Beneficence is action that is done for the benefit of others. This principle implies that the expected benefit to participants or the wider community justifies any risks of harm or discomfort to participants. To fulfil this principle research must be of value to participants, their community, country or development practice more broadly, be designed to minimise risks and participants must be duly informed of potential benefits and risks of the research. In a development context, the research process itself should be viewed as an ‘intervention’, with its own impacts and consequences, and as such, should carry a commitment to support empowerment and participation.

Beyond beneficence, the concept of “do no harm” (non-maleficence) is also critical, particularly in fragile states. There are many types of harm that require anticipation and consideration. Harm can be immediate or long-term and can be physical, social, emotional or psychological. Harm may pertain to the welfare and security of an individual, institution or group. To ‘do no harm’ means such risks and harm are anticipated, planned for, and used to seriously question proceeding with proposed research.

In practice, the principle of Beneficence can be broken down into three concepts:

Benefits to Participants

Research should have some expected benefit for participants, and these should be communicated clearly.

Management of Risks

Risks posed by research must be identified early and managed through effective planning and design, and - if required and available - an ethics review.

Protection from Harm

The research should pose no harm to research participants or the researchers before, during and after the research takes place.

Beneficence: Self-assessment Checklist

This checklist will help you to identify areas where you may require further work or preparation in your research process in applying the principle of Beneficence.

Beneficence: Self-assessment Checklist
Research Design
Does the research only pose negligible or no risk of harm to researchers and participants?
Does the benefit of the research outweigh the potential harms to anyone involved?
Do you know who will benefit directly and indirectly from the research? Has this been conveyed to the relevant participants/others?
Have risks to field researchers themselves been assessed and ways to minimise risks devised?
Do you have a strategy to convey the benefits of the research to research participants in such a way that it is clear and does not create false expectations?
Have risks to field researchers themselves been assessed and ways to minimise risks devised?
Analysis and Reporting
Have you considered the research participants and/or beneficiaries when analysing and reporting the research – particularly in terms of its usability by the research participants?
Dissemination and Use
Do you have a realistic plan and time frame for sharing research results - and potential benefits - with research participants?

You can also download a copy of the Self-assessment Checklist [PDF].

Once you have completed the checklist, refer back to the tools and information provided above, as well as the Principles and Guidelines, to help fill any identified gaps.

You can find further assistance via the Training Module and Further Resources page.