Research ethics – protecting research participants
Research ethics is a vital element of research integrity, together with the scientific rigour of a project and the conduct of the researchers. In particular it concerns the safeguarding of any participants in the research.
Senate Research Ethics Committee coronavirus (CONVID-19) guidance on face-to-face interaction with research participants
Any research requiring face-to-face interaction with participants must be suspended as of 20th March, 2020. Where a change of mode of data collection is possible an application for revision should be submitted via REO. Any requests will be dealt with as quickly as possible. Requests for exemption to this advice will be considered by Senate Research Ethics Committee.
Research projects involving face-to-face participant interaction granted ethics approval by a City Research Ethics Committee
Given the unprecedented situation caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, City requires all current research involving face-to-face interactions with participants to be suspended. Researchers must consider if they can adapt their research to conduct participant interactions remotely. If this is not possible, the research must be suspended until further notice.
Mode of data collection: Face-to-face data collection undertaken as part of undergraduate, post-graduate and staff research projects within and outside the university should be suspended immediately, including any project involving physiological measurements/work. Where possible, the mode of data collection should be changed from direct face-to-face to the use of telephone or Skype interviews or focus groups, or online surveys or data collection through other social media.
If you are suspending data collection that involves face-to-face contact, you must inform your participants. UG and PG students should, in the first instance, seek advice from their course tutors through their Schools and departments. They should in the first instance consider if they can change their project to use secondary data instead. This is a stressful time for individuals and students may find it difficult to recruit participants willing to take part in their studies.
Ethics, academic quality, data protection and other legal matters: A change of mode of data collection may give rise to ethics and legal issues as well as compromising quality and standards. Therefore, these must be carefully considered. See guidance here as an indication of some issues that may arise using social media.
Sign off for student research: Supervisors of UG and PG research can sign off amendments to projects without the need for an amendment form to be completed (unless you are a student in the SHS in which please follow the steps outlined below for staff and doctoral students). However, the supervisor must provide a detailed note on the approved application via email to the Chair of the Research Ethics Committee that approved the original application. The email should include the reference number of the application and detail the changes and confirming that the standard issues relating to ethics and data protection have been addressed.
Staff and doctoral students: Staff and doctoral students should complete an amendment on REO outlining the changes to the mode of data collection or interaction with participants. These will be considered by the REC that approved the original study as normal.
Exemption for staff and doctoral students: SREC recognises that there may be instances in which this suspension can be waived or for any new studies relating to COVID-19 where there are proven public health grounds to commence. In the first instance, a researcher is required to contact SREC (please contact City’s Research Integrity Manager, Anna Ramberg) providing detailed justification as to why face-to-face data collection should not be suspended/new study commence. In the meantime, face-to-face data collection must be suspended until an exemption is approved.
Any research requiring face-to-face interaction with participants must be suspended immediately until further notice. Where a change of mode of data collection is possible an application for revision should be submitted via REO. Any requests will be dealt with as quickly as possible. Requests for exemption to this advice will be considered by Senate Research Ethics Committee.
Should it not be possible to modify your research project, you must inform your active participants that the research has been suspended. You should inform them about why the study has been suspended and about any implication this may have for them. Note that if participants who are no longer in the study but where specific dates about for instance feedback session have been given to participants, you should also contact these participants and explain that there is a delay and/or it’s possible the research project will not be completed. You must also email email@example.com to notify the institution that your study is now suspended.
A. I have not yet begun data collection but have ethics approval to do so. I will amend my recruitment plan to recruit and interact remotely.
Student research: If you are a student you should discuss all proposed changes to your project with your supervisor before implementing the proposed changes. There is no need to complete an amendment form on Research Ethics Online (unless you are a student in the SHS in which please follow the steps outlined below for staff and doctoral students) but your supervisor must approve the new arrangements and email the Chair of the Research Ethics Committee that approved your study originally. The email should include the reference number of the application and outline the changes and including confirmation that standard issues relating to ethics and data protection have been addressed.
