Negotiating Ethical Paradoxes in Conducting a Randomized Controlled Trial: Aligning Intervention Science with Participatory Values

Shabnam Javdani, Sukhmani Singh, Corianna E. Sichel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this article, we describe ethical tensions we have faced in the context of our work as intervention scientists, where we aim to promote social justice and change systems that impact girls involved in the juvenile legal system. These ethical tensions are, at their core, about resisting collusion with systems of control while simultaneously collaborating with them. Over the course of designing and implementing a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of an ecological advocacy intervention for girls, called ROSES, ethical paradoxes crystalized and prompted us to engage in critical reflection and action toward the aim of moving away from conducting research on legal-system-involved girls and moving toward a more democratic, participatory process of inquiry with girls. Our experience revealed two intertwined paradoxes that ultimately served generative purposes. First, in collaborating with legal system stakeholders, we observed a single story of girls’ pathology narrated for girls, without girls, and ultimately internalized by girls. Second, in reflecting critically on the ethical implications of our study design, it became clear that the design was grounded in a medical model of inquiry although the intervention we sought to evaluate was based, in part, on resistance to the medical model. We describe emergent ethical tensions and the solutions we sought, which center on creating counternarratives and counterspaces that leverage, extend, and disrupt our existing RCT. We detail these solutions, focusing on how we restructured our research team to enhance structural competence, shifted the subject of inquiry to include the systems in which youth are embedded, and created new opportunities for former research participants to become co-researchers through formal roles on an advisory board.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439-449
JournalAmerican Journal of Community Psychology
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • Randomized controlled trial
  • Intervention
  • Ethics
  • Values
  • Social justice
  • Juvenile justice system
  • Youth
  • Gender


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