rights of participants. In fact, there is a growing concern about indifference to ethics in some the social science research in the field of health in India.
I.3. Social and ethical commitment and self-regulation are, therefore, imperative for all parties in research, namely, institutions undertaking research, researchers, funders/sponsors and those who publish material generated from research. Their individual and joint efforts are needed in order to achieve consensus on a common framework for research, and to improve and strengthen the system and environment in which research is conducted. Enunciation of ethical principles and formulation of necessary guidelines for research are, therefore, a part of such a process, and also a necessary and desirable step.
I.4. This document contains ethical principles and guidelines formulated by a national committee with the additional inputs of individuals from different institutions and disciplines. While it has immediate specific applicability for social science research in health, it is relevant for social science research in other fields as well. For medical and clinical research some of the ethical guidelines may be different.
I.5. The ethical principles and guidelines for social science research in health, given in this document, are developed for the follow purpose:
(i) To sensitise and protect researchers who are often under pressures from various quarters/forces while undertaking research.
(ii) To preserve and promote the autonomy of research through the observance of ethics, ethical values and ethical self-regulation.
(iii) To protect and promote the human rights of participants and to sensitise and encourage researchers and organisations to respect participants' rights and needs.
(iv) To improve quality, legitimacy and credibility of social science research in health.
(v) To make ethics an integral part of the planning and methodology of research, and to enable organisations and individuals to develop appropriate mechanisms for ethical self-regulation.
I.6. The ethical principles and the guidelines given in this document do not, by themselves, resolve all ethical problems and dilemmas, which may confront researchers. For each dilemma and conflict they face, researchers may be required to balance the demands made by moral principles of research. The resolution of the dilemma may best be arrived at in concrete relation to the context and circumstance(s); it may involve a decision privileging one principle over another.
I.7. The experiences in using this document may be shared. Keeping in mind the immediate and long-term interests of the larger sections of people and the autonomy of researchers, the ethical guidelines given in this document may be refined through periodic reviews.