You should consult this wiki if any of your work involves working with other people. This might include interviewing people, asking them to complete a questionnaire or other survey instrument, getting them to participate in a study, experiment, trial or other data gathering, or observing them in real world (ethnography) or laboratory situations. This applies to research, consultancy, KTPs, PhDs, undergraduate and postgraduate courseworks and projects. The intention of this wiki is to provide advice and guidance on the ethics associated with working with people *and* step-by-step procedures for the major data collection techniques. What do we mean by ethics? What are the basic principles involved in being an ethical student, ethical researcher or ethical teacher. However ethics are not just about following rules as Dingwell (1980) notes, "Ethical codes are inherently ambiguous and indeterminate". So, in addition to the rules and regulations we have provided ethical procedures, that is, detailed ethical "how-to-do-it's" together with scenarios / vignettes illustrating how these works in practice. A full statement of Edinburgh Napier's Code of Practice is also available.
The ethical procedures for the the School of Computing are based on the use of gatekeepers and a number of self-assessment forms which are sufficient to handle most of the ethical issues which may arise in research and teaching. If problems cannot be resolved by means of the self-assessment processes, the researcher should consult this wiki or refer it to the School Research Integrity Lead.
- A gatekeeper is an experienced member of staff who is familiar with ethical good practice. This gatekeeper will typically be the student’s supervisor or module leader. For members of staff this may be the project’s principle investigator, centre or Institute director.
- Self-assessment is achieved by means of a checklist which helps identify potential ethical issues and which serves as a record that appropriate ethical consideration has been given.
- Informed consent is the explicit agreement of participants to take part in a study or research. Staff and students are required to use the informed consent forms. When explicit consent cannot be obtained the risk/benefit assessment form must be completed. If children, young people or vulnerable groups are involved then particular care must be taken.
- Record keeping (evidence of good governance): records of ethical consideration must be maintained by the student or member of staff involved. Typically this will comprise the completed self-assessment checklist and completed informed consent as appropriate .
When the research involves human participants then it is necessary for the researcher to gain consent of the individuals but this is not just simply a question of asking if the individual wishes to be involved. They need to know what it is they are being involved in, and what it is intended will happen to the data collected. The individual participant also needs to be able to provide an informed reply.
It follows that an individual cannot give informed consent if:
- the intended research and their part in it is not clearly explained and/or
- they are children, that is, they are under the age of 16. When explicit consent cannot be obtained the risk/benefit assessment form must be completed.
- they do not have the capacity to make a judgement due to, for example, a disability of some kind.
Informed consent, therefore, involves gaining a signed agreement from the individuals or their approved representatives for their engagement in the proposed research.
Collecting data from people
Having obtained ethical approval for your proposed data gathering you may then proceed to data collection:
- ethnographic approaches (including the various forms of observation)
- experimental studies (i.e. formal hypothesis testing)
- questionnaire surveys (online, administered, paper-based)
- interviewing, probes and diary studies
- use of social media (e.g. facebook / twitter / youtube)
For guidance on video recording and photography see the next section (visual ethics).
Royal College of Nursing Guidelines
Here are the latest RCN guidelines for those planning a qualitative study with children, young people and families. In addition to providing guidance and resources in relation to planning undertaking research with children and young people, this document provides detailed advice on gaining ethical approval for research studies and with NHS partners.
Protecting Vulnerable Groups
If an individual needs to work with children, young people or protected adults they must undergo a disclosure process. This can be done individually or organisationally. Disclosure Scotland runs the protection of vulnerable groups (PVG) scheme. Organisations and individuals are able to join the PVG scheme Disclosure ranges from basic through standard to enhanced. There is legislation available to employers and other organisations to determine what type of disclosure is required for a particular position.
A disclosure is a document containing impartial and confidential criminal history information held by the police and government departments which can be used by employers to make safer recruitment decisions.
Since February 2011 the Scottish government's PVG scheme has been introduced to streamline and simplify the disclosure process,
Visual Ethics (the use of video & photography)
This section is based on the work of Wiles et al. (2008) to which the interested reader is directed (see below). The authors describe visual data as including "photographs, film, video, drawings, advertisements or media images, sketches, graphical representations and models created by a range of creative media". So, if it is your intention to create, capture or collect any of these, read on.
- Photography and the Law
- Consent and visual research
- Anonymity, confidentiality and visual research
- Useful resources
Making sense of your data
Analysis & reporting
Please consult the University's official guidance on plagiarism. The University’s regulation including a video. You are also advised to be wise, don’t plagiarise. There are also tutorials on (avoiding) plagiarism.
Guidelines and policy on the giving and receiving of gift.
Special Issues (pedagogic research, the Law & philosophy)
- Undertaking pedagogic research by staff
- Links to professional bodies
- The Data Protection Act
- Freedom of Information
- The philosophy of ethics
Dingwell, R. (1980) Ethics and Ethnography. Sociological Review, 28(4), 871891.
Wiles, R., Prosser, J., Bagnoli, A. Clark, A. , Davies, K, Holland, S. and Renold, E. (2008) ESRC National Centre for Research Methods Review Paper Visual Ethics: Ethical Issues in Visual Research. National Centre for Research Methods. NCRM/011 available from http://eprints.ncrm.ac.uk/421/1/MethodsReviewPaperNCRM-011.pdf [last retrieved 15th August 2011]