Ethical agree to take part in a study know

Ethical issues in research a ‘how to…’ guide
Help with Involve Communities ‘How to…’ guide
Ethics when applied to social research is concerned with the creation of a trusting relationship
between those who are researched and the researcher. To ensure that trust is established it is
essential that communication is carefully planned and managed, that risks are minimised and benefits
are maximised.
In developing a trusting relationship, researchers adhere to a number of ethical principles which they
apply to their work – namely beneficence; autonomy; non-maleficence; justice; veracity; and privacy.
Beneficence (doing good)
Research should only be carried out if some sort of benefit or good can be derived from it, (i.e.
contribution to knowledge or improved service/treatment). Therefore the question of whether or not
a research project is worth undertaking should always be uppermost in the mind of the researcher. If
no benefit can be derived then the project is unethical.
Autonomy (self-rule)
Researchers have an obligation to disclose information at a level that participants can understand so
that they can either refuse or agree to participate. In essence, autonomy is concerned with the
concept of informed consent whereby people who agree to take part in a study know what they are
agreeing to and authorise the researcher to collect information without any form of coercion.
Non-maleficence (do no harm)
The principle of non-maleficence places an obligation on researchers not to harm others or expose
people to unnecessary risks. Harm can come in many forms, from blows to self-esteem to ‘looking
bad’ to others, to loss of funding or earnings, to boredom, frustration, or time wasting. It is good
practice to assume that every research project will involve some form of harm and to consider in
advance how best to deal with it.
Justice (Fairness)
This principle implies that everyone should be treated fairly and equally.
Veracity (truth telling)
This principle concerns truth telling whereby the researcher is required to provide comprehensive and
accurate information in a manner that enhances understanding. For example, if the researcher says
that a questionnaire will take 10 minutes to complete then the questionnaire should take 10 minutes
and not 15 minutes. Researchers should always be honest with participants and keep any promises
Privacy concerns the respect for limited access to another person, be it physically, emotionally or
cognitively. For example, although participants grant access to their thoughts and feelings when they
agree to participate, they do not agree to unlimited access. Therefore they have always got the right
to decline to talk about certain issues or to answer specific questions.
Ethical issues in research a ‘how to…’ guide
Help with Involve Communities ‘How to…’ guide
Confidentiality is an extension of privacy but relates specifically to the agreements made between the
researcher and participants about what can and cannot be done with information collected over a
course of a project. In most cases this will be determined and subjected to the legal constraints
outlined in the Data Protection Act 1998.
Frequently asked questions
This section of the guide attempts to answer some of the frequently asked questions about research
ethics. If you have any additional queries please get in touch.
What is meant by informed consent?
Informed consent is best understood by looking at what it means to be informed and to give consent.
Being informed means that participants are told everything that might or will occur during a study in a
way in which they can understand. Giving consent implies that a) the agreement to participate is
voluntary, free from coercion and undue influence and b) that the person providing the consent is
competent to make a rational and mature judgement about taking part. If the criteria of being
informed and giving consent are met then informed consent is said to be given.
Does consent have to be in writing?
It is good practice to have consent in writing. In practice, however, this is not always possible
especially when undertaking focus groups. The convention here is to go through the consent
procedure with the group and record on tape any objections. To prevent breaches of
confidentially, consent forms with personal identifiable information attached should be stored in
a locked container away other from information about the project.
What information should be included on a consent form?
There are no hard and fast rules here; however as a rough guide the following sorts of things should
be included:
? a heading stating the title, the organisation carrying out the research and the name of the
? a statement of agreement to participate.
? a statement that indicates the length of time an activity is likely to take.
? a statement that indicates what will happen to the information collected.
? a statement about confidentiality and anonymity.
? confirmation that there is no obligation to take part and that participants have the right to
withdraw or not answer questions.
? signatures and date.
Optional statements that can be included:
? a statement that the purpose of any recording equipment used has been explain.
? a statement that a leaflet has been provided, that the information has been read and
? a statement that indicates that permission has been granted to re-contact participants about
the project.
? a statement that indicates whether permission has been granted for their name to be added
to a database etc.
Ethical issues in research a ‘how to…’ guide
Help with Involve Communities ‘How to…’ guide
Are there any special issues I need to consider when undertaking research with young
Yes, the issue of informed consent and how to ensure it has lead to various professional, academic and
service guidelines on how to undertake research with young people. We have pulled together some of
the key issues you need to be aware of in a separate guideline. See ‘Research with children and
young people’ for further details.
Do I need to get ethical approval for my research?
This question very much depends on the subject area and who you are actually consulting with. You
generally don’t need ethical approval if you adhere to the community engagement framework and
your research is being undertaken within the council for the purpose of improving service provision.
However, if you are undertaking collaborative work with one our partner agencies, i.e. NHS, you may
need to apply for ethical review. The Central Office for Research Ethics Committees (COREC) produces
guidance on who should apply for ethical review,