What does it mean to conduct ethical research?

Conducting ethical research means being in accordance with the rules or standards for right conduct or practice, especially the standards of the profession. Remember these are just guidelines, you should consult your department, University or employer or obtain independent advice to ensure you are knowledgeable about what ethical issues concern your area of research.

Obtain ethical approval

Approved ethical consent can come from an appropriate ethical committee, such as your University, a non-bias group of users or experts, or a council such as the medical research council or NHS. For non-recruiting studies, you are not required to have ethics approval, however, we highly recommend that you ensure that your manager, University or supervisors are aware you are promoting your study here.

Ensure participants are ‘fully informed’

For a participant to be ‘fully informed’ they need to know everything they can about the study before consenting to take part (if it is appropriate to do so). Provide your participants with information about what the study entails and what data is being collected; they should know where their data is being stored and who will have access to it, how it is being used and when it will be deleted. They should know who they are meeting if they are taking part in a location based study. They should know exactly what is expected of them and what your role is in facilitating the study. They should also have the correct contact information for the researcher and ethical committee.

Requirements

You need to list ALL requirements if it is appropriate to do so. Your participants should be fully informed so they can confidently self-select into your study, knowing they will actually be able to take part. If a preliminary examination or test is required before confirming if the participant is eligible for the study then this information should be clearly displayed to all potential participants.

Anonymising data

If you are anonymising your participants' data then you should provide them with this information when they opt-in to take part and an explanation of how the data is being anonymised should be given. This information does not need to be displayed on your study page.

External links and surveys

If you are sending participants to an external link such as an online survey, then you need to explain to the participant where the link will take them. You also need to inform them about the services you are using and if this conflicts with any information your have provided about the storage and sharing of their data. It may be that the service you are using is also retaining the participants' data, which may cause concerns for the participants and also compromise the ethical approval received from the ethics committee.

As for this service, we do not retain any information that can be associated with a participant, such as their email address, as this is deleted from our systems unless the participant opts into our mailing list. The participant is provided with the option to opt-in and opt-out and we never share our data with third parties.

Data storage

Be clear about where the participants' data is being stored. For example, we have chosen to store our data within the European Union as the data privacy regulations are currently among the strictest in the world (Such as Germany’s Bundesdatenschutzgesetz or BDSG). We provide all our users with the option to delete their data and accounts and opt-out of all communications. Your participants should be aware of where their data is being stored, for how long it will be stored, and how they can have their data deleted or removed.

Contact information & safety

We recommend that you use your university or company email for all correspondence to ensure the participant knows they are contacting someone from a recognised organisation. Ensure the participant is able to contact you or a member of your team. Be sure to put your and your participants' safety first. We recommend that you do not give away any personal information or conduct/advertise studies in unsafe environments. Be sure to use services and locations approved and recognised by your University, company or profession when conducting a study. We would also recommend conducting a risk assessment for both you and the participants.

Additional information

Your University, company or research council should provide guidelines on best practice. Our guidelines for best practice is a concise collection of advice and information for researchers who are conducting studies. The RCUK public engagement office has provided suggested reading for both researchers and participates. Remember these are just guidelines, you should consult your department, University or employer or obtain independent advice to ensure you are knowledgeable about what ethical issues concern your area of research.

Additional resources

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