On the Creation of a Documentary Record

Because someone asked to see it, below is the prompt and my response to the question of data security on our local IRB form.

First, here is the prompt:

> g. Describe your procedures and safeguards for insuring confidentiality or anonymity of the research subjects. (See Guidelines, pgs. 5 and 6) Include how data will be secured, reported, and when identifiable raw data will be destroyed.

And then my response:

> There is no confidentiality or anonymity given to research subjects: those not willing to be a part of the research project are not included. Individuals are made fully aware that the research is intended to lead to a book —they are, in fact, promised a copy of the book. (And they are often shown drafts of sections and/or chapters.)

> Digital data is secured by being downloaded from the relevant media onto a computer secured in the researcher’s office as well as backed up to a drive kept in a separate, and secure, location. The goal here is to avoid destruction of data, not guarantee it. No data is secured without the knowledge and consent of the participating individuals. In some cases, especially in the case of photographs and some audio recordings, participating individuals ask for, and receive, copies that they are in turn free to share with others. This mutual creation of a documentary record is an important part of the ethnographic process as practiced by folklorists.

> Informed consent is given orally, and is usually present in an audio recording at the beginning of a recording, but the value of informed consent relies, in folkloristic ethnographic research, in the relationship between the researcher and the individuals involved. Written, legal-like, documents are perhaps significant in one-off research programs in which the researcher never returns to the community, but the goal of folkloristic research in general, and in this project in particular, is to support the local community.

> As the American Folklore Society notes in its Position Statement on Research With Human Subjects: “Folklorists inform their consultants about the aims and methods of research. The nature of the relationships that folklorists build with their consultants, however, is such that a written, signed, legally effective document would be inimical to the relationship upon which folklore research is based. Folklorists cannot go as guests into people’s homes, build trust and friendships, and then present a legal document for signature.” (See http://www.afsnet.org/?page=HumanSubjects for the complete statement.)

It’s not the best possible response or methodology, but it’s the beginning of something that I think is appropriately framed.

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