Research Support

Research Ethics

Research Ethics

Dublin City University endeavours to ensure that all research carried out by DCU researchers is ethically sound and adheres to the highest standards of research integrity. All research projects must be conducted in accordance with the law, and also according to acceptable ethical standards. Maintaining well-established ethical standards is an important aspect of upholding the integrity of the research process. Ethically questionable research can reflect negatively on the reputation and liability of both researchers and the University. Research may place burdens on participants or put them at increased risk of harm which could be avoided or reduced. Such burdens or harm can be physical, psychological, social or financial.

The following sections outline the role of the DCU Research Ethics Committee in this process, and provide guidelines on the levels of review conducted. Researchers should take a look at our research resources to inform the ethical assessment of their project, prior to commencing the ethics application process.

 Role of the Research Ethics Committee (REC)

The DCU Research Ethics Committee (REC) facilitates the ethical review and approval process by providing feedback on research ethics submissions so that any risk of harm is minimised and various ethical principles are promoted. The committee includes researchers from various disciplines and independent non-researchers who volunteer their time to review REC applications. As participation in research projects is voluntary, REC reviews the accuracy, clarity and reading level of information intended for potential participants in order to promote informed consent. 

Please note that undergraduate and taught masters research projects are reviewed at local School level. Students should liaise with their supervisors regarding this process.

The REC reports to the DCU Research Committee and is supported by Research and Innovation Support. Full committee meetings take place approximately every two months. Virtual meetings take place in the interim between full committee meetings. Please find the REC calendar of meeting dates for 2020 here.

The REC has a number of primary aims:

  • To protect the rights and welfare of human participants and animal subjects in research studies or trials conducted by, or involving, DCU researchers.
  • To facilitate the conduct of ethically sound, legally compliant research at DCU in accordance with national and EU legislation.
  • To advise the Research Committee on the further development of ethical policies and procedures at DCU.

REC functions and responsibilities include:

  • Preparation of advisory documents for the further development of ethical policies and procedures as required.
  • Development of appropriate Standard Operating Procedures for research ethics management.
  • Promotion and communication of research ethics policies and procedures to DCU researchers.
  • Monitoring institutional compliance with relevant EU legislation and with institutional requirements under the terms of externally sponsored research contracts.
  • Establishment of sub-committees and procedures for sub-committees to consider the ethical implications of proposed research projects and to monitor the performance and activities of these sub-committees.

Further information on the REC can be found in the links below:

 Personal Data and the Research Ethics Process
 

The DCU Data Protection Unit (DPU) has provided specific guidance for the use of Zoom for research, which can be found here.

Personal data is any data which can be linked to, or identifies, a living person.

Where a research proposal involves the processing of personal data there are certain legal obligations upon the researchers involved, as well as the University, to collect and process it in a manner compliant with data protection legislation (primarily the General Data Protection Regulation – aka. ‘GDPR’).

Many elements of data protection are assessed during the ethical review process. If you intend to process personal data as part of your research, then you must complete the section of the REC Application Form dealing with the management of personal data in full.

The DCU Data Protection Unit (DPU) will provide guidance to staff and students regarding the processing of personal data as part of a research proposal. The DPU also works towards ensuring the University's compliance with GDPR.

Your local unit ‘GDPR Advocate’ can also assist with specific queries related to the management of personal data within a research proposal. For a list of GDPR Advocates by Unit please click here.

Where you intend to collect or process personal data as part of your research you must provide certain details relating to the management of personal data to the potential participants. This is achieved by means of a ‘Plain Language Statement’ and an ‘Informed Consent Form’. Standard templates for these documents are available on the REC website here.

Please refer to the Personal Data FAQ's  for further guidance on personal data and the Research Ethics Process.

The latest information on Ethics and Data Protection generally is available from the European Commission which can be accessed at this link.

The Health Research Board (HRB) also provides additional guidance when using personal data for health research purposes. The guidance can be obtained from the HRB website.

