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Other useful information about research ethics

Secondary data

The University of Leeds Research Ethic Policy states that ethical review is not normally needed for purely documentary research on sources that are already in the public domain such as historical, literary, and theoretical research. For example, documentary sources that are not covered by the terms of the Data Protection Act (primarily those concerning deceased individuals or already in the public domain) and to activities such as the compilation of bibliographic material and other research that does not have a substantive interpretative element.

If you are also collecting new data from human participants then you must apply for ethical approval before commencing the research project. If it is envisaged that that dataset will be used for secondary analysis this can only be undertaken with the consent of the participants. All participant documentation should reflect the future use of the data in research.

Advice may be sought from your School's Ethics Lead

Points for consideration

Responsibilities to the original researchers:

  • Is the data publicly available?
  • Do you need permission to use the data?

Responsibilities to the original participants:

  • Does the consent for the original research cover secondary data analysis?
  • Is the data completely anonymised or could further use of the data lead to the identification of individuals?
  • Could use of the data result in damage or distress?
  • How likely is it for the individuals to object to the use and analysis of the data?
  • Could and should the original participants be contacted to ask for their permission/ consent?

Preparing data for secondary analysis

It is good practice to prepare data in such a way to enable its use by other researchers, and for an appropriate data archive to be able to create accurate catalogue records. Increasingly funders expect researchers to consider the long-term use and preservation of data when planning how to obtain informed consent from the research participants.

Advice may be sought from the Library's Research Data Leeds team.

Further reading

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Risk reviews

To understand and mitigate potential risks on research projects it is a University requirement that either a risk review dashboard, RRD, or a risk review declaration, DEC, is completed before an application for external research grant/contract funding is submitted and before an award is accepted. These are not required for Outline Applications or Donations (because they have been through the donation process). This process underpins our financial delegation and approvals process.

The risk review dashboard or declaration will be initiated by your Faculty Research Office and sent to the Principal Investigator (PI) for completion. The completed dashboard or declaration will be used in the approvals process by the Primary, Secondary and Central Approvers, in conjunction with the contracts review process and a review of project finances in KRISTAL to support their decision to approve an application or award.

For each application and award the Faculty Research Office will determine whether a risk review dashboard is required or whether it is possible that a risk review declaration could be used instead. The declaration can be used for certain types of low-risk projects and requires the PI to confirm that several other risk related University processes will be followed where required (for example ethical review and health & safety risk assessment), and that there are no high-risk issues (for example conflicts of interest). Where a declaration is permissible in place of a dashboard the PI must determine whether they can agree to the declaration. If the PI cannot agree to the declaration, then a risk review dashboard must be completed.

All completed risk review dashboards and declarations and any supporting documents must be stored in the relevant faculty folder which is managed by the FRIO. Documentation for FRIOs around this can be can be viewed with this example.

Other considerations

As part of your risk assessment, you may also need to consider the following:

Guidance on Trusted Research

Guidance on Export Controls

Dealing with security sensitive research material

In accordance with section 3.3 of the University's Use of Computer Systems Policy researchers with a legitimate academic interest in security sensitive research material are advised to register their interest with the University Secretary in advance (via the IT Security Team at

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Using different research methodologies

When using observational, and other, methodologies, researchers should be aware of whether members of the public who are not direct participants in the research might also be observed, and whether their data might be recorded because of their interaction with the subjects of research.

Consideration should be given to how to appropriately minimise and anonymise any such observation or recording and to whether the observation takes place within a public or private sphere. The observation of interactions occurring within a private sphere should be subject to greater interrogation than those occurring within a clearly public sphere.

Public interactions might include published letters to newspapers, or comments posted in a public internet chat forum or blog.

Private interactions might include those within a defined private physical space (such as a home or office) and comments posted on an area of the internet which is password protected – although judgement will need to be exercised upon areas which are simply restricted by the levy of a fee or subscription.

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Internet-based research

What is meant by internet research?

If you intend to obtain research data from any of the following you will need to consider any data protection, data security and other ethical issues.

  • online forums
  • chat rooms
  • social media sites
  • email
  • webpages
  • video exchange sites
  • gaming sites
  • image sharing sites

If you are planning to carry out internet research then you need to read the Association of Internet Researchers' Ethics Guide and on your ethics approval application form, you need to address the specific internet ethics issues that apply to your research.

Things to think about

  • The differences between internet data and research data
  • What is public/private?
  • Just because material is publicly available does that mean it’s ok to use it for research purposes.
  • Think about things from the participants’ point of view – how would you feel if you were in their shoes?
  • How do you want to use the material?
  • Obtaining informed consent; practicalities, timing, how to obtain it.
  • Covert research – there needs to be a good reason for carrying out covert research.
  • Does the researcher need to be anonymous?
  • Anonymising participants – any limits to anonymity?
  • What do you know about the participants? E.g., might they be vulnerable/at risk in any way?
  • Possible benefits of the research
  • Terms and conditions/ ethical expectations of the venue
  • Complying with legal requirements, e.g., concerning data protection.
  • Cultural differences.

