Research ethics considerations

Researchers and their teams need to be aware of the policies and processes, both ethical and legal, to which their research data management must comply. Protection of respondent privacy is of paramount importance and informs many data management practices.  In their data management plan, researchers must state how they will prepare, store, share, and archive the data in a way that ensures participant information is protected, throughout the research lifecycle, from disclosure, harmful use, or inappropriate linkages with other personal data.

It’s recognized that there may be cases where certain data and metadata cannot be made public for various policy or legal reasons, however, the default position should be that all research data and metadata are public.

If your research project includes sensitive data, how will you ensure that it is securely managed and accessible only to approved members of the project?
  • Consider where, how, and to whom sensitive data with acknowledged long-term value should be made available, and how long it should be archived. These decisions should align with Research Ethics Board requirements. The methods used to share data will be dependent on a number of factors such as the type, size, complexity and degree of sensitivity of data. Outline problems anticipated in sharing data, along with causes and possible measures to mitigate these. Problems may include confidentiality, lack of consent agreements, or concerns about Intellectual Property Rights, among others. In some instances, an embargo period may be justified; these may be defined by a funding agency’s policy on research data. Reused from: DCC. (2013). Checklist for a Data Management Plan. v.4.0. Edinburgh: Digital Curation Centre
  • Restrictions can be imposed by limiting physical access to storage devices, by placing data on computers that do not have external network access (i.e. access to the Internet), through password protection, and by encrypting files. Sensitive data should never be shared via email or cloud storage services such as Dropbox.
If applicable, what strategies will you undertake to address secondary uses of sensitive data?
  • Obtaining the appropriate consent from research participants is an important step in assuring Research Ethics Boards that the data may be shared with researchers outside your project. The consent statement may identify certain conditions clarifying the uses of the data by other researchers. For example, it may stipulate that the data will only be shared for non-profit research purposes or that the data will not be linked with personally identified data from other sources.
  • Read more about data security: UK Data Archive
How will you manage legal, ethical, and intellectual property issues?
  • Compliance with privacy legislation and laws that may impose content restrictions in the data should be discussed with your institution’s privacy officer or research services office. Research Ethics Boards are central to the research process.
  • Include here a description concerning ownership, licensing, and intellectual property rights of the data. Terms of reuse must be clearly stated, in line with the relevant legal and ethical requirements where applicable (e.g., subject consent, permissions, restrictions, etc.).