Research blog

Andrew Cheetham

As you may be aware, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Andrew Cheetham has been writing a blog since September 2013. A recent post is on Ethics in Research Involving Humans and can be found below. You can read more and keep up to date on the latest research information by reading and subscribing to his blog (opens in a new window).

Ethics in Research Involving Humans

by Andrew Cheetham on 2/02/2014 12:58

It is generally acknowledged in the sector that one of the most fraught processes researchers have to undertake is that of obtaining ethics clearance for a research project involving human participants. There are many myths and a great deal of received wisdom in this space, generated by the perceived complexity and duration of the process. Whatever the problems are, as mentioned in a previous post on Research Integrity, Governments are not happy when research which they fund is found to be lacking in integrity and nothing generates more complaints than projects where there has been a perceived breach of ethical considerations in research involving humans. Put simply, it undermines researchers' and institutions' credibility in the eyes of the public.

Consequently there is a set of guidelines and requirements for institutions and researchers to follow should their research involve humans (or parts of them) as subjects of the research - this includes their minds (ie interviews, surveys, questionnaires etc).

The National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007 and updated from time to time) comprises a series of primary ethical guidelines for researchers, Human Research Ethics Committees (HRECs), and organisations.

The UWS Human Ethics process can be found here:

The underlying principle of ethical research involving humans is the balance of risk and benefit. To assess this balance, the following values are examined:

     Merit and Integrity,
     Beneficence and

If you are proposing a project that involves humans as subjects, then these values should automatically be included and addressed from the very beginning of the project specification and design - it is not optional. These values are described in some detail in the National Statement (Section 1, pp 11-13). Many ethics applications come unstuck when a researcher has not addressed these values in the project design and then tries to address them in the ethics application Post Hoc. We are now seeing grant applications to funding agencies criticised (and not funded) because these values, even at that early stage, have not been addressed.

I encourage all researchers who carry out research involving humans to ensure they are familiar with the National Statement, with UWS procedures and to attend the workshops organised by ORS on this subject. It is important that experienced researchers also attend these workshops; perhaps you will learn nothing new, but you will be able to use your experience to help mentor less experienced staff - and this is not only valuable, but our responsibility.

A very broad article on research ethics, which include ethics in human research, can be found here.

Andrew Cheetham
Interim Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research