Why haven't I received confirmation of ethical approval?
To find out you will need to check the status of your online application.
If the application reads 'In progress' this means that the online process is incomplete. The usual reason is that the applicant has failed to answer ALL the questions on the online tool.
It is not sufficient to just upload the GSoE ethics form. Information sheets, consent forms etc should be uploaded as separate documents as the administrator of the online ethics tool checks and returns any applications which are deemed incomplete, ie only the GSoE ethics form uploaded.
If the application reads 'Awaiting approval', this is because a student's supervisor has not yet approved the form. The student should contact the supervisor to request approval.
If the application reads 'Full application required', this is usually because there may be some sensitive issues around the application and/or the student has answered 'yes' to two or more of the online questions, eg the researcher is working with vulnerable people, is researching with human tissue samples, offering incentives, etc which then triggers an automatic request for a full application. If the application has been approved and all relevant documentation uploaded, then the applicant should contact the administrator, email@example.com, to expedite sign off.
Do I need to be checked by the Disclosure and Barring Service (formerly Criminal Records Bureau)?
This depends on the nature of your research and the procedures of the school in which you are working. Some schools do not require DBS clearance if you are working alongside teachers or other adults; others may decide that surveys or research conducted over a short period of time may not necessitate DBS clearance but as a general rule, if you are working with children in a school setting it is helpful for access to your research participants if you can obtain DBS clearance prior to your field work - but it is not always necessary.
I wish to collect data from a class I teach, do the children and their parents need to actively opt in?
Regarding research on children, it is necessary to gain consent from parents or guardians for those under 16 and it is good practice to also gain assent from the children themselves, in whatever way is appropriate. Having a clear parental opt-in process will ensure all relevant parties for this are fully informed. However, if you are a school teacher simply researching outcomes of a change to your practice using data only from everyday school records, it may be that your research plans are already covered by the school's own contract with parents. You will need to discuss this with the relevant Head(s) of Year however, do note that if you plan on using video or audio to record any students, parental consent must first be received.
What are the particular ethical issues relating to 'insider' research?
This depends on how much emphasis is placed on your position as an 'insider'. Your presence and closeness to the 'insider' group may influence both your ability to be an effective researcher, eg asking the right questions, and your respondents' ability to answer truthfully. There is the potential to damage relationships if the topic is sensitive and the researcher thus needs to be clear about what is accepted ethical practice in this particular group. Reflexivity, confidentiality and power are some of the key issues in 'insider' research.
What do I need to know about the Data Protection Act?
The Data Protection Act ('the Act') gives individuals rights over their personal data and protects individuals from the erroneous use of their personal data. The Act also requires anyone who handles personal data to comply with a number of important principles and legal obligations. These can be summarised as follows:
Personal data shall:
- Be collected and processed fairly and lawfully. The purpose for which personal data is collected and processed should be made clear to the data subject. Data subjects should not be deceived or misled as to the purpose for which their personal data is held or used.
- Be obtained only for the specific and lawful purposes described. Personal data held for one purpose should not be used for another, e.g. research data should not be used for direct marketing.
- Be adequate, relevant, and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are held. All personal data held must be clear in meaning, and convey sufficient information for others to understand them. Only information that is necessary should be kept. Sensitive data must only be held if really necessary.
- Be accurate and, where necessary, be kept up to date.
- Be held no longer than is necessary for the registered purpose.
- Be processed in accordance with the rights of the data subjects under the Act. Individuals have a statutory right to be told whether information about them is being processed, and also provides that individuals may have access to data held about them and, if appropriate, to have the data corrected or deleted.
- Be held under secure conditions.
- Not be transferred to a country or territory outside the European Economic Area, unless that country ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to the processing of personal data.
The University’s guidelines on data protection and research can be found here.
How long should research records be kept?
Each research project is unique and judgement is required to determine how long records should be kept. Records should only be retained for as long as is required. It is a good idea to establish a Data Management Plan (DMP) before the research begins but also check the administrative and operational requirements of your funder. A general rule for non clinical research is that data should normally be preserved and accessible for a minimum of ten years after completion of the research.
What do I need to know about research ethics regarding vulnerable people and children?
It should be noted that many disabled people find the term 'vulnerable' unacceptable and therefore careful ethical consideration should be employed to ensure that the term is used appropriately. However, there are certain people who merit additional attention as research participants: broadly speaking, those who have limited capacity to consent to their own participation in research. This might include young children or those with learning difficulties, certain mental health conditions or dementia.
Regarding children, it is necessary to gain consent from parents or guardians for those under 16 and it is good practice to also gain assent from the children themselves, in whatever way is appropriate. Alderson and Morrow (2011) have written extensively on this subject and provide useful guidance.
Guidance should also be sought regarding people over 16 who are deemed to lack the capacity to consent to participation in research. The Mental Capacity Act (2005) is an important piece of legislation which requires researchers to establish whether an adult does or does not have the capacity to decide whether to participate in research. If it is established that the participant does not have capacity, the Act requires that researcher must consult with a specified consultee. Further information on the Mental Capacity Act.
If you are planning to conduct research with people over the age of 16 who lack capacity to consent then you are legally required to seek approval from a national research ethics committee, such as the Social Care Research Ethics Committee. To find out more about the process please email firstname.lastname@example.org. You are still required to complete a GSoE ethics application before applying for SCREC approval.
Research with ‘vulnerable’ people requires careful consideration at all stages of the research process, including the use of appropriate information sheets, consent/assent approaches, methods and outputs. Sensitivity is needed to ensure that, for example, a child who is unable to consent to the research is not becoming distressed at any stage and withdrawal should always be considered, in consultation with those who know the participant well. The participant's well-being should always be the main deciding factor. In order to reduce any possible distress, an exit strategy from the study should be considered at an early stage of research planning.