 REC Review Process - Overview 
The level of ethical review required will be dependent on a combination of risk assessment, the specific population to be researched, and the research methods to be used. The researcher, supervisor and research team (as applicable) should carry out an ethical assessment of their project to determine the appropriate level. Advice on this can be sought in advance of submission via rec@dcu.ie . You will be required to provide a brief justification for the final decision reached within your REC application, and this will be evaluated as part of the review. Guidelines on level of review are provided in the sections below - these are deliberately broad because the ethical issues involved in specific research projects will be determined by their details. Examples are provided in each category, but these are not an exhaustive list of the projects falling into each category.
Once the level of review has been determined, complete the required application form. Please refer to the REC guidelines to inform completion of this documentation
Check the next submission date for REC review. Please see the current REC calendar of submission and meeting dates. If your application requires Full Committee Review, it can only be reviewed at the next full committee meeting. The REC secretary will communicate with you regarding the results of your application, or if any further information is needed. 
Your completed application should be submitted in one electronic pdf file (to include application form and all additional documents) to rec@dcu.ie
  The application will be reviewed by REC members and the review outcome will be communicated to you via rec@dcu.ie. Your application may be approved outright, approved with minor revisions, remain pending subject to additional information being provided to reviewers, or be recommended for resubmission. If minor revisions are required, you should address the issues raised in your return e-mail and submit the revised application within a week of the notification of the result. Research should not begin until you receive the e-letter of approval from REC.
 Level of Review - No Submission Necessary

 Not all research requires an application to REC. Such exempted research would be projects that do not involve animals or humans as participants or subjects. Examples include:

  • Research on publicly available information or records, such as: political speeches or debates; newspapers; opinion pieces; open-source qualitative data; company mission statements, etc.
  • Projects involving assessment or audit of standard practice, such as clinical audit or assessment of teaching practice. The focus of exempted projects should be on-going practice or learning.

The boundary between audit and research is not clear-cut, especially if the intention is to publish the results of such studies. Researchers should evaluate whether journals in their field will expect such projects to have received formal ethical approval.

 Level of Review - Notification

This level of review is to approve relatively low-risk research involving human participants, primarily using social science methodologies in which any personal information collected is not of a sensitive nature.

Examples of projects in this category include:

  • Anonymous surveys in which the topic itself is not likely to elicit significant difficulties for the participants, such as: anonymous internet surveys (e.g. Survey Monkey), street questioning.
  • Observation (without audio or visual recording) of public settings where privacy would not normally be expected, such as observing people on streets or at sports events.
  • Research carrying no risks beyond those of everyday life (as experienced by the intended participant population), such as asking people’s opinions about products or services; asking students about educational experiences; monitoring the impact of daily activities.
  • Interviews with public figures, professionals or others in their professional capacity regarding their professional activities.
  • Analysis of data (e.g. health records) which have had all identifying information removed by the data holder and been provided to the researcher in accordance with data protection legislation.
  • Collection of biological samples which are anonymised and do not require invasive techniques (e.g. hair, nails).
 Level of Review - Expedited

Expedited reviews are conducted by a REC sub-group. This level of review would apply to studies where, although information of a sensitive or personal nature may be sought, the risks to participants are considered moderate. When applying for expedited review, the researcher must consider the level of risk associated with the study and a justification must be provided to REC for why this level of review is sought. The level of risk may be influenced by the following factors: the vulnerability of the research group; the methods used; and the nature of the research itself.

Examples of projects in this category include:

  • Research involving specified, REC pre-approved invasive techniques such as blood collection where standardised protocols, necessary training and appropriate supervision are in place. Many invasive techniques are not covered by such protocols.
  • Research in which participants’ personal viewpoints, attitudes or beliefs are collected and participants are identifiable; or where sensitive questions are asked that could lead participants to have strong reactions, either in the long or short term; or where private information is collected.
  • Certain types of research involving vulnerable groups or children where private information is not being collected and the topic is not sensitive. Such research should be unlikely to influence or affect the participants physically, socially, psychologically or spiritually. Examples could include asking people with intellectual disability for their views on a new product being developed for people with their condition, or asking children about an educational programme.
  • Research which requires some inconvenience or minimal time commitment from participants rather than extensive burdens or time commitments.
  • This category may be suitable for some, but not all, research projects involving participants in a dependant relationship with the researcher, such as professionals and patients; supervisors and employees; educators and students. Due account must be taken of how potential conflicts of interest will be addressed. The nature of the relationship, or the level of risk, may require that some projects of this type have full committee review.
  • Projects involving deception of the form that participants are not given a complete list of the objectives in a direct and straightforward manner, such as research requiring that the subject be naïve to some aspects of the research so that their participation can be as authentic as possible.
  • Research involving previously collected human tissues which are no longer identified but for which consent for research was not originally obtained.
 Level of Review - Full Committee

