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Response to research and changed contexts due to the Coronavirus

Note: this guidance concerns pausing or terminating research, or moving to online data collection in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you need some guidance about starting or resuming face-to-face fieldwork, please refer to IOE starting or resuming face-to-face fieldwork.

We are aware that the current unprecedented situation raises concerns in relation to the 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, staff research. 

We hope this material supports staff in relation to one component of the complex situations we find ourselves in. 

This guidance will do the following:

  • provide an update 
  • ask you to take immediate action 
  • offer details of support 

It draws upon 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. 

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 in thinking your response through. 

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

Section 1: Information and guidance 

Please make sure you regularly check the following:

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.

The following material will be updated. It represents the current position of the IOE and actions you need to take. 

Section 2: Actions for staff researchers at the IOE

In light of the current exceptional circumstances we find ourselves in, 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. 

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

The material below contains the following sections: 

  • 2.1 Timeline changes, pausing or terminating your research 
  • 2.2 Moving online 
  • 2.3 Funder requests 
  • 2.4 Staff researchers: support and who can I talk to? 
Section 2.1:  Action: Timeline changes, pausing or terminating your research

Please refer to the UCL Guidance on postponing research.

Please inform participants that the research, regrettably, has had to be paused or terminated due to the restrictions that have been placed on progress due to the Coronavirus.

Ensure participants are aware of how any pause and restart will be managed and how you will communicate with them about ongoing developments.

We recommend that participants are reminded that they can opt out now, or at any stage in the future, without giving a reason.

If the timeline of your research is changing, your research is being paused or terminated: 

  1. notify the IOE Research Ethics Office at ioe.researchethics@ucl.ac.uk
  2. notify IOE Research Operations at ioe.researchoperations@ucl.ac.uk
  3. advise the UCL Data Protection office that you have postponed your study. You do not need to receive anything back from the data protection office – it is sufficient to have informed them by email at data-protection@ucl.ac.uk

In your emails, please let the IOE Research Ethics Office and the IOE Research Operations team know:

  • the date of the pause or termination
  • any information you have sent to participants (e.g. a copy of the information that the participants have received)

Similarly, if you submitted a project for Ethical Review and are postponing or terminating it, please let the IOE Research Ethics Office know.

Please take good care of your participants and yourself: the links within the 'Support' section below have some useful information about this.

Section 2.2: Action: Moving online

Please refer to the UCL Guidance on moving to online methods. Here you will find information including:

  • options for secure online data collection
  • online interviews and focus groups
  • online surveys and questionnaires
  • data collection and storage
  • data management and security

In the present situation, when most researchers are under new pressures and their potential participants are mostly people working/living in a new way, we ask that you actively consider whether your research might:

  • add to people’s stress
  • have an emotional impact which could be hard to deal with online.

If this is the case we ask you to consider whether your data collection could reasonably be paused until matters are more settled. Please take this into account in considering your response and completion of the proforma.

By all means, please contact colleagues such as the Departmental Heads of Research for support in thinking this through.

Please be mindful that the impact of this health crisis is not uniform, so simply changing a method to online may have significant ethical implications. 

This is particularly the case with vulnerable groups such as: 

  • NHS: It goes without saying NHS staff need to focus on the pandemic, not being distracted by consent forms and research paperwork.
  • Parents and Guardians: Parents and guardians, especially single parents are often under extra stress providing at home education. Single parents in particular are likely to be isolated and excluded from their day-to-day support systems.
  • Children and Young People: all have had their main daily activities and daily purpose disrupted
  • Carers for the elderly or disabled: Given many vulnerable people are now self-isolating, carers now have a further burden of providing constant care, whether through physical work such as delivering food, medicine, supplies or offering online support.
  • Disability: Persons with disabilities are particularly impacted by the crisis due to shortages of food, medicine, losing access to carers, the need to be isolated and are concerned that, if infected, they will not be prioritised for treatment due to staff shortages.
  • Refugees, prisoners, people who are homeless and the undocumented: These individuals are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic due to lack of social support.

