Institute of Education


IOE starting or resuming face-to-face fieldwork

This guidance concerns IOE staff research.

Response to Research and changed contexts due to COVID-19

We are aware that the current unprecedented situation raises concerns in relation to participants of research conducted by IOE staff and in relation to how we can take good care of those involved in research and of you as researchers.

We will keep you informed of developments related to the conduct of, and support for, your research. Please take good care of yourself and those around you at this time. We hope this material supports staff in relation to one component of the complex situations we find ourselves in.

This guidance concerns IOE Staff Research and builds on the Response to research and changed contexts due to the Coronavirus issued in March 2020.

The IOE position is that research fieldwork should, where possible, be conducted by remote means. All researchers should verify whether their fieldwork can be carried out remotely before any making a case for face-to-face/person-to-person interaction.

Where research cannot be conducted remotely, then a case must be made to address why the research needs to involve face-to-face interaction, and the guidelines ‘IOE Starting or Resuming Face-to-Face Fieldwork’, below, need to be followed.

UCL has issued further guidance:

As with the IOE March guidance, the following material draws on, and provides links to, relevant UCL guidance whilst contextualising this for the IOE. If you are a member of IOE staff the following are the guidelines to follow below:

  1. General Information and Guidance
  2. IOE Starting or Resuming Face-to-Face Fieldwork

We realise that IOE staff research is undertaken in many different contexts and situations, so this broad material may need thinking through in relation to your specific work. Please see Section 2.4 below on how to receive help with this process.

Professor Alison Fuller, IOE Pro-Director Research and Development
Professor Phil Jones on behalf of the IOE Research Ethics Team

Section 1: General information and guidance

Please make sure you regularly check the following:

  • UCL guidance in relation to research and the developing situation can be found on their FAQs for staff.
    • The guidance and FAQs are updated regularly and provide links to guidance from individual funders about their approach to funded research during the COVID-19 situation to mitigate some of the implications.
  • UCL’s data protection office material including COVID-19 and data protection at UCL can be found on their COVID-19 Data Protection FAQs.
  • UCL link to research funders' guidance and advice can be found on their COVID Impact on Research Funding page.
Section 2: IOE starting or resuming face-to-face fieldwork

This updated guidance addresses:

  • starting new face-to-face fieldwork
  • resuming face-to-face fieldwork that was underway prior to pausing or moving to remote/online methods due to COVID-19 in Spring 2020
  • the decision-making process to authorise only fieldwork that can be undertaken safely and cannot be carried out remotely.

This new material is for:

  • staff researchers in designing the start or re-start of fieldwork
  • members of the IOE involved in approving research
  • staff involved in the ethical review of research
  • PGR students whose ethics applications have been referred to the REC.

The guidance must be read and followed.

Section 2.1: Introduction

In light of the current circumstances we find ourselves in as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that staff rethink how interactions are conducted in any live research projects involving human participants, and how to take care of those involved in the research, as well as themselves as researchers.

Our previous requirement was that all face-to-face interactions with research participants must cease and data collection for all live research involving human participants be moved online/remotely where possible, and if not possible, the research was to be paused or terminated.

The current contexts of the evolving pandemic are changing and changeable. This means that researchers and any potential fieldwork participants do not find themselves in situations that are constant in relation to areas such as risk and safety.

Our advice is strongly premised on a ‘safety first’ approach, in that:

  • Research fieldwork should, where possible, be conducted by remote means.
  • If you cannot guarantee the safety of participants and researchers, in relation to COVID19, then data collection must continue to be paused, or appropriate online data collection methods must be designed.
  • If you are making a decision about whether to restart or start research involving face-to-face interactions, you must also be sure that any potential future pause in the study caused by a fresh lockdown will not be detrimental to the interests, mental health or wellbeing of participants. For example, if relationships are restarted, or begun, which will later be paused then it is important for researchers to be sure that participants will not be adversely affected by this breaking of relationship or engagement. As noted in Section 3 below, it is essential to take seriously your ethical obligation not to place extra burden on your participants such that risks outweigh benefits for the participant.
  • Our approach places the safety and wellbeing of research staff and participants at the forefront. We recognise the complexities connected to this in relation to understandings of research as a benefit, and participation in it, as a desirable activity, including: the chance research provides for participants voices to be heard and the importance of researching specific issues relating to, and implications of, the pandemic. 

