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Starting or resuming face-to-face fieldwork

This guidance is for IOE PGR students and for their supervisors from 6 September 2021 until further notice

Introduction: Face-to-face fieldwork and changed contexts due to COVID-19

We are changing the guidance for PGR students in relation to Ethics Approval and Face to Face Fieldwork active from 6 September 2021 until further notice.

We will continue to 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 PGR students in relation to one component of the complex situations we find ourselves in.

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

The following material draws on, and provides links to, relevant UCL guidance whilst contextualising this for the IOE. IOE guidance  is created in dialogue with the July 2021 UCL ‘updated guidance to plan and manage your fieldwork’. The IOE fieldwork guidance below concerning ‘Category 1 and 2’ should be followed by all IOE PGR students and their supervisors. 

We realise that IOE research is undertaken in many different contexts and situations, so this broad material may need thinking through in relation to your specific work. IOE research does not only happen in the UK, and this guidance is being used by researchers all over the world. Please see Section 2.4 below on how to receive help with this process.

Professor Jane Perryman, IOE Faculty Graduate Tutor
Dr Richard Freeman, Head of the Centre for Doctoral Education
Professor Phil Jones, IOE Head of Research Ethics and Governance on behalf of the IOE Research Ethics Committee

Category 1 and Category 2 face-to-face fieldwork

The IOE is creating two categories – ‘Category 1’ and ‘Category 2’ - for face-to-face fieldwork ethics applications, and these will be worked with differently in terms of the ethics approval process.

We are doing this to continue to be careful and thorough in our review and approval process, whilst recognising that:

  • in some contexts, the processes we adopted during the early stages of the impacts of COVID-19 are no longer necessary (Category 1), whilst:
  • in other contexts, the processes we created to guarantee safety for participants and researchers are still needed (Category 2).

The following defines these categories and then details the review process and actions to take in relation to ethical approval for PGR students and face to face fieldwork.

If you are resuming face to face fieldwork please go to ‘‘Resuming face-to-face fieldwork" below.


CATEGORY 1* is defined as where the student PGR researcher is operating in a country context where:

  • CATEGORY 1(A) Covid-19 Restrictions have been removed; or
  • CATEGORY 1(B) Covid-19 Restrictions are still in place, but face-to-face contact is allowed

*Please note that this category applies to any country context

CATEGORY 1(A) Covid-19 Restrictions have been removed

CATEGORY 1(A) is defined as where the student PGR researcher is operating in a country context, such as England, where: 

(i) in relation to COVID-19 ‘legal restrictions have been lifted’ (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/covid-19-coronavirus-restrictions-what-you-can-and-cannot-do#england-has-moved-to-step-4 Accessed July 19 2021);

(ii) confirmation, such as the link shown here (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/covid-19-coronavirus-restrictions-what-you-can-and-cannot-do#england-has-moved-to-step-4 Accessed July 19 2021) can be supplied accompanying the application indicating that restrictions have been removed in the research country context at the time of the ethics application, and; 

(iii) the student PGR researcher and their supervisor are satisfied that their safety, and that of their participants, is adequately guaranteed **.

** NB Some researchers in England, consider current UK government guidance does not guarantee safety for researchers and participants, and that they will follow processes such as wearing masks and social distancing, even when government or setting policies do not require this. In this case, please still treat your work as CATEGORY 1(A), but note your position/decision in your application. You may find the following links useful in devising such an approach to safety: NIHR guidance; LSE guidance.

CATEGORY 1(B) Restrictions are still in place, but face-to-face contact is allowed

CATEGORY 1(B) is defined as where the student PGR researcher is operating in a country context, where national restrictions are in place***, and: 

the student PGR researcher is employed in the research setting (for example, a school or centre)****, or has been granted, and can provide, documented evidence of permission to have access to the research site or setting where: 

(i) clear processes are in place in relation to COVID-19 safety, (ii) the processes can be followed in the research, and (iii) documents describing these processes can be supplied 

AND

The student PGR researcher can demonstrate in their risk assessment that they have satisfactorily addressed the three areas within the IOE Risk Assessment Form concerning the hazards and risks of COVID-19, in relation to: (i) travelling to and from fieldwork; (ii) fieldwork sites or setting and (iii) heightened risk for vulnerable groups. Please see the IOE Risk Assessment Form for guidance on all three areas.  The risk assessment should contain links to national guidance relevant to the contexts of the context/country in relation to: (i) travel, (ii) the site or setting (iii) people who are at heightened risk.

