User Research Ethics for Undergraduate and Taught Masters Students in Computing
Please read through this document carefully. Once you'e read through it you'll need to complete the poposal form. You may also need to create an information sheet and consent form to pass to participants in your experimental work. The following links will take you to some form templates to use as examples.
Undertaking research in Computing often involves end users. This involvement may be in the form of
A/B Experimental Testing
Video and audio recording
Direct and Indirect Observations
and so forth. In carrying out such forms of research we need to ensure the safety and privacy of the participants.
The involvement of
users in research leads to a series of ethical considerations. It is
important that at the design and planning stage of project and
courseworks you consider such things as personal safety, potential
threats to the social and psychological well-being of research
participants, and how you intend to deal with the Data Protection of
sensitive and confidential information. In order to completely
understand the need to gain informed consent, recognise the voluntary
nature of research participation, and ensure the confidentiality of
those who take part, visit:
The above link also
provides guidance and templates on participant information sheets and
consent forms. It provides guidance and templates to help you
undertake research at Liverpool John Moores. The above guidance is
intended for research that is to be published to a wider audience.
For Undergraduate and Taught Masters students your work will be to a
restricted audience. However, you still need to bear in mind ethical
In conducting the
research you are acting as a representative of the University, and
how you behave can impact upon how others view the institution; you
have a responsibility to those who take part in projects and
coursework; and you have a responsibility to future students by
ensuring your conduct is appropriate and considered. You should
discuss any specific concerns or questions you have about conducting
your research in an ethical fashion with your dissertation supervisor
or module leader. It is worthwhile also visiting the Code of Conduct
on professional behaviour available from the British Computer Society
If you are engaged
in User Research, as part of a project or coursework, you will need
to obtain ethical approval from the School Ethics Panel, before
you can begin your user research. Please take time to read through
and consider the guidelines below, as adhering to them is essential
to the successful completion of your dissertation.
What follows is
guidance for completing the ethical approval process. Electronic
versions of the forms you are required to complete are available on
Blackboard and should be typed.
You should complete
as much as possible of the form before discussing it with your
supervisor or module leader.
You need to start
the ethical approval process as soon as you can. How much time you
will need to do this depends on what, where and how you are
approaching your work. Studies outside of the university will require
permission and ethical approval from the organisation involved. This
will require extra time which you must plan for. For example, it can
sometimes take months to gain approval from an organisation or
agency. Do not be put off by this, but do be prepared and planned.
have to be reviewed by a panel, so specific deadlines have been set
to allow sufficient time to circulate applications to panel members,
so that they can read and assess them, and for the panel to meet and
On the next page you
will find a diagram outlining the ethical approval process with the
Process for Assessment involving User Participation and Research
Week 1: Start
The Project Tutor
and/or relevant module leaders will explain the ethical approval
process. The ethical approval pro forma will be available for the
students to complete for their ethical approval submission. You
should prepare for this session with a working title for your
dissertation or module based assessment, so that we can begin the
process of allocating you to supervisor(s). The following timetable
applies to the Project. Module leaders will provide a similar
timetable for their own assessment.
Week 2: Proposal submission
The Project Tutor
and module leaders will be available during their standard office
hours to deal with any queries or issues the students might have
before submitting their ethics form. [Tom to insert info about
Week 3: Deadline for first face-to-face meeting between students and supervisor
You should have met
up with your supervisor by this point. If you have not done so,
supervisors cannot guarantee availability for meetings with students
before the deadline for submitting the ethical approval form.
Date X: Deadline for final proposal and ethical approval submission
Date X: Ethical approval panel meets
Students must not
carry out any research involving users until after they have received
approval to do so from this panel.
schedule for Projects is followed]
Stages for Ethical Approval
There are two routes
for the ethical approval to continue with your project or coursework,
Your work does not involve any contact or data collection from any
users. You should complete the first part of the form, confirming
Your work does involve contact or data collection from users. You
should complete the form as fully as you can.
Stage 1: Meeting with Supervisor
Following the above
introductory sessions you should download and print the ethical
approval form, from the appropriate module on Blackboard.
Once you have
downloaded and printed the form, carefully consider each of the
sections and provide as much information as you can. If you are
unsure how to complete any of the sections please discuss with the
module leader or your supervisor(s).
