Understanding people’s lived experience plays an important role in developing good policy to improve health and health equity in the GTA. When conducting research, we often ask people to participate in interviews, focus groups, and surveys. We ask them to make time in their lives to share often very personal experiences. Their contribution is vital. But it is not clear how this should be compensated.
Some people say we should not give people a wage for taking part and their contribution to research should be voluntary. But to ensure that everyone can participate we believe there is often a need for some sort of compensation.
The ways we compensate research participates varies a lot. In a 2005 article, Dr. Christine Grady at the U.S. National Institutes of Health identified that there are different approaches behind why researchers provide payment:
- Compensating people with a standardized wage for the time and effort they provide
- Reimbursing people for out of pocket expenses and/or lost wages that result from participating in research, and that could pose a barrier for some to participate in the first place (e.g. child care, transportation, respite elder care, food)
- Providing incentives to encourage people to participate in research
- And/or providing a token of appreciation
Given these different approaches as well as a number of additional consideration such as budgets, making decisions about compensation can be challenging.
There is some help available, in Canada, the Tri-Council Policy Statement (TCPS) provides an ethical framework for researchers. The TCPS stipulates that when providing any compensation or honorarium we must ensure that any type of payment does not compromise a participant’s decision to voluntarily participate in research. But, the TCPS leaves it up to research ethics boards (REBs) and researchers to make decisions about whether and how to pay research participants. We looked across the GTA and could not find practical guidelines to support researchers and REBs when making these decisions about compensation.
Developing practical guidelines that tackle these different considerations and pay attention to the Toronto context would be helpful for researchers and REBs. Providing fair and ethical compensation that acknowledge the fundamental contributions participants make to research is one part of doing research well. High quality, ethical and inclusive research is important for action on health and health equity.
We are launching a research project to try to figure out what fair research compensation in the GTA looks like. Our aim is to develop guidelines.
If you conduct social determinants of health or health services research in the GTA we would like to hear from you about how you compensate research participants. We would be very grateful if you could take part in this 5-10 minute online survey.