Embarking on a qualitative Ph.D. research project in public administration is often daunting for novice researchers. For those students who consider adopting an emic or insider approach for their research, the ethical, methodological, and analytical challenges that lay ahead may seem insurmountable at times. In this article, I reflect on my experience as a Ph.D. student completing qualitative research with my colleagues to study policy capacity in a provincial government in Canada. I review how I constructed an ethical framework by integrating policy from Research Ethics Boards and government. Throughout the article, I deal primarily with ethical considerations and the personal and professional tensions associated with insider research. In addition to providing an overview of the literature on insider and emic research, I present ethical protocols that student-practitioners in other settings should consider when completing academic research with their colleagues in government institutions. Overall, the risks one must mitigate and minimize when completing insider research in government institutions are not substantially different from insider research in private institutions. While insider approaches in the study of public administration are not without their unique challenges, they do offer great potential in broadening and deepening emic knowledge of public administration practice.


insider research, civil servants, ethics, emic, practitioners, embedded, reflexivity, description, reflection

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Bobby Thomas Cameron is currently the director of the Strategic Policy and Evaluation Division at the Prince Edward Island Department of Agriculture and Land, chair of the PEI Early Learning and Childcare Board, and adjunct professor with the Applied Communication, Leadership, and Culture Program at the University of Prince Edward Island. Bobby holds a Ph.D. in Policy Studies from Ryerson University, a Master of Arts in Public Policy and Administration from Ryerson University, and a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in History and Political Studies from the University of PEI (UPEI). He is also a credentialed evaluator (CE) with the Canadian Evaluation Society. Bobby’s research interests include policy capacity and public sector leadership, the theory and practice of contemporary policy work, and qualitative research methodologies. Bobby is currently an active member of several committees including various federal-provincial-territorial agriculture policy working groups. Bobby’s Ph.D. dissertation on policy capacity was nominated for a Governor General of Canada Academic Excellence Award, and he was the recipient of UPEI’s Inspiring Alumni Award (2019), the Premier of PEI’s Diversity Leadership Award (2018), the Red Cross’ Young Humanitarian Award (2010), the Dan MacIntyre Human Rights Award (2010), and McGraw-Hill Ryerson Publishers’ Integrity, Initiative, and Engagement Award (2009). Please direct correspondence to trcameron@upei.ca.

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