Background: Rule ethics, or principled thinking, is important in the analysis of risks and benefits of research and informed consent, but is not completely adequate for guiding ethical responses to communities as research participants and collaborators. Virtue ethics theory can be used to guide actions in relationships, which are foundational to the implementation of community-based participatory research (CBPR). Virtues are strengths of character that contribute to a life of flourishing or well-being for individuals and communities.
Objectives: This article provides an overview of virtue ethics theory, identifies common ethical problems in CBPR, and discusses how professional virtues can be used to guide ethical research practice.
Methods: The virtues of compassion, courage, honesty, humility, justice, and practical reasoning are defined and applied to ethical practice in the development, implementation, and dissemination of CBPR. Best practices for CBPR that consider the well-being of communities are identified.
Conclusions: The virtues of compassion and humility foster inclusiveness and integration of community perspectives in research collaboration. Courage requires researchers to step out of the research safety-net to listen to community member voices and wisdom and share power in research decisions. Honesty requires researchers to communicate realistic expectations for research outcomes, share all findings with the community, and consider community perspectives in research dissemination. Systematic involvement of the community in all steps of the research process represents the virtue of practical reasoning. From a justice perspective, CBPR aims to restore communities rather than take from them.