Research on a sensitive and potentially stigmatising topic such as ‘radicalisation’ begs for a robust ethical framework. Ethical procedures, issuing from an institutional ethics commission, are not sufficient to manage these risks. Arguably, collaborative and participatory research is best suited to overcome the risks of doing research on such a sensitive topic as well as the hierarchy and inequality in the relationship between researchers, gatekeepers and participants. To co-construct a participatory ethical framework in this context, 22 social workers were asked about the core ethical values of their own professional context. In this paper, these social work ethics are brought in tension with the practice of doing research. The paper concludes with the insight that social work ethics are not transferrable to the research context in a straightforward manner. Hierarchy and inequality (as well as much frustration) will persist if only this strategy is adopted.