Ethical Clearance

This week’s legal research seminar highlighted the issue of getting ethical clearance for your research. The discussion made me realised a few things – (1) You should never in absolute rely on hearsay from others, because they might have gotten it (the information) wrong & (2) You should always find out who’s the right person to talk to in any issue & find out the correct information directly from them.
In general, the discussion stressed on the categories of risk in research that must be cleared by the university’s or faculty’s ethics board before one can proceed with the research:
  1. Neglible Risk – Research involving neglible risk (no foreseable harm towards the partipant & the researcher), is just merely informing the uni of the research that’s going to be conducted
  2. Low Risk – Research involving low risk caused only discomfort to the participant
  3. More than Low Risk – This kind of research is distressing to the participants

The category of risk will be decided from the research proposal and whether it’s approved by the Faculty’s or University’s Ethics Committee depended on the category. Usually, research involving Neglible Risk will be dealt with by the Faculty and the rest would be by the University Committee. Only the risk determined that, not the geographical area of your research.

Ethics clearance is only needed when the research involved human participation. But there are three types of information that you can gather in your research without getting any ethical approval:

  1. A chance or casual conversation, informal talk with someone that actually helps in you understanding your research
  2. Collection of materials held in public records
  3. Getting information from a certain person holding a certain position or profession in regard to the mechanics of their office & their functions in running the office

However, once you start venturing into asking opinions from any of them, then you must get an ethics clearance.

Since, fillling up the forms and getting the approval is a meticulous process, you must not give the committee any reason to return the application to you for further details. So you must:

  1. Be thorough.
  2. Use lay language.
  3. Not leave any of the questions blank – note ‘not applicable/NA’ where appropriate.
  4. Note how the data is secured and protected for the next 5 years
  5. Use a ‘catch all’ strategy where necessary – for example listing a longer list of nominated interviewees, listing down a few additional questions. Well, it depends a lot on how you do your sampling & your research design, of course. But better be safe rather than wasting your time ammending your application later.

Last, when in doubt…always ask for direction…from the ‘right’ person.

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