We recognize that there is also an ethical issue in not researching people's experiences and perspectives, thereby excluding them from knowledge production. This is relevant in relation to people, for example, who won't have ready access to online technologies, or may not feel comfortable using them because of status concerns (e.g. undocumented migrants).

Please see Section 2.4 on access to support to reflect and discuss such complexities in designing and submitting your research for ethical review.

Section 2.2: At a glance for Principal Investigators (PIs): ‘What do I do?’ Four Actions

PIs and Ethical Review for starting new face- to-face fieldwork at non-UCL settings

  1. Submit the usual ethics application form and supporting documentation via Moodle.
  2. Submit, in parallel, the  and
  3. Attach any guidance concerning safety related to the context of your setting.

*All of the above documents can be accessed on the IOE Research Ethics webpage, or by emailing the IOE Research Ethics team on ioe.researchethics@ucl.ac.uk

PIs and Ethical Review for resuming new face- to-face fieldwork at non-UCL settings

  1. Submit your original ethics application form and attachments such as information sheets and consent forms by emailing ioe.researchethics@ucl.ac.uk, highlighting the updating of your application/attachments to reflect new arrangements that address the contexts of COVID-19.
  2. Submit the and
  3. Attach any guidance concerning safety related to the context/s of your setting.

*All of the above documents can be accessed on the IOE Research Ethics webpage, or by emailing the IOE Research Ethics team on ioe.researchethics@ucl.ac.uk 

Please note:

  • You need to keep IOE ethics updated with any new changes to your project if work is paused, terminated or moved online
  • An IOE COVID-19 Fieldwork risk assessment must be undertaken and approved before any fieldwork takes place in a non-UCL setting. This is to ensure the safety of researchers and participants.
  • The risk assessment is the responsibility of the researcher. They are also responsible for ensuring that no fieldwork takes place until the risk assessment has been approved. They should use the relevant COVID-19 risk assessment template. If fieldwork plans change significantly after approval, the risk assessment will need to be re-approved. Please contact IOE Research Ethics at ioe.researchethics@ucl.ac.uk should this be the case.
  • The IOE’s Executive Group are responsible for approving the risk assessment of any fieldwork. This is delegated to the IOE Director of Operations and the IOE Head of Research Ethics as part of the IOE Research Ethics Review process.
  • Anyone working in the field on the project (including any UCL staff member) needs to acquaint themselves with the approved risk assessment. They must report any change in circumstances to the PI/lead researcher or line manager as appropriate.
Section 2.3: IOE framework for starting or resuming face to face fieldwork at non-UCL settings

This framework is for:

  • IOE researchers
  • the IOE’s Executive Group including the Pro-Director Research and Development and Director of Operations; the IOE Head of Research Ethics and Governance and the IOE REC who make decisions about starting or resuming fieldwork
  • postgraduate research, postgraduate taught and MRes students are outside the scope of this framework. They should follow the relevant guidance on thesis, dissertation, project and placement.

The key aims of the framework are to guide:

  • starting new face-to-face fieldwork
  • resuming fieldwork that was underway prior to the move to remote working in mid-March 2020
  • the decision-making process to authorise only fieldwork that can be undertaken safely and cannot be carried out remotely.

The following IOE framework detail draws on the UCL framework for starting or resuming fieldwork at non-UCL settings and adapts this for IOE fieldwork. This material will be reviewed and updated by the IOE in dialogue with the UCL Fieldwork Framework Group. The UCL Framework is owned and maintained by the Fieldwork Framework Group which reports to the Health and Safety Committee and Research Ethics Committee. 

