Ethical and legal considerations for communities

Engage with communities ethically, helping protect the community and your team members from potential harm.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) along with the Australian Research Council and Universities Australia have published the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2023). While the ethics laid out in the guidelines are specific to research, the ethical standpoint is applicable to other human interaction as well, including that of community-based activities.

Download the LDAT ethics resource below to find guidelines for ensuring your activities are ethical, from planning through to completion of a project.

Ethical and legal considerations

  • Harm avoidance
  • Working with vulnerable groups
  • Consent
  • Privacy and confidentiality
  • Legal requirements

Harm avoidance

Harm avoidance is a key concern when considering ethical ways of working within the community.

The following specific forms of harm are identified in the NHMRC National Statement. Note this list is not exhaustive as there may be other types of harm:

Harms to avoid

  • Physical harms: including injury, illness, pain;
  • Psychological harms: including feelings of worthlessness, distress, guilt, anger or fear related, for example, to disclosure of sensitive or embarrassing information, or learning about a genetic possibility of developing an untreatable disease;
  • Devaluation of personal worth: including being humiliated, manipulated or in other ways treated disrespectfully or unjustly;
  • Social harms: including damage to social networks or relationships with others; discrimination in access to benefits, services, employment or insurance; social stigmatisation; and findings of previously unknown paternity status;
  • Economic harms: including the imposition of direct or indirect costs on participants;
  • Legal harms: including discovery and prosecution of criminal conduct.

Avoid the harms by assessing, minimising and managing risk when planning community activities.

AOD and older people
Ethical considerations for vulnerable groups and communities

Working with vulnerable groups

When assessing risk, keep in mind ethical considerations relating to particular vulnerable groups and communities.

The NHMRC National Statement outlines how to approach vulnerable groups. This section provides detailed guidelines for working with specific vulnerable groups, such as children, women who are pregnant, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


Another aspect of ensuring that work in the community is ethical, is to ensure that participants of community activities consent to participate. The consent should be a voluntary choice based on sufficient information and understanding of outcomes, as well as the implications of participation.

3 women in community gardening
Ensure privacy and confidentiality are maintained in your community activities

Privacy and Confidentiality

When collecting any data or personal information as part of the community, it is important to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of individuals, and communities.

The NHMRC National Statement addresses “the ethical issues related to generation, collection, access, use, analysis, disclosure, storage, retention, disposal, sharing and re-use of data or information”.

Legal requirements

Depending on the nature of your activity, you may require specific checks or clearances. Some types of activities may require special ethics clearance. As a general rule, working with any vulnerable populations makes it more likely that you will require special ethics clearance. Teams will need to take the potential for special ethics clearance into account as part of their activity planning.

In practice Some common requirements include:

  • Working with Children Check
  • Police Check
  • Public liability insurance
  • Professional indemnity insurance.