Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a methodology increasingly used within the social sciences. CBPR is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of research methodologies, including participatory research, participatory action research, feminist participatory research, action research, and collaborative inquiry. At its core, they share five key attributes: (i) community as a unit of identity; (ii) an approach for the vulnerable and marginalized; (iii) collaboration and equal partnership throughout the entire research process; (iv) an emergent, flexible, and iterative process; and (v) the research process is geared toward social action. While there is no shortage of literature that highlights the benefits and potential of CBPR, relatively little discussion exists on the ethical issues associated with the methodology. In particular, current gaps within the literature include ethical guidance in (i) balancing community values, needs, and identity with those of the individual; (ii) negotiating power dynamics and relationships; (iii) working with stigmatized populations; (iv) negotiating conflicting ethical requirements and expectations from Institutional Review Boards (IRBs); and (v) facilitating social action emerging from the findings. For CBPR’s commendable goals and potential to be realized, it is necessary to have a more fulsome discussion of the ethical issues encountered while implementing a CBPR study. Further, a lack of awareness and critical reflection on such ethical considerations may perpetuate the very same problems this methodology seeks to address, namely, inequality, oppression, and marginalization. The purpose of this article is to provide a narrative review of the literature that identifies ethical issues that may arise from conducting CBPR studies, and the recommendations by researchers to mitigate such challenges.


CBPR, Qualitative Research, Ethical Issues

Author Bio(s)

Crystal Kwan is a doctoral student at the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary, Canada. Her doctoral thesis is focused on exploring seniors’ disaster resilience with a specific focus on economically marginalized older women living in a disaster-affected community in the Philippines. Furthermore, her research experiences and interests encompass a variety of topics within social work: gerontology and social work, community and international development, social and public policy, and green/environmental social work. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: crystalyeegitkwan@hotmail.com.

Christine A. Walsh, Professor and Associate Dean (Research and Partnerships), Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary conducts community-based, arts-informed and action-oriented research aimed at improving well-being and enhancing social justice for marginalized and vulnerable populations. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: cwalsh@ucalgary.ca.

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