The Group is in operation until 31 January 2021 in the first instance. The framework complements and supports the Guidance for UCL Researchers regarding on-going research and ethical approval in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Section 2.3.1: Strategic objectives
  • to restore IOE fieldwork where it cannot be undertaken remotely and where it is safe to do so.
  • to provide a structure for decision-making to restart IOE fieldwork
  • to work in close collaboration with key stakeholders (including funders, partners and participants) to ensure their needs and concerns are recognised and addressed appropriately.
Section 2.3.2: Guiding principles
  • The framework is intended to support resuming or starting fieldwork during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the fluid situation (where fresh lockdowns or restrictions may be imposed at national or regional levels), this guidance will be reviewed and refreshed.
  • The framework is intended to create a structure to inform IOE decision-making in pursuance of proportionate and pragmatic arrangements.
  • The decision on whether researchers can resume or start fieldwork rests with the IOE’s Executive Group. This is currently delegated to the IOE Director of Operations and the IOE Head of Research Ethics as part of the IOE Research Ethics Review process.
  • The pace of a restart will be influenced by preconditions that must be met prior to resuming research (see next section).
  • There is likely to be variable and rapidly changing levels of research capacity in different geographical regions, sites and organisations.
  • Those wishing to undertake face-to-face field-based research should ensure that a sense of trust and partnership informs how fieldwork is planned and managed. The needs of staff, partners and participants must be recognised and addressed in any fieldwork carried out during the pandemic. There should be opportunities for them to feed into fieldwork arrangements.
  • Any fieldwork must be compliant with the UCL Code of Conduct for Research. Any research that requires ethical approval must go through the existing IOE process.
  • Nothing in this framework replaces or supersedes any existing UCL policy. If there is any contradiction between the framework and a UCL policy, the policy has primacy.


Principle: only fieldwork that is viable should start or resume.

  • The researcher should verify whether the fieldwork can be carried out remotely before any making any plans for person-to-person interaction.
  • Fieldwork plans should undergo a viability check before starting or resuming. The researcher needs to address ethical, financial and practical viability in making the case for starting or resuming research in the current circumstances. It is understood that the interpretation of these areas will vary according to discipline and context.
  • The researcher is expected to work with any partners to conduct a preliminary assessment. Where the assessment identifies viability issues that require resolution these should be resolved before any request is made to resume or start fieldwork.
  • Changes to fieldwork plans and protocols may require approval from the funder in advance. If so, the researcher should work with Research Services to ensure that necessary approvals are in place.


Principle: fieldwork should only start or resume when safe to do so.

  • risk of exposure to COVID-19 (and measures to mitigate this) as identified in the UCL risk assessment templates
  • clearly identified responsibilities for site safety control including the monitoring of identified controls in the risk assessment
  • government guidance on social distancing, restart of work, and travel (in the UK and where the fieldwork takes place, if abroad
  • local site policies (including clearly identified responsibilities for safety control and the monitoring of identified controls) in respect of COVID-19
  • adequate protection of people who would be defined by the NHS as high risk (clinically extremely vulnerable) and moderate risk (clinically vulnerable)
  • assessment of individual risks and the need for additional controls for those in the higher risk group
  • assessment of the needs for personal protective equipment (PPE) by staff and participants
  • assessment of the physical and mental wellbeing of staff and participants
  • site compliance with protocol and regulatory requirements
  • participants’ concerns about COVID-19 (they need to feel safe and reassured about the fieldwork)
  • provision of clear guidance on safety issues and measures for staff and participants from the host or partner organization
  • assessment of requirements, processes and safety for travelling to and attending fieldwork visits and meetings (the number of people involved should be as minimal as possible and issues connected to lone working should be addressed)
  • processes for dealing with emergencies (and the potential for a reduced level of emergency response)
  • processes for dealing with persons reporting they are feeling unwell
  • processes for keeping in contact with teams and constantly review of risks assessments and any work being conducted
  • assessment that any mitigations put in place to restart or resume fieldwork do not have an adverse impact on participant safety.

Capacity and site readiness

Principle: The pace of starting or resuming fieldwork should be commensurate with capacity and readiness of field sites.

Effective fieldwork will be dependent on partners and non-UCL settings being ‘open for business’. Capacity is likely to be variably reduced by several factors (such as: the type of location, availability of staff, additional measures required to ensure personal safety, and variation in local and national restrictions). 