Extract from the British Criminology Society's Statement of Ethics 2015:

"When conducting research via the Internet or via new e-technologies, be aware of the particular ethical dilemmas that may arise when engaging in these mediums. Information provided in e-social science, e-mails, web pages, social media sites, cyber-forums and various forms of ‘instant messaging’ that are intentionally public may be ‘in the public domain’, but the public nature of any communication or information on the Internet should always be critically examined and the identity of individuals protected unless it is a salient aspect of the research. Researchers should not only be aware of the relevant areas of law in the jurisdictions that they cover but they should also be aware of the rules of conduct of their Internet Service Provider (including JANET - Joint Academic Network). When conducting Internet research, the researcher should be aware of the boundaries between public and private domains, the legal and cultural differences across jurisdictions and data security when using cloud computing or commercial survey sites. Where research might prejudice the legitimate rights of respondents, researchers should obtain informed consent from them, honour assurances of confidentiality, and ensure the security of data transmission. They should exercise particular care and consideration when engaging with children and vulnerable people in Internet research."

Training courses and presentations

Online research ethics - presentation by Dr Kevin Macnish
Using the internet for research - presentation by Dr Alice Temple

UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) webinar on Social Media and Ethics

Further reading

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Environmental impact

Guidance on identifying potential adverse environmental impact

Adverse environmental impact associated with projects not only has the potential to damage ecosystems, societies, and rare environments over the long term, but has the potential to bring both the University and the scientific process into disrepute, damaging our ability to initiate future research. As such, it is important that any impact is weighed against the longer term good generated by a project.

In accordance with the University's Research Ethics Policy, research with the potential for adverse environmental impact must be subject to review through the appropriate research ethics committee and formally approved before the research is undertaken. Researchers engaged in projects that may alter the environment should consider whether they need to apply for ethical review.

In addition, it is often a funder requirement that potential adverse environmental impact is considered as part of the ethical review. An extract from NERC's guidance:

"Approval to undertake the research must be granted before any work requiring approval begins. Ethical issues should be interpreted broadly and may encompass, among other things, relevant codes of practice, the involvement of human participants, tissue or data in research, the use of animals, research that may result in damage to the environment and the use of sensitive economic, social or personal data."

Firstly, please note that actions common to work practice outside of projects are not covered by the ethical process; for example, the carbon footprint associated with a normal level of flights would not need ethical approval. Such issues are under review as part of broader University environmental and sustainability policies.

Typically, environmental impact will include one or more of:

  • The release of chemicals into the environment.
  • The release of organisms into the environment.
  • The removal, or damage, of resources from the environment, especially where these resources are unique or form an important element of the environmental system. NB: Some material can only be removed under licence e.g., some native species, transfer of soils to the UK from non-EU areas.
  • The permanent leaving of detrimental or uncommon materials in an environment.
  • Actions that impact on the workings of ecosystems.
  • Actions that impact on the wellbeing or livelihoods of people, including the potential bringing of uncommon diseases with researchers into protected communities.
  • Aesthetic damage, including visual, noise, and odour pollution.
  • Actions that enhance indirect risks by others, for example the disclosure of the location of rare resources, nesting sites, or growing locations.
  • Actions that impact on future environmental research, including oversampling, permanently changing an environmental system, and causing a deterioration in relationships with organisations or communities.
  • Actions that have the potential to raise public concerns, even when those concerns are unjustified, for example, the obvious carrying of chemicals through public spaces.

This list is not exclusive, nor is it necessarily the case that an ethical application will need to be made. In some cases, such issues will be dealt with under other processes (for example, the release of genetically modified organisms is subject to HSE approval and would need to be approved by the University Bio-safety manager), and in some cases low level issues are dealt with by community standards which researchers are expected to follow. In many cases a risk assessment will be required, but this may not negate the need for a separate ethics application. Standard moderate sampling in an ecosystem or environment which will recover within a year need not go to ethical review unless it is likely to cause aesthetic concerns with people in the area. However, if a project does fall into the areas above, or you suspect that other types of environmental impact are possible, the project team should discuss:

  • The potential type of impact, including the uniqueness and importance of the resources impacted.
  • The magnitude of any potential damage.
  • The spatial extent of any potential damage.
  • The temporal impact of any potential damage, for example, the time scale that environments will take to return to normal, and the impact during that recovery.
  • The recoverability of the environment, or the efforts that would be required to return the environment to normal.
  • The likelihood of the impact happening, balanced against the magnitude of impact if it did.

Advice may be sought from the relevant Faculty Research Ethics Committee.