Staff and doctoral students (and SHS students): Staff and doctoral students should complete an amendment form on REO outlining the changes to the mode of data collection or interaction with participants. These will be considered by the REC that approved the original study as normal, but unless there are significant changes to the project the amendment will not require a full review.
B. I have already begun data collection and will now change to remote participant interaction.
You will need to update your recruitment documents to outline how you will now interact with your participants. You will need to inform any participants already recruited into the study about the change from face-to-face to remote interaction, and provide them with the updated participant information sheet and consent form. You must make clear that should they no longer wish to take part in the study due to the changes, or for any other reason, they are free to withdraw at any point without giving a reason.
Student research: If you are a student you should discuss your project with your supervisor before implementing the proposed changes. There is no need to complete an amendment form on Research Ethics Online (unless you are a student in the SHS in which please follow the steps outlined below for staff and doctoral students) but your supervisor must email the Chair of the Research Ethics Committee that approved your study originally. The email should include the reference number of the application and outline the changes and that you have in discussion ensured that the standard issues relating to ethics and data protection have been addressed.
Staff and doctoral students (and SHS students): Please submit details of proposed amendments on REO as normal, including the updated recruitment materials. Amendments of mode of data collection will not undergo extensive review but will be considered by the REC that approved the original study as normal. Please also consider any implications to data protection arising from the changes to the study. These should be included in the amendment and outline in the new recruitment documents.
Please note that this process only applies to changes from face-to-face interactions to remote interactions with your participants if the amendment is not expected to raise the level of risk to the participants, e.g. interviews where there is a potential for the participants to become distressed.
You can still continue to apply for ethics approval using REO and City’s Research Ethics Committees will continue to review applications as normal. Please note that due to these unprecedented conditions there may be a delay in the response time. However, you will not be permitted to start data collection which involve face-to-face interactions with your participants until further notice. This will be stated clearly in your approval letter.
The following options are available:
- Obtain ethics approval for a project involving face-to-face interactions with participants in person.
- If you wish to commence data collection immediately you must amend these interactions to be conducted remotely as outlined above.
- If it is not possible to conduct your participant interactions remotely then you must wait until you are advised that face-to-face interactions can recommence.
- If you are a student with time constraints around conducting your research and cannot conduct remote participant interactions, it is recommended that you change your research to involve secondary data analysis only (i.e. data which has already been collected) so that no primary data collection is required. Please discuss your options with your supervisor.
Why is research ethics important?
Any research that involves human participants or identifiable personal data has ethical implications. At City, we affirm that human participants, animals and the environment must be protected from harm. All research must follow that principle, regardless of the discipline or subject matter of the research.
Research ethics at City
City is committed to ensuring that all research is conducted so that it
- protects the rights, privacy and welfare of participants and their personal data, and
- minimises risk to participants, researchers, and the institution.
Even if the research is deemed to be low risk, researchers must consider issues such as data protection, confidentiality and anonymity. Research projects must also comply with an increasing number of professional and legal requirements.
City's Research Ethics Committees oversee all aspects of the ethics of research involving human participants and personal data carried out in the institution or under the auspices of the institution, by its Schools, staff or students.
Research projects must obtain ethical approval before the research commences. City's indemnity will not cover research without approval. Failure to obtain approval may also result in disciplinary procedures being instigated.
There can be no exceptions, exclusions, retrospective approval or blanket permissions in any circumstances.
Our research ethics governance
City operates a framework of delegated authority, with City’s local Research Ethics committees in Departments/Divisions/Schools, all reporting to the Senate Research Ethics Committee.
Research ethics committees are not normally charged with reviewing the design and methodology of research projects. Occasionally, they have to consider them in order to assess the risks and benefits of a project. If a study design does not adequately attain the stated aim of the investigation, then no benefit can be anticipated from conducting the study. There is therefore no justification for inconveniencing people or potentially placing them at risk.
Read more about the approval process for research ethics at City