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Research provides us with powerful opportunities. The following ethical principles help guide us through some of the choices that this work can present.

Disclaimer: These principles are meant to serve in addition to your basic ethical obligations as public servants. They are for internal use only, and shared in the spirit of open source. If you have questions, contact your supervisor, GSA’s Privacy Office, or Ethics Legal counsel.


We respect the people who participate in our research and acknowledge
that they are experts on their own experiences.

Ways to demonstrate respect:

  • Seek permission from potential research participants as early as possible, and avoid consuming their time before they’ve formally opted-in
  • Meet at times and locations convenient for your research participants
  • Obtain participants’ informed consent; that is, ensure that anyone who participates in your research does so of their own free will, and that they have enough information to make the decision to participate responsibly
  • If someone is uncomfortable with or prefers not to sign a participant agreement, offer them alternative opportunities to participate, or the option to not participate at all
  • Honor people’s opinions and choices. Do not correct participants during a research session. You are there to develop empathy and learn about people’s experiences as they experience them, so there are no right or wrong answers to your interview questions.
  • If someone who participates in your research appears uncomfortable, offer that person the option to skip the subject altogether or to cease their participation
  • Ask yourself: am I treating people as collaborators in, rather than subjects of, the research process?


We have a responsibility to further the best interests of the people and the country we collectively serve. We avoid actions that might bring harm to our participants.

Ways to demonstrate responsibility:

  • Consider potential risks to participants in your research planning. Ensure that your research questions are ethical and come up with research plans that will bring no harm to participants
  • Obtain informed consent
  • Never record people without their consent
  • Work to ensure your potential research participants are not impacted negatively if they don’t participate in your research
  • Account for diversity and inclusion in your recruiting (for example, by specifically recruiting people who use a screen reader to navigate your website)
  • Protect participant privacy


Design research should never be covert or manipulative. We provide clear descriptions of our data practices in our Privacy Impact Assessment for Design Research [].

Ways to demonstrate honesty:

  • Acknowledge that all research is subject to bias, and actively work to counter it
  • Be honest about what you can and cannot conclude based on your research. Do not overstate your findings.
  • Be careful of the conclusions you draw from any one study
  • Be transparent in conversations with your research participants about how you plan to use the data you collect (for example, by sharing a Privacy Act Notice [])
  • Provide participants with as much information as possible to avoid misleading them while maintaining the integrity of the research and protecting people’s privacy