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Ethics & Applications of Geospatial Technologies

Research Design and Methods

Developing an Ethical Research Plan

The ethical guidelines developed by the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA) can be a good starting point for assessing your research plan and ensuring that it is ethically sound.  These guidelines are available online at:

Geospatial technology, including everything from GIS and remote sensing software to GPS unit and UAV hardware, can provide powerful data collection and analysis capabilities. While these technologies have the potential to do great things, as with any powerful tools, they also have the potential to cause harm if they are not used carefully. For this reason, if you are considering using any geospatial technology in your research, it is extremely important to think through the potential consequences of your work. Below is a list of things that you should consider when utilizing geospatial technology along with links to relevant news articles, academic journal articles, or guidelines that discuss the importance of these aspects of geospatial research. This list is non-exhaustive and it is important to consider the unique nature of your research prior to commencing work to ensure that you do not fail to consider other ways in which your project could potentially impact others.
It is not uncommon for geospatial data to contain personally identifiable information (PII) and when such data is used in research it is important to consider how people whose information is contained in the data might feel about the wide or public release of such information.
If your work is not accurate it can potentially mislead people and cause them to make poor decisions based on the incorrect information you have published. It can even cause conflict between those who believe the results of your work and others who have consulted accurate sources of information. Publication of inaccurate information can cause damage to reputation that can be hard to repair and often results in distrust of future work.
In order for others to be able to replicate your work and confirm the results of your research, you must be open and transparent about your methods. A lack of detail regarding research practices might be construed as an oversight on your part while purposefully concealing key details about a project's methodology could lead to later retractions of your published work. When conducting research it is best free and open source methods if possible to ensure that your methods can be thoroughly scrutinized by fellow researchers and be replicated by the widest possible audience.
The safety of people involved in a research project as well as that of potential bystanders is of paramount importance and should be carefully considered prior to undertaking any work on a geospatial research project. Safety issues are most typically associated with tools used for data collection like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or "drones" which can cause collision injuries if they are not deployed and piloted appropriately.

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