***Examples of such national guidance: 

****If your research does not have a specific site or setting, or takes place in a multi-site context, please contact the Departmental Graduate Tutor and we will advise you 

CATEGORY 2 is defined as:
All face-to-face fieldwork that does not meet the conditions defined in Category 1


Categories 1 & 2: The review process and actions to take

Starting Face to Face Fieldwork 

Category 1

Category 1 Actions to take

If students or supervisors are unsure, or wish to check which category the research falls in to, please talk to the Department Graduate Tutor 

CATEGORY 1

Change - There is no need to meet the following requirement which has been in place since the onset of Covid-19:

  • The student researcher should verify whether the fieldwork can be carried out remotely before making any plans for person-to-person interaction.

CATEGORY 1(A) Covid-19 Restrictions have been removed

Actions - students complete:

(1) Standard ethics documentation: the

; information sheets, and consent forms

CATEGORY 1(B) Restrictions are still in place, but face-to-face contact is allowed

Actions - students complete

CATEGORY 1(A) and 1(B) What will happen next?

(A) Once the ethics application, with attachments as detailed above is fully completed, it is approved under standard procedures by the supervisor/ team/advisory committee.
(B) The principal supervisor then sends it to the Departmental Graduate Tutor with a covering email noting briefly the rationale for the Category status.
(C) The Departmental Graduate Tutor (DGT), reviews the status of the application. 
(D) If the DGT confirms it as Category 1, the principal supervisor sends the completed paperwork for the application to the IOE Research Ethics Office on ioe.researchethics@ucl.ac.uk, copying IOE.CDE@ucl.ac.uk. This allows us to keep up-to-date records, and to enable the quality review.
(E) The IOE Head of Research Ethics and Governance and Director of Operations sample (30%) of the Category 1 reviews and approvals in their entirety for quality review every 1 month and report to the IOE Director as part of the process of agreed ‘delegated authority’


Starting Face to Face Fieldwork

Category 2

For Category 2, if intending to start f2f data collection, a PGR student should:

  1. Email the completed and attachments including the , information sheets and consent forms to your supervisory team. Please note in Section 1(j) of the standard application form indicate that this is a Category 2 application.
  2. Attach all guidance concerning safety related to the context/s of your setting, (e.g. a school’s policy on COVID-19); the setting, (e.g. if site specific a school’s policy on COVID-19; if non site specific detail how they will ensure Covid19 safety in relation to issues such as mask wearing and social distancing).

* The form is designed for staff, but similar principles apply for PGR students.

Note that if the student is proposing to collect personal data (i.e. data from which a living individual can be identified), they must be registered with the UCL Data Protection Office before they submit your ethics application for review. This is applicable in most cases. To do this, the student should email the complete ethics form and information sheets, consent forms and other materials to be used to inform potential participants of the research to data-protection@ucl.ac.uk. Once the registration number is received, add it to the form and submit it to the supervisor for approval. If the Data Protection Office advises changes to the way in which it is proposed to collect and store the data, this should be reflected in the ethics application form.

CATEGORY 2 What will happen next?

(A) Once approved by the supervisors, they send the application to the DGT.

(B) If the DGT confirms it as Category 2, the DGT checks the following have been included and then forwards the documentation to Jane Perryman (Faculty Graduate Tutor) and Phil Jones (Head of Research Ethics and Governance): 

  • the email setting out the reasons why f2f data collection is required, 
  • the ethics application form (updated if appropriate)
  • the IOE COVID-19 risk assessment form
  • the guidance for the fieldwork setting (e.g. a school’s policy on COVID-19)
  • supporting documents such as information sheets and consent forms (updated if appropriate with regard to COVID-19).

(C) Jane Perryman and Phil Jones (Head of Research Ethics and Governance) will review the proposed f2f data collection to consider whether the student makes the case for online methods/remote working not being appropriate and that f2f data collection is justified, and meets the requirements in the appendix.

(C) If they conclude that f2f data collection is justified, then the materials will be forwarded to the IOE REC for review (please see Section 2.2 onwards in the IOE Starting or Resuming Face-to-Face Fieldwork guidance for this process) and will follow the same process as staff applications.

(D) Please note that although f2f data collection may be approved, it should be kept under constant review in case the situation regarding COVID-19 changes. Any changes or pauses to the research project or design should be negotiated with, and approved by, the principal supervisor, with the IOE REC being informed. If there are concerns, then further review by the IOE REC will be undertaken. Please note that no f2f data collection can go ahead until full approval has been granted. Once reviewed, the IOE REC will communicate with the student and supervisor.