If there is potential for adverse environmental impact, then an application for ethical review must be submitted. This contains space to outline the risk in terms of the six areas above, and to provide a statement of how the risks will be mitigated, and/or the way in which risks are covered by current processes. It is accepted that some risks or damage may be justified in the pursuit of a greater good (for example, it may be reasonable to chop down a small number of healthy trees if it gives insights that aid globally in developing disease resistance technologies), therefore the form also contains a justification section where such arguments can be made.

The risks, harms, costs, and benefits to the environment will need to be assessed as part of the ethical review, along with the risks and benefits to research participants and the researchers themselves. If there are additional or related risks to individual human participants, these should be detailed on the ethics form in the standard manner.

Further guidance

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Publications and authorship

Researchers should share data and findings openly and promptly as soon as they have had an opportunity to establish priority and ownership claims.

Researchers should limit professional comments to their recognised expertise when engaged in public discussions about the application and importance of research findings and clearly distinguish professional comments from opinions based on personal views.

Researchers should take responsibility for their contributions to all publications, funding applications, reports, and other representations of their research. Lists of authors should include all those and only those who meet applicable authorship criteria.

Researchers should acknowledge in publications the names and roles of those who made significant contributions to the research, including writers, funders, sponsors, and others, but do not meet authorship criteria.

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Training and support

To help support you in conducting research to the highest standards of integrity, OD&PL have developed an online resource in Minerva that aims to introduce you to the standards required, the procedures that need to be followed and the ethical concerns that need to be considered when undertaking your research here at the University of Leeds.

If you are new to research ethics:

  • Complete the online introductory tutorial for research integrity and ethics -
  • PGRs are also advised to seek guidance from their supervisor
  • Consult the guidance information about the University of Leeds process for obtaining approval

Please book on the online course via the training catalogue. Once signed up we will give you access to the course in Minerva.

Information on NHS researcher training days

For support with developing and delivering ethics teaching for undergraduate students contact the Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied (IDEA) Centre

Interdisciplinary Ethics Applied Centre Professional Ethics Network
MRC e-learning materials
Data protection training

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Research ethics audits

Faculty Research Ethics Committees audit a proportion of research projects each year. Research projects are selected at random, and the purpose of the audit is to establish whether the research is being carried out in line with the ethics application.

Researchers are expected to keep a record of all approved documentation, as well as documents such as consent forms, and other documents relating to the study in case the project is selected for audit.

Researchers often need to make changes to the methodology during the research project. Please notify the committee if you intend to make any amendments to the original research as submitted at date of approval, including changes to recruitment methodology. All changes must receive ethical approval prior to implementation.

Researchers will be notified in advance of the date of the audit if their project is selected. The auditors will visit the department and will assess the following:

  • Research project documentation and research files.
  • Amendments to the research project.
  • Whether the study is being conducted according to what was approved.

The process is also an opportunity for researchers to ask questions or comment on their experience of the ethical review process.

Examples of good and bad practice auditors have come across during ethics audits:

Good practice

  • Clear record of correspondence related to applying for ethical review.
  • Clear record of amendments applied for.
  • Data is stored securely, in line with University of Leeds policies and as per your ethics application form.
  • FREC/School REC recommendations had been acted upon.

Bad practice

  • Signed consent forms unavailable, eg if stored away from University of Leeds premises.
  • Consent forms for both parents and children stored in an unsystematic manner, for example so that it is difficult to establish whether consent has been obtained from both.
  • Ethics approval not sought for all amendments.

Dealing with allegations of unethical research practice 

Should you wish to report concerns of an ethical nature relating to research being undertaken by the University of Leeds please contact

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Research misconduct

As part of an environment which supports good practice it is important to be able to identify and deal quickly and effectively with allegations of unacceptable practice.

All individuals working in research should feel able to raise concerns about standards of research conduct with the relevant senior person responsible for assuring good research conduct.

Research misconduct can take many forms, including:

  • fabrication: making up results or other outputs and presenting them as if they were real
  • falsification: manipulating research processes or changing or omitting data without good cause
  • plagiarism: using other people’s material without giving proper credit
  • failure to meet ethical, legal and professional obligations: for example, failure to declare competing interests; misrepresentation of involvement or authorship; misrepresentation of interests; breach of confidentiality; lack of informed consent; misuse of personal data; and abuse of research subjects or materials.
  • improper dealing with allegations of misconduct: failing to address possible infringements such as attempts to cover up misconduct and reprisals against whistle blowers.

Protocol for investigating and resolving allegations of misconduct in academic research

Named contact for reporting allegations

Any allegation of misconduct in academic research should be made to the University Secretary and Registrar (though, if preferred, the initiator may communicate the allegation to the Secretary through the head of the school or the executive dean of the faculty concerned or through some other senior member of the University).

Jennifer Sewel
University Secretary and Registrar

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