Preconditions include:

  • availability and capacity of staff and partners
  • capacity of partners to undertake fieldwork
  • physical access arrangements for participants, in light of social distancing, reduced public transport, and reduction in support from third sector organisations or third parties
  • confirmation from the funder to start or resume fieldwork that has been amended from that originally planned.
Section 2.3.3: Equality, diversity and inclusion
  1. Researchers should recognise that restrictions can change on how they and other staff engage with participants and each other. For instance, face coverings will increase communication difficulties for many people.
  2. Researchers should be aware that others involved in a project (including other staff) may not be able to contribute immediately, or at the same level, due to ill health, caring responsibilities, self-isolation, or difficulties involved in travelling. Specific contextual support for participants or for researchers may need to be addressed and resourced to ensure equity of participation. There should be especial attention paid to our duty of care to those involved and to ensure that sensitivity is shown in relation to the new contexts and pressures created by COVID19. Participants must be reminded that involvement in a research project is voluntary and they can withdraw at any time.
  3. It is crucial to ensure that fieldwork engages with the different contexts of those involved in relation to how they are affected by the presence of COVID19 and that such differences are addressed in respect of participant and researcher safety. The design of any fieldwork must make clear how this is prioritised and makes the processes explicit to participants within the provision of information and consent processes. There is increasing evidence, for example, that BAME communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and may be clinically vulnerable. Older people are significantly more vulnerable than younger people. Asymptomatic carriers of the virus are an acknowledged phenomenon.
  4. It is crucial to ensure that fieldwork engages with the different contexts of those involved in relation to how they are affected by the presence of COVID19 and that such differences are addressed in respect of participant and researcher safety. The design of any fieldwork must make clear how this is prioritized and make the processes explicit to participants within the provision of information and consent processes.
Section: 2.3.4: Research hosted by another academic institution, organization or business
  1. IOE researchers should follow the access protocols set by the host organisation. If the researcher has concerns over the protocols of the host organisation, these should be resolved before any fieldwork resumes or starts.
  2. If protocols are not provided by the host organisation, this should be regarded as a higher level of risk. IOE researchers will need to take into account government regulations such as those on cleaning, social distancing, self-isolation, use of public transport, and use of facemasks and hand sanitisers.
Section 2.3.5: Regulation by UK governments, devolved governments and foreign governments

Researchers should be aware that there are different regulations and approaches to reopening in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They should follow the local guidelines where the research is being conducted.

Regulations and guidance are changing on a regular basis and researchers need to ensure that they meet those in force when fieldwork is conducted.

Regulations by respective governments:

Researchers based abroad and working on behalf of UCL must follow local laws and guidelines.

Section 2.3.6: Concerns and research integrity
  1. Any concerns regarding the start or resumption of fieldwork can be raised with the IOE Research Ethics Team at ioe.researchethics@ucl.ac.uk

2. Any allegations of research misconduct must follow existing procedures and policies.

UCL policies that can be drawn on:

Section 2.4: Staff researchers: support and who can I talk to?

Departmental Heads of Research can offer support in thinking about issues concerning design and any attendant issues concerning pausing or terminating research and data collection and storage.

If your Departmental Head of Research can’t help you because they are unwell, then please contact Alison Fuller, Pro-Director of Research and Development at the IOE, copying in her EA, Ali Ma’ayan at alison.maayan@ucl.ac.uk

If there are specific ethical dimensions concerning thinking through or communicating changes to participants, consent, or aspects of moving online then please feel free to contact your Research Ethics Committee Departmental Representative (to find your representative, please see heading at bottom of the IOE Research Ethics page). If your Departmental representative of the IOE REC is unwell, please contact the IOE Research Ethics Team at ioe.researchethics@ucl.ac.uk and we will do our best to offer you advice and support.

The UCL FAQs for staff page has details concerning mental health support at this time. We realise this unusual circumstance can raise complex feelings, so please do not hesitate to access support services.

Appendix A - Glossary

  • BAME - Black, Asian, and minority ethnic
  • Co-I - Co-Investigator
  • Fieldwork - The collection of raw data outside a laboratory, library, or workplace setting
  • H&SC - Health and Safety Committee
  • Non-UCL setting - Any site or building that is not controlled by UCL
  • Doctoral student - A student studying for a research degree
  • PGT - Postgraduate taught student
  • Participant - A human participant in a research project or initiative
  • P.I - Principal Investigator - the researcher responsible for leading a research initiative or project (sponsored or non-sponsored)
  • PPE - Personal protective equipment
  • REC - Research Ethics Committee
  • UCL researchers - Any member of UCL staff or a UCL doctoral student involved in research.

Appendix B – UCL Fieldwork Checklist

In developing your research and IOE Ethics Application, you may also find it helpful to draw on UCL’s Fieldwork start or resumption of fieldwork checklist, found in Appendix B of the Framework for starting or resuming fieldwork at non-UCL settings.