In our daily lives, respect has many different interpretations. Some may use the term as a noun, saying someone should “show respect” or “give respect”. In this context, respect means “a feeling of deep admiration for someone” or “due regard for the feelings of others” according to Dictionary.com. The term can also be used as a verb, meaning “to have regard for the feelings of others”, or “to admire someone deeply”. But, as researchers and designers, respect has a different meaning from the ones found on Dictionary.com. According to the Belmont Report (1979), the principle of respect is “the requirement to acknowledge autonomy and the requirement to protect those with diminished autonomy”. The Belmont Report (1979) also states “An autonomous person is an individual capable of deliberation about personal goals and of acting under the direction of such deliberation”, meaning that autonomy is the ability to decide for oneself. Together, this means that the principle of respect is about actively understanding that someone is allowed to make their own deliberate decisions and protecting those that cannot make their own deliberate decisions. A common misconception that those that have not read the Belmont Report may believe is that respect means to understand and acknowledge one’s desires, which is very similar, but the principle of respect pushes it a bit further with a slightly nuanced difference. The principle of respect requires one to give regards to another’s capability to make their own decisions, determine their own future, and to ensure that those that cannot do so are protected by ensuring their best interest, and sometimes, “…even to the point of excluding them from activities which may harm them…” (Belmont Report). The principle of respect is rooted in the idea that people should understand the consequences of a situation and deserve to choose their consequence they see most fit.
Just like many other ethics principles, the principle of respect is not as easy to apply as it may seem. A challenge to applying the principle of respect is defining the line between autonomous individuals and diminished autonomous individuals. It’s easy to see that a child is an individual with diminished-autonomy, but in certain scenarios it can be more challenging. For example, imagine doing a study on homeless individuals that requires asking slightly uncomfortable questions. Although the homeless individuals are mentally capable and understanding of the consequences, if the individual’s reward for participation is great enough, it can be unclear if the participant is truly autonomous. It’s unclear because the influence of the reward can cause someone to put themselves in a situation that they would otherwise not volunteer for. This is difficult because in this situation, researchers would want to compensate the participants for their time, but it can cause a question of ethics or even questionable data because of compensation’s influence. Another issue is making sure that the participants are able to make an informed consent, meaning they fully understand the benefits and risks of the situation. If an individual does not understand the benefits and risks of the situation, then it’s possible they can be declared an individual with diminished autonomy, because they’re not able to make a deliberate decision. The problem with this is that there can be times when some secrecy is needed in studies, or users will not take the time to fully understand the risks and benefits involved. Being able to define an autonomous individual is what makes applying the principle of respect challenging.
Weeks ago, I conducted usability studies on a microwave with two other researchers. Three participants were given three tasks to complete using a microwave to test its usability. These tasks were: defrosting a sample piece of food, using a sensor cooking feature provided by the microwave, and changing the clock time. To acknowledge autonomy in this example, participants must be able to be given the choice to opt out of the tests if they chose to. Participants must be able to choose to participate in the study with no outstanding incentive to participate, otherwise the autonomy of the participants would be questioned. In order to ensure their autonomy, the participants must be fully informed on the testing and give their informed consent. This means that the participants must be able to understand the risks and benefits of the study and then agree to participate with full knowledge of possible consequences. In this particular example, the participants were told the tasks they were expected to complete beforehand and given chances to ask questions throughout the usability testing. Because the testing was relatively low risk, the importance of informed consent was less emphasized during the studies. Because the usability testing involved volunteering students from the University of Washington, the participants were deemed autonomous and no further protocols were followed beyond getting informed consent from the participants to ensure the principle of respect in this research. But, if the studies involved different participants, for example, pre-school children, the protocol would be much different. Because children are a group of individuals that have diminished autonomy, more would be done to ensure the principle of respect is being followed. For those that have diminished autonomy, a third party, with the best interest of the individual in mind, is chosen to represent the individual. So, if a child were to be a participant in the study, a parent or guardian would be asked to give consent since they are the ones representing the child and are able to understand the full extent of the risks and benefits.
Another example of an application of the principle of respect can be found in the interaction design sprint from the beginning of the quarter. In that sprint, I designed a phone application to help enable joggers collect data about wildlife animals. The target demographic for this application was a wide range of adults, from age 18 to 80, as long as the users were able bodied and willing to contribute, then they should be included. In this example, to acknowledge autonomy, the users must not be extremely enticed to use the application. Since it is a phone application, users would have the option at anytime to NOT use the application, granting them control and the choice to opt in or out at anytime. But, since this phone application uses an incentive to get users to collect data, there’s a slight question of the principle of respect. It’s possible that the incentive to collect data can affect someone’s decision making, but I believe that the incentive is small enough that it doesn't infringe on the principle of respect. The reward is not great enough to cause an individual to do something they would not do without the reward. But there is another question of informed consent in this example. Do the users truly understand what the could get themselves into? Collecting data on wildlife could potentially put users into dangerous situations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the users understand that. To make sure the users are giving their informed consent, the application itself should have a terms of service page that informs the users of possible risks and benefits. Or, the application could have a page that explains to them how their contributions benefit the researchers using the data. This would give them an idea of the benefits of the applications. To make sure the users understand the risks of the application, there should be warnings included that warns of possible risks involved like: fatigue, privacy, or even danger. These two options would allow the users to inform themselves thus qualifying for informed consent. I believe that because the incentive to use the application of collecting data while out on a jog is relatively small, the target demographic of the application, adults, is an autonomous group of individuals, and with due process to inform the users of possible risks and benefits, the principle of respect is being ensured.
Respect[Def. 1]. (n.d.). Dictionary Retrieved May, 2017, from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/respect?s=t
The Belmont Report. (2016, March 15). Retrieved May 17, 2017, from https://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/regulations-and-policy/belmont-report/index.html