April 27th, 2017

2:30 – 4:00 PM, Ponderosa Commons (PCOH) 2012

“Trying to square the circle”: Research ethics and Canadian higher education

Alison Taylor, Educational Studies, University of British Columbia, Canada

Shauna Butterwick, Educational Studies, University of British Columbia, Canada

Robyn Taylor-Neu, Social Sciences, University of Chicago, USA


At the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) in 2016, a panel presented the findings from a survey initiated by the European Educational Research Association Council to examine educational researchers’ experiences with the research ethics review process at their universities. Many researchers there were looking to North America for models for governing and regulating research ethics. Our inquiry began from the question: What can European researchers learn from the way ethical review structures and processes have developed in Canada? But as we approached this question, we encountered a more immediate question: To what extent is it possible to address a diversity of research-ethical concerns via a single, bureaucratic policy? Then, how do standardized ethics regimes fail to account for non-standard research—and thereby fail researchers, participants, and communities?  And what is the alternative? In this discussion, we explore the history of the development of an ethics regime for Canadian universities and changes over time. Based on this review, as well as our personal experiences with community-based research, we argue that efforts to regulate the diversity of social sciences research via a uniform policy almost inevitably miss the mark: one ends up trying to “square the circle.”


Alison Taylor is an Associate Professor in Educational Studies who is currently researching the impact of community service-learning on student pathways after graduation.

Shauna Butterwick is a Professor in Educational Studies. Her research has explored adult learning opportunities outside of formal institutional settings with a focus on women’s learning. Many of her studies have involved partnership with community activists and organizations.

Robyn Taylor-Neu has just completed her MA at University of Chicago and is about to begin a PhD at UC Berkeley in Anthropology.