Consequently, we advise you to take seriously your ethical obligation not to place extra burdenon your participants such that risks outweigh benefits for the participant: this may mean research will need to be paused or postponed.

Please see Section 2.4 below relating to support in engaging with such issues.

Section 2.2 continued: Moving online (For research that has already received ethical approval from the IOE)

Amending your ethical approval when moving studies online

For research ethically approved by the NHS, you must follow their guidance for how to amend your ethical approval.

For research that has already been ethically approved by the IOE Research Ethics Committee please follow one of the following options.

Option A

If the revised approach to undertaking the research in light of the corona virus situation involves any of the following, an amendment request should be submitted to demonstrate how any risks posed to participants will continue to be mitigated in an online study

  • Includes participants under the age of 18.
  • Includes vulnerable participants.
  • Materials are mildly emotive (e.g. graphic pictures) or sensitive (e.g., sexual activity, mild violence).
  • Materials are offensive or distressing, which potentially could evoke difficult emotions (e.g., anxiety, distress or confusion). Note that this includes the use of scales such as the Beck Depression Inventory.
  • Methods which require physical effort or strain, including the involvement of prolonged or repetitive testing.
  • Methods which are intended to evoke behaviour that could be disturbing or cause lasting effects to the participant.

Action for Option A

Please request an amendment to your original application by:

  1. complete our proforma – which can be found on the IOE Research Ethics Website, or by emailing the team at ioe.researchethics@ucl.ac.uk
  2. email it to IOE Research Ethics at ioe.researchethics@ucl.ac.uk with the attachments requested on the proforma

The research should be paused from receipt of this guidance until approval is received. The amendment requests will be reviewed as promptly as possible. We are aiming for 3-4 day turnaround.

Option B

If the research does not involve any of the above and if the only change to the research is moving the research to online means, and there are no other changes to the research methods, recruitment, or ethical considerations, then provided the online methods adhere to the UCL guidance, these modifications will be approved.

Please:

  1. complete our proforma – which can be found on the IOE Research Ethics Website, or by emailing the team at ioe.researchethics@ucl.ac.uk
  2. email it to IOE Research Ethics at ioe.researchethics@ucl.ac.uk with the attachments requested on the proforma

These amendment requests will be reviewed as promptly as possible, to check they adhere to the UCL guidance. We are aiming for 3-4 day turnaround.

We recommend that participants are reminded that they can opt out now, or at any stage in the future, without giving a reason.

Other changes 

If any other changes, beyond those covered in Options A or B, are being made, please contact IOE Ethics by email and we can advise you on what to do.

Implications for Data Protection Registration when moving research online

A move to online methods as the only change (Options A and B)

For research that has already been registered with the Data Protection Office, and where the only change concerned moving participant interactions from face-to-face to online methods, you are not required to submit a formal amendment to the Data Protection Office. However, you must inform the Data Protection Office of your change in order that they have a record. Please note that such changes would normally require an amendment, and will again when this situation has passed.

If any other changes, beyond those covered in Options A or B, are being made, please contact IOE Ethics by email and we can advise you on what to do in relation to data protection registration.
 

Section 2.3: Funder requests

If your funder requires communication from us in relation to your research, please contact the IOE ethics team at ioe.researchethics@ucl.ac.uk and we will be happy to support you.

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 (please see heading at bottom of 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 website has details concerning mental health support at this time. We realise this unusual circumstance can raise complex feelings, please do not hesitate to access this service: 

Please make sure you use our new ‘Support’ material. We are collating advice, knowledge and links to material to support staff such as moving to online which can be found under the Covid-19 – Further Support for IOE Research Staff heading on our website. If you would like to send a link, we can add to this new Support section, please send to IOE Research ethics team.

Thank you in advance.