1. Introduction

The University of York Code of Practice and Principles for Good Ethical Governance states that:

All academic activities which have an ethical dimension should undergo formal ethical review and signoff. The cornerstones for the management of ethical issues in the University are self-reflection, explicit discussion, institutional accountability, and proportionality. That is to say, individuals should take responsibility for actively considering whether their activities fall within the scope of the University’s ethical framework, and where this is the case, the activities should be formally considered and signed off through the University’s governance structures as outlined below, with regard to the degree and risk (including the impact and/or likelihood) of potential harm. (Paragraph 3.1)

2. Do You Need Ethics Approval?

The department regards all academic work involving human subjects to be an activity containing an ethical dimension. Such academic work includes staff research, PhD theses, masters and undergraduate dissertations, and student film and television productions.

 The TFTV Ethics Committee has a triaged ethics approval system:

  • If you are continuing work on a project which has already received ethics approval and which does not present any new ethics issues, email the Ethics Committee at tftv-ethics@york.ac.uk to explain the change and confirm that there are no new ethics issues. You do not need to fill in an ethics clearance form. 
  • If your work only involves interviewing participants who are willing to be identified (ie do not require anonymity) and who are non-vulnerable members, fill in the Non-Anonymous Interview Checklist (MS Word  , 35kb) to check if you require approval by the Ethics Committee. If all your answers to the checklist are negative, you do not need to fill in an ethics clearance form. 
  • If you are making a film or a television production, fill in the Ethics Clearance Checklist (Production) (MS Word  , 39kb) to check if you require approval by the Ethics Committee. If all your answers to the checklist are negative, you do not need to fill in an ethics clearance form. 

 If your work does not fall into any of the above descriptions, consult the TFTV Research Ethics Diagram (PDF  , 60kb) to see which form you need to submit to the Ethics Committee for approval.

3. Requiring and Obtaining Ethics Approval 

If you require ethics approval for your work, you need to seek it by submitting a completed Ethics Clearance Form. There are TWO types of Ethics Clearance Forms: the Standard and the Full form. 

  • Full Ethics Form (MS Word  , 3,431kb) is intended for use by researchers planning to engage with research which require greater ethical consideration, such as projects involving: 
  • Children, or young people under the age of 18
  • People with learning difficulties or disabilities
  • People with mental impairment due to health or lifestyle
  • People who are terminally ill
  • People who are recently bereaved
  • People unable to consent to or understand the research
  • Sensitive topics / illegal activities
  • Deception
  • Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks 

All ethics applications must be emailed to the Chair of the Ethics Committee at tftv-ethics@york.ac.uk atleast TWO WEEKS prior to the commencement of the project. The Committee will endeavour to communicate the results to applicants within one week of receipt.

All student applications MUST be first discussed, reviewed and signed off by their supervisor prior to their submission. 

4. Common Issues

Recruitment of participants: how will informed consent be obtained?

Most commonly, informed consent is gained by providing participants with an opportunity to read and reflect on a Project Information Sheet in advance of their participation in the research. Most commonly, participants’ willingness to participate will be recorded on a Consent Form. However, where necessary, this process can also take place through verbal or electronic communications.

For more guidance notes, please consult:

Examples of good practice in the submission itself and accompanying documentation:

Communication of results back to participants

Participants have the right to access the findings derived from their contributions to research. Unless specified during the informed consent process, provision must be made to ensure results are communicated back to these participants – e.g., through the distribution of the dissertation, through the web or other forms of publication.

Anonymity

Anonymity need not always be offered, especially in cases where participants are approached based on their occupation or standing in industry. The reason for not offering anonymity to the participant must be explained on the form.

However, in most cases, it is expected that participants will be offered anonymity. Where anonymity is offered, the applicant must demonstrate how they will ensure that anonymity is maintained. A common practice used to ensure anonymity is to code interview transcripts and to safely store the key and transcripts in separate locations. In addition, the applicant needs to demonstrate that the identifiers that will be employed when research findings are published allow for anonymity to be maintained. Where ‘snowball’ sampling is used to access interview subjects, complete anonymity may be difficult to achieve; where relevant, applicants should demonstrate that they have reflected on this issue and, where necessary, that additional safeguards are in place. If the organisation being studied or the sample size is small, if job titles are specified, or if the subject matter is very narrow, the potential for identification is also much higher. In these cases, you must specify that all efforts will be made to keep participants’ identities confidential, but that complete anonymity cannot be guaranteed. This must be made explicit to participants before they consent to contribute to the research.

If you are sharing data with others outside your department, what steps are you taking to ensure that it is protected?

It is expected that researchers demonstrate how anonymity will be preserved, and how the researcher will retain the capacity to destroy data upon the completion of the project, where data are transferred to a third-party agent.

If the data are to be exported outside of the EU, what steps are you taking to ensure that it is protected?

National data protection legislation in EU member states has been crafted in accordance with EU guidelines. In the case of the UK, it is the Data Protection Act. If the applicant is exporting data outside the EU, the applicant must outline the measures through which they will ensure that third parties beyond the EU with whom data is shared adhere to the Data Protection Act.

However, do note the following:

The Data Protection Act only applies to personal OR sensitive personal data.  It follows that “data” as referred to in this section applies only to personal or sensitive personal data as subject to the DPA. In other words, it does not include research data (such as interpretations of data) or anonymised data; so research data must therefore never disclose personal data, unless specific consent to do so has been given by the respondent, ideally in writing. Where anonymised data are used, the applicant should specify appropriate anonymisation techniques, such as pseudonyms, replacement terms and vaguer descriptors (for more guidelines on anonymisation, see http://www.data-archive.ac.uk/create-manage/consent-ethics/anonymisation).  It also goes to follow that due to this sensitivity of personal/sensitive personal data being subject to the DPA, procedures to anonymise data should always be considered alongside obtaining informed consent for data sharing.

Risks to participants

Where the researcher identifies risks to participants, it is vital that safeguards are in place to mitigate the impact of these risks. For example, if there is a risk of ‘emotional distress’, it is expected that a Project Information Sheet would include details of relevant help groups to whom the participants can turn.

Risks to researchers

Where risks to personal safety are identified, applicants must identify appropriate safeguards. For example, where appropriate, researchers should consider the use of a ‘buddy’ scheme whereby they are accompanied to interview locations with a second individual, or a ‘check in’ system whereby they contact an third party on a regular basis upon the understanding that agreed upon action is taken in the event of a missed communication.