Computer Laboratory

Ethical review of research with human participants

Research in the Computer Laboratory may involve various kinds of users, experimental volunteers and others. This ranges from the trivial, such as asking colleagues to assist with the evaluation of new software, through to the complex, such as putting subjects in stressful situations and monitoring their responses. In all cases, it is important to plan the research carefully, not least to ensure scientific validity, and to consider any ethical issues.

The Computer Laboratory adopts a lightweight ethical review model, informed by current practice and in consultation with other Schools and Universities. Further guidance is available in the research guidance wiki.

The review process

The review process may involve up to three stages:

  1. Self-assessment, which may lead to
  2. Departmental review, which may require guidance from a
  3. Specialist panel.

Stage 1: Self-assessment

Every research project in the department should be preceded by consideration of ethical issues, including general issues of research governance, plagiarism, and whether or not the research involves human participants.

The Ethics Committee recommend that individual self-assessment is carried out by the researcher who will undertake the research. The aim of this assessment is for the researcher concerned to consider whether any ethical concerns are raised. If there are no ethical concerns, then the researcher may proceed with their research work. However, if the researcher has any doubts concerning the ethics of their proposed research work, or whenever the research involves human subjects, the researcher should proceed to Stage 2 (see below).

University policy statements and guidelines may be useful when undertaking self-assessment:

Stage 2: Departmental review

For all studies involving human participants, self-assessment is not sufficient, and the applicant should inform the Ethics Committee of the nature of the study. This should be done using the review form. A read-only copy is available for undergraduate students, who are currently unable to view or submit this form themselves. If an undergraduate wishes to conduct an experiment involving human subjects (e.g. for their Part II project), then they should request the assistance of a member of staff who will be able to review their proposal and submit the form. This should be done in two stages. A notification should be sent by email to the Administrator to register the project at the proposal stage giving the student's CRSID. This generates a URL with which the supervisor can submit a detailed application for consideration by the Committee once the project has been agreed. ACS students should also follow this procedure but may complete the application themselves.

The Ethics Committee will consider your application and will offer pragmatic guidance on likely risks and legal constraints, as well as assessing the adequacy of problematic research proposals. In the vast majority of cases, the Ethics Committee is able to approve the proposal and the research can go ahead. Problematic cases will proceed to Stage 3 (see below).

Stage 3: Specialist panel for human participation in technology research

If the Ethics Committee believe further guidance is required, your research proposal will be referred to an expert review panel within the School of Technology.

The panel is likely to request further information from applicants before either agreeing that the study can proceed with specific precautions, or recommending modifications to the study. In cases requiring specific expertise outside the scope of normal technology research, applications may be referred to other University panels.