Code of Research Ethics


The HSRC is committed to using the public funds allocated to it to undertake and promote research that will benefit all the people of South Africa. As HSRC research, therefore, is aimed at supporting societal goals, this research belongs to the public domain and as such should be able to withstand public scrutiny at all times. HSRC research focuses on people, and the bulk of the information and data gathered is accordingly likely to be of a personal nature to the participants in the research.

To honour the trust placed in HSRC researchers by research participants, the researchers should at all times act correctly and in ways that respect the rights and dignity of the participants. The ethics guidelines contained in this Code of Research Ethics will consequently be made available to all participants in the research process.


Purpose of this Document

This document provides guidelines on the professional ethics of gathering, processing and disseminating research information in projects operationally controlled by the HSRC, and in respect of contract research. It covers all activities through which research information and data are gathered, processed and disseminated, for example surveys and interviews and the reporting of research findings.

HSRC Values Statement

We, the employees of the Human Sciences Research Council, hereby agree to conduct ourselves in such a way that the values outlined below will shape and inform all our activities and our relationships with colleagues and stakeholders. Our values are:

  • service and benefit to the nation
  • excellence in all our work
  • enhancing our productivity
  • encouragement of a respect for the participation of our colleagues and stakeholders
  • appreciation for one another’s uniqueness
  • fairness that builds trust
  • sharing of our resources
  • transfer of skills and knowledge
  • open-mindedness in approaching conflict
  • creativity and innovation
  • responsible use of our resources
  • encouragement of learning and development



In all research situations HSRC researchers shall uphold and respect the principles of: 

  • respect and protection
  • transparency
  • scientific and academic professionalism
  • accountability

1. The Principle of Respect and Protection

1.1. All HSRC research should preferably be undertaken with, and not merely on, the identified community.

1.2. Research and the pursuit of knowledge should never be regarded as the supreme goal at the expense of participants' personal, social and cultural values. 

1.3. The researcher must respect the autonomy and protect the welfare of all participants, and must therefore obtain the informed consent of the participants. This consent should be given in writing if possible, especially if the research is of a sensitive nature. The researcher should be concerned particularly about the rights and interests of more vulnerable participants, such as children, the aged and the disabled. In general, all research must observe the international norms of avoiding harm, providing benefit wherever possible and acting justly. 

1.4. Constitutionally, a ‘child’ means a person under the age of 18 years. Research that can equally well be done with adults should never be done with children. However, where children are the participants, legal consent should be given in writing by either the parents, guardian, or custodian - whenever possible, on the understanding that the child has the freedom to withdraw from the research at any stage. 

1.5. The researcher should respect the right of individuals to refuse to participate in research and to withdraw their participation at any stage. 

1.6. Information obtained in the course of research that may reveal the identity of a participant or an institution should be treated as confidential unless the participant or institution agrees to its release. Research findings relating to specific individuals, institutions and organisations should be reported in a way that protects the personal dignity and right to privacy of participants. Furthermore, whenever methodologically feasible, participating individuals and institutions should be allowed to respond anonymously or under a pseudonym to protect their privacy. The researcher should be constantly aware that the research may prejudice the position of research participants if measures are not taken to prevent such prejudice. 

1.7. Participants may be suitably recompensed on condition that all participants are offered similar rewards and that such rewards are related to the sacrifices required of them to make their contribution, e.g. transport costs, meals, and tokens of appreciation, thereby observing the norms of justice and the avoidance of detriment. 


2. The Principle of Transparency 

2.1. Before undertaking any research the researcher should ensure that the participants are clearly briefed on the aims and implications of the research as well as the possible outcomes and benefits of the research. Participants should also be informed of any additional factors that might reasonably be expected to influence their willingness to participate. 

2.2. Should the methodology of a research project necessitate the concealment of information, the researcher should before conducting such a study

  • determine whether the use of such a methodology is justified by the project's prospective scientific, educational or applied value,
  • determine whether alternative procedures that do not require the concealment of information could be used instead,
  • and ensure that the participants are given the reasons for the concealment of information as soon as is practically possible. 

2.3. In the communication of their findings, researchers should subscribe to the principles of honesty, transparency and scrutiny by the public and their peers. 

2.4. No financial or other inducement should be offered to participants, whether children or adults, or parents/guardians of children, to ensure a particular research result. 

2.5. The researcher should always be aware of the potential conflict inherent in the principle of transparency stated above and a client's/sponsor's request for total confidentiality in the reporting of research results. In such a situation the following principles will apply: Should the client/sponsor insist on total confidentiality in the reporting of research results, the researcher should consider this insistence in the light of the principles underlying the HSRC Code of Research Ethics. The client/sponsor should then be informed that: although the HSRC respects the need for confidentiality for strategic and other reasonable purposes, and will consider prohibition of the publication of such results for a reasonable period, this period should preferably not be for more than 12 months following the completion of the research. The researcher should endeavour to convince the client/sponsor of the importance of publishing research findings in scientific journals and depositing datasets in a national data archive – even if such publication occurs after the period of prohibition.


3. The Principle of Scientific and Academic Professionalism 

3.1. Researchers should conduct their research, if applicable, in accordance with the professional code of the association of which they are members. 

3.2. Researchers should not misuse their positions or knowledge as researchers for personal power or gain. 

3.3. Researchers should at all times strive to achieve the highest possible level of scientific quality in their research.


4. The Principle of Accountability 

4.1. Researchers should ensure that they have an explicit written research mandate from the client/principal/sponsor in which the general conditions and terms of the research or service (e.g. research problem, expected deliverables, financial commitments and time framework) are set out clearly. 

4.2. The acceptance of a mandate should be sealed by a legally binding written contract/agreement between the parties specifying the terms agreed upon. 

4.3. The researcher should recognise the right of the client/principal/ sponsor to request information from the researcher at the conclusion of the research - or at any stage in the course of the research. However, interference by clients/principals/sponsors that may jeopardise the scientific integrity of the study or prejudice the interests of the participants in the research, may oblige the HSRC to cancel the contract.


5. General 

5.1. the involvement of the participants or the research process, should be brought to the immediate attention of the supervisor concerned and should be satisfactorily resolved before the researcher commences or continues the research project. 

5.2. It will be expected of consultants, researchers and organisations not attached to the HSRC to adhere to this Code of Research Ethics when participating in research projects with the HSRC. 

5.3. The HSRC Council invites anybody who at any stage enters into a research relationship with the HSRC to co-operate with HSRC researchers in upholding the values and principles contained in this Code of Research Ethics.