Stage 2: Completing the ethical approval form
You should use your
first supervision session to discuss the ethical approval form and go
through the information provided with your supervisor. This session
needs to have taken place with your supervisor(s) by Date X – after
that date, supervisors cannot guarantee availability for meetings
before the ethical approval form submission deadline. Your supervisor
may recommend changes to the information you have provided and if so
these should be done before submitting your final version. If you do
not complete the form on time it will delay the point at which you
can start user research, and this will undoubtedly be detrimental to
Remember the panel
will only consider ethical approval forms, if they are countersigned
by your supervisor.
Once you have
completed the revised ethical approval form and had it countersigned
by your supervisor(s) you should submit it electronically by Date X
have to be considered by a panel, sufficient time is needed to enable
the forms to be processed in advance of the panel meeting. As such
ethical approval applications cannot be considered after the
Stage 3: The Ethical Approval Panel
There are ethical
approval panels scheduled for Date X. During the meeting your
application will be considered by representatives from the programmes
and decisions recorded by the programme administrator. Depending on
the information provided the panel can decide to
your application (in which case you can start to plan and undertake
your empirical research)
subject to minor changes (in which case you will not be required to
resubmit an ethical approval application providing you adhere to the
changes recommended by the panel, of which your supervisor will be
notified and monitor).
next Computing ethics panel in November (this could be because your
application is rejected or major changes are needed to your
submission. If your application is rejected you will need to submit
another proposal as per stage 1 of this guidance. If major changes
are required then you should amend your proposal as requested by the
the University ethics panel (this will be done when it is felt that
there are serious ethical issues that require formal approval). This
course of action should be done as a last resort as the panel only
meets at certain points during the academic year).
You will be emailed
the panel's decision as soon as possible after the panel meeting.
Your supervisor(s) will be copied into the email so that they have a
copy of the decision for their records.
Stage 4: Resubmissions
If you are required
to resubmit your application for ethical approval then you must do so
in line with the instructions you will have received after the first
ethical panel. You should follow the same procedures outlined in
stage 1 of this guide, and you need to fully discuss resubmission
with your supervisor(s) and obtain their approval.
If your application
is rejected at the resubmissions panels then you will not be allowed
to undertake research that involves collecting data from
What are the ethical issues involved in research?
Written consent is needed for all participants. If participants are
under 16 years of age, consent must be sought from a parent or
You must explain your project in straightforward
language so anyone can understand the nature of your project before
giving their consent.
Below is an example of an example of a
As a collector of data from Human subjects you are the Data
Controllers of the information you handle. This is covered by the
Data Protection Act 1998. The main principles of the Act are
In general for your dissertation and coursework you should
Only use any data collected for the purposes of your assessed work
Hold any data collected securely
Not release the data to others apart from your supervisor and module leader
Not include any subjects' names in published reports
most fundamental concern in research ethics is avoiding harm. Harm
might arise through risky software or hardware that you develop. No
one involved in your research, including you the researcher and your
participants, should suffer any physical or psychological trauma.
Don't provide your home address, phone numbers or personal email.
If your research requires a return postal address, discuss with your
supervisor to arrange the use of a LJMU postal address.
Your personal safety
Your personal safety is of paramount importance. Testing hardware or software in Public
venues (e.g., a night club) can present various risks to your safety.
Handing out questionnaires randomly to the public is discouraged so
you need to find an appropriate venue.
As part of the
ethical approval form you are therefore required to consider the
risks involved in undertaking your research. This is to make you
think about potential hazards, and how you might resolve them. It
will also reassure the ethical panel, increasing the likelihood of
approval. It is not always necessary to complete a risk assessment
but one is compulsory if you working outside LJMU premises. For
example, a risk assessment would be necessary if you are visiting
schools to collect data but would not be required if you were asking
students in a LJMU lecture hall to complete a survey about their
Be aware of the sensitivity of your research. What you see as a
really interesting software application might be interpreted as
highly insensitive or intrusive. Areas where the sensitivity of your
research could be an issue include the following examples (but this
is by no means exhaustive)
Race and ethnicity
Sexuality and sexual health