Full committee review is intended for research that involves risks to participants which are greater than those found in everyday life. These may be of a physiological, psychological or social nature. Most projects involving vulnerable groups of participants will be included here.

Please note that any new study involving animal subjects must undergo full committee review. Applicants should contact the Bio-Resource Advisory Group (brag@dcu.ie) in the first instance, as there is an internal review meeting to be undertaken with them before any application is submitted to REC.

Examples of projects in this category include:

  • Physically invasive research other than projects involving pre-approved techniques that follow standardised protocols.
  • Research using qualitative methods to investigate highly sensitive topics or those likely to illicit highly personal information, such as those involving significant relationships, suicide, trauma, sexuality or potentially unethical or illegal behaviour. Topics at risk of leading to stigmatisation or discrimination are also included here.
  • Research involving vulnerable groups where the participants are placed at higher than everyday risk. Such research requires careful ethical evaluation as increased vulnerability sometimes increases the risk of harm to participants or generates additional types of harm. However, precise definitions of vulnerability are not universally agreed and research involving vulnerable groups raises different degrees of risk. For example, a project asking abuse survivors about their experience of abuse raises different levels of risk compared to asking the same people about issues unrelated to abuse. Such factors should be discussed clearly in the REC application.
  • Research where the information obtained may have immediate and/or long-term legal, economic or social consequences for participants.
  • Projects with a strong likelihood of identifying illegal activities, even if those committing such acts cannot be identified (such as some internet-based research).
  • Research projects where participants are in a dependant relationship with the researcher and where the research process or its findings may negatively impact the participants.
  • Projects involving surveillance and recording of people without their consent.
  • Projects involving inducements or payments to participate that go beyond travel reimbursement or small expressions of gratitude. The concern is that these could be seen as enticing some people to accept greater risks then they might otherwise be willing to accept.
  • Projects involving deception of the form where participants are provided false or misleading information; or where participants might experience guilt or other distress when the true nature of the research is revealed; or where the research topic is sensitive or the participants vulnerable.
  • Projects that put participants or researchers in harm’s way.
  • Research involving children that might provoke psychological discomfort or distress. Researchers working with children should be aware of child protection guidelines and conduct research involving children to the highest ethical standards. Children protection guidelines in relation to research were published in April 2012 and should be complied with. Researchers involving children should remain current in their knowledge of such responsibilities.
  • Research involving other participants who cannot give full consent themselves, such as people with some types of intellectual disabilities, or patients who are not competent to consent.
  • Research involving the collection of human tissues for research purposes.Research involving ethically controversial tissues such as human embryos, human foetuses or tissues from aborted human foetuses

The DCU Data Protection Unit (DPU) has provided specific guidance for the use of Zoom for research, which can be found here.

If you are using Zoom within your research you should have an understanding and familiarity with all the security settings and meeting functions that you plan to use. For instance, knowing how to set a meeting password, how to create breakout rooms, how to make sure that screen sharing is only enabled for hosts, how to stop participants from chatting privately to each other (removing risk of cyber-bullying during sessions), etc. In addition, researchers should ensure that all participants and researchers conduct Zoom meetings/sessions in an appropriate setting (not in a café or in general public spaces).

Researchers will need to formulate a protocol when conducting research online, which should detail all of the safeguards that will be put in place to protect participants and researchers. This online protocol should be included in your REC application form (initial application) or REC amendment form (if amending your previously approved research project).

Some of the most common questions researchers ask about Zoom can be found in the file below.