All research undertaken by BU staff and students is subject to appropriate ethical reflection, leading to a formal ethics review as appropriate.
When is a formal ethics review appropriate? It is not possible to produce a definitive list, but key examples include all research involving human participants, tissue or personal data, experimentation on animals, animal tissue, genetically modified organisms, research on sensitive issues, research that might have an impact on the environment or our cultural heritage.
An ethics opinion from an appropriate Reviewer must be obtained before you can commence any data collection activity.
- For staff and PGRs (high risk) this will be provided by a Central Research Ethics Panel
- For PGRs (low risk) this will be provided by an Ethics Champion (Department)
- For UG/PGT students (high risk) this will be provided by an appropriate Ethics Programme Team
- For UG/PGT students (low risk) this will be provided by the Named Supervisor.
Data collection activities should not start until you have received a Favourable Opinion and your checklist has been approved online.
What type of activity may not require a formal ethics review? Examples include patient and public involvement (PPI) to inform future research, audit, course or service evaluation. Please refer to the research ethics code of practice (specifically 5.1 and 5.5).
How to seek a formal ethics review
- Complete the online ethics checklist and don’t forget if recruiting human participants to attach relevant supporting documents such as Participant Information Sheet (PI Sheet), Participant Agreement Form (PAF), a copy of the questionnaire, interview/focus group schedule including questions, recruitment materials such as a poster, social media posts etc – any material that a participant will read needs to be reviewed.
- Research Governance & Integrity For resources related to the research ethics click ‘explore research ethics’; includes links to PI Sheet and PAF Templates and relevant policies and procedures.
- Research Data Management: RMD LibGuide
- DMP Online (data management plans which helps you to create, review and share data management plans that meet BU and funder requirements).
- Data Protection Knowledge Base
To conclude this week’s spotlight on research ethics, ‘Research cannot be rendered ethical by completing a one-off administrative task… researchers and evaluators need to work in an ethical way throughout the research process.’
As we discussed earlier this week, it is important to think of the ethics process as a ‘live’ issue. Some key examples are given below:
- The data. What have you collected; does it contain personal information/special category data? Are your data management plans still relevant?
- If collecting personal or special category data, you need to consider data minimisation. This means minimising the scope of the data (i.e. data fields) which are necessary for the research. Steps include limiting the scope of the data collected, deleting data fields when no longer required, masking some data fields to reduce identification risk or fully anonymising data, setting access restrictions in respect of data in an identifiable form.
- Wellbeing both physical and emotional. This is important when in the field, for you and your participants but also extends to the data analysis phase, particularly if reliving the discussion, which can be traumatic depending on the topic.
- Planned aftercare: If recruiting participants what relationship might develop between you and your participants? How will the activities conclude and what would be appropriate participant aftercare?
- Planned dissemination/outputs: could the results be misused by people with different agendas?
- Ethics submission. It is your responsibility to ensure that where the scope of the research project changes, such changes are evaluated to ensure that the Favourable Opinion you have been issued remains appropriate. If your agreed research protocol has changed, you should complete an Amendment Request Form before changes are implemented.
Help is always on hand
If you have a question related to research ethics, there are a few avenues where you can seek advice:
- Students should contact their supervisor in the first instance
- Staff can contact a member of the Research Ethics Panels for an informal chat.
- You can also contact a member of the RDS Governance Team by emailing Research Ethics
 Helen Kara, 2018. Research Ethics in the real world, Policy Press