Qualitative research techniques lend themselves to research activities in the design disciplines due to their strategies to extract data that contain intangibles such as emotions, aesthetics, perceptions, embedded cultural practices, artistic and creative activities. The engagement with subjects that hold this data is guided by ethical codes of conduct and is governed by ethics committees that provide approval for such research engagement within a university environment.
Nevertheless (and inevitably) design research in the creative disciplines has moved into ethnography where the Eurocentric process of collecting data and the associated ethical guidelines and approval process may no longer be relevant, fair and appropriate.
This paper is a reflection on ethics and research conduct when research data gathering takes place in indigenous knowledge and where the researcher works from a position of power. Drawing on the work of scholars in countries such as Australia and Canada, this paper presents current trends in thinking in the domain of research ethics and data gathering when engaging indigenous communities. It argues for changed strategies around permission granting, research practices, and related aspects.
Centrally, because of the reconsideration of the ethical dimensions of research, this paper suggests that engaging in design research in and with different cultural groupings may require a methodological research shift from data extraction, analysis and use, to “participatory and joint ownership”. The process of granting permission is no longer just a function by an ethics committee, but also by variables connected to the research subjects or object of investigation.