Resuming Face to Face Fieldwork

Actions to take 

CATEGORY 1

PGR student researchers and Ethical Review for resuming face- to-face fieldwork at non-UCL settings

1. The student should read the guidance section ‘Categories 1 & 2 definitions: which category is my research?’ to see which best reflects the context in which they are resuming their research. This will affect which attachments they need to include. They confirm in the revised application which Category (1A, 1B or 2) the research falls within.

The student submits the following to their principal supervisor:

2. For all 'resuming work'

  • The original ethics application, highlighting the updating of the form. 
  • Revisions of attachments such as information sheets and consent forms highlighting any changed content (for example, the original information sheets or consent forms may have focused on online data collection, rather than face-to-face data collection)

3. Additional attachments/details:
If Category 1(A) Covid-19 Restrictions have been removed
, please submit:

If Category 1(B) Restrictions are still in place, but face-to-face contact is allowed, please submit:

Category 1(A) and 1(B) ‘Resuming Face to Face Data Collection’ What will happen?

(A) The Departmental Graduate Tutor (DGT) is sent the application/materials by the principal supervisor to review the status of the application. The DGT decides whether the application/research is Category 1 or 2.

(B) If Category 1A or B, the revised ethics application, with attachments such as information sheets and consent forms  is approved under standard procedures by the supervisor/ team/advisory committee 

(C) When the review process has been completed, the principal supervisor will send the completed paperwork for the application to the IOE Research Ethics Office on ioe.researchethics@ucl.ac.uk, copying IOE.CDE@ucl.ac.uk. This allows us to keep up-to-date records, and to enable the quality review (see ‘D’ below).

(D) The IOE Head of Research Ethics and Governance and Director of Operations sample (30%) of the reviews and approvals in their entirety for quality every month and report to the IOE Director as part of the process of agreed ‘delegated authority’

CATEGORY 2

PGR student researchers and Ethical Review for resuming new face- to-face fieldwork at non-UCL settings

For Category 2, if intending to resume f2f data collection, a PGR student should:

  1. Revise your original ethics application form and attachments including information sheets and consent forms, highlighting in yellow the updating of your application/attachments to reflect new arrangements that address the contexts of COVID-19. 
  2. Email a rationale for the revisions, the above documents, the , and all guidance concerning safety related to the context/s of your setting (e.g. a school’s policy on COVID-19) to your supervisor.
  3. A clear list of the updated elements in your original ethics form and attachments. 

Category 2 ‘Resuming Face to Face Data Collection’ What will happen next?

(A) The Departmental Graduate Tutor (DGT) is sent the application/materials by the supervisor to review the status of the application. They decide whether the application/research is Category 1 or 2

(B) If Category 2 the DGT checks the following have been included and then forwards the documentation to Jane Perryman (Faculty Graduate Tutor) and Phil Jones (Head of Research Ethics and Governance): 

  • the email setting out the reasons why f2f data collection is required, 
  • the ethics application form (updated if appropriate)
  • the IOE COVID-19 risk assessment form
  • the guidance for the fieldwork setting (e.g. a school’s policy on COVID-19)
  • supporting documents such as information sheets and consent forms (updated if appropriate with regard to COVID-19).

(C) Jane Perryman and Phil Jones (Head of Research Ethics and Governance) will review the proposed f2f data collection to consider whether the student makes the case for online methods/remote working not being appropriate and that f2f data collection is justified, and meets the requirements in the appendix.

(D) If they conclude that f2f data collection is justified, then the materials will be forwarded to the IOE REC for review (please see Section 2.2 onwards in the IOE Starting or Resuming Face-to-Face Fieldwork guidance for this process) and will follow the same process as staff applications.

Please note that although f2f data collection may be approved, it should be kept under constant review in case the situation regarding COVID-19 changes. Any changes or pauses to the research project or design should be negotiated with, and approved by, the principal supervisor, with the IOE REC being informed. If there are concerns, then further review by the IOE REC will be undertaken.

Please note that no f2f data collection can go ahead until full approval has been granted.

Once reviewed, the IOE REC will communicate with the student and supervisor.

Appendix

The following are IOE requirements for PGR students starting or restarting fieldwork:

  • Research fieldwork should, where possible, be conducted by remote means.
  • If you cannot guarantee the safety of participants and researchers, in relation to COVID-19, 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 to 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. 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 prioritises the safety and well-being of participants and research staff. 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 recognise, then, 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).