Contextualising the role of the gatekeeper in social science research

Shenuka Singh, Douglas Wassenaar


Accessing research participants within some social institutions for research purposes may involve a simple single administrative event. However, accessing some institutions to conduct research on their data, personnel, clients or service users can be quite complex. Research ethics committee chairpersons frequently field questions from researchers wanting to know when and why gatekeeper permission should be sought. This article examines the role and influence of gatekeepers in formal and organisational settings and explores pragmatic methods to improve understanding and facilitation of this process. Conscientious and well-informed negotiations with gatekeepers are required in order to honour the ethical obligations to conduct appropriate stakeholder engagement before and during research, along with respect for the autonomy of institutions and their employees/clients/service recipients. Provision must be made to identify explicit and implicit gatekeepers to initiate and build collaborative networks that could best support the research process. Careful mutually respectful access agreements which consider the needs and vulnerabilities of both the gatekeeper and the researcher can improve the quality of the scientific data collected. Strategic planning in the research process must take these sometimes complex processes of gatekeeper permission into careful account.

Authors' affiliations

Shenuka Singh, Department of Dentistry, College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

Douglas Wassenaar, South African Research Ethics Training Initiative (SARETI). Discipline of Psychology, School of Applied Human Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

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gatekeepers, ethics, social sciences

Cite this article

South African Journal of Bioethics and Law 2016;9(1):42. DOI:10.7196/SAJBL.2016.v9i1.465

Article History

Date submitted: 2016-03-23
Date published: 2016-05-25

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