Research with University Ethics Committee approval

The following guidance is provided by the University in response to the circumstances arising from the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and the advice being provided by the Government and Public Health England.

It is important that researchers (to include staff, students (undergraduate and postgraduate) or visitors) make changes to their research approach to ensure the continued safety of participants and themselves as researchers. The guidance below will continue to be updated as the situation changes.

Updated 18/03/2020:

Given the exceptional nature of the situation arising as a result of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the University Ethics Committee (UEC) requires all ongoing research to make changes to how participant interactions are conducted. Researchers must consider if their strategy for recruitment, consent and data collection can be changed to remote interaction. If this isn’t possible the research must be paused. This is with immediate effect.

For example, interviews that may have been planned to be conducted face-to-face could be conducted online using an acceptable online tool such as Skype for Business or Zoom. Follow-up meetings could be conducted using online questionnaires. Under no circumstances should personal non-University accounts be used such as using Facetime or your own personal Skype account. Either use a University-based account or set-up an account dedicated to the project which can be deleted at the end of the project. Any recordings of interviews must be made using the original device approved by the UEC. No recordings must be stored on any external online platform providers unless this was approved in the original ethics submission and particular care must be taken to ensure all personal data continues to be managed confidentially and securely in line with the guidance for Data protection and security for undergraduate and postgraduate taught (master and PsychD) students projects.

If ethics approval was already in place, no amendment needs to be submitted for this change, provided there is no additional risk posed to the participant by a change in data collection.

However, the participant information sheet and the study protocol must be updated, and the latest versions submitted to ethics@surrey.ac.uk for filing.

If any changes to remote interaction are likely to substantially change the study protocol such that the risk to the participant is compromised, an amendment will need to be submitted. For example, it may be difficult to assess the distress of participants responding to sensitive questions. In these cases, an amendment should be submitted to ethics@surrey.ac.uk. If you are unsure, please contact ethics@surrey.ac.uk for advice.

If your project has not yet started, simply follow the usual ethics submission process.

If ethics approval was already in place, no amendment needs to be submitted for this change, provided there is no risk posed to the participant. However, the participant information sheet and the study protocol must be updated, and the latest versions submitted to ethics@surrey.ac.uk for filing.

Any participants already recruited to the study should be informed of the change and provided with the updated participant information sheet. It is important that you make clear to participants that if they no longer wish to participate owing to this change, or for any other reason, that they are free to withdraw at any point.

If any changes to remote interaction are likely to substantially change the study protocol such that the risk to the participant is compromised, an amendment will need to be submitted. For example, it may be difficult to assess the distress of participants responding to sensitive questions. In these cases, an amendment should be submitted to ethics@surrey.ac.uk. If you are unsure, please contact ethics@surrey.ac.uk for advice.

Researchers should discuss this with their supervisor. Supervisors should consider whether the project can be completed with data you have already collected so that no further recruitment and data collection would be required. They should also consider whether it is possible for you to complete your project using secondary data. If, however, you cannot complete your project without further data collection or secondary data, an approach to collect the data remotely should be considered.

For staff and visitor projects, researchers should consider whether the study can continue with remote interaction or whether it may be possible to complete a different aspect of the study or take a different approach to data collection. Principal investigators should follow any advice being provided by their funders unless this contradicts UK government policy.

If none of the options above are viable, the researcher with their PI, must discuss this with the Head of Department/Associate Dean of Research & Innovation. It is the researcher/ supervisor’s responsibility to review the latest PHE advice and then make a recommendation

Updated Monday 23 March 2020

If you can use Zoom or Skype for Business on the original device for which your Favourable Ethical Opinion (FEO) was acquired, and the recording is stored securely on the original secure device, then you can record your interview using your online interview tool.

Please ensure that you do not record identifiable video unless this was part of your original FEO. For any other situations, you should use the original recording device as described in your FEO. It is advisable to record a few minutes of verbal interaction before proceeding, to make sure recording sound levels produce an acceptable quality recording.

Making such an adjustment to your protocol as described does not require submission of an amendment, but you should email RIGO with an updated set of documents with any changes you have made, highlighted in yellow, before proceeding to data collection. However, if there is no viable way to proceed given the conditions above, please email RIGO who will direct your query to either the University Ethics Committee or Information Compliance Unit.

For some projects, changing from face-to-face interviews to online interviews may introduce additional risk to participants, and in these circumstances an amendment must be made before proceeding. For example, interviewing children online rather than in a classroom will be deemed as potentially creating a risk, and must therefore be reviewed by the University Ethics Committee.

This information has been provided in conjunction with advice from the Information Compliance Unit.

Updated Monday 23 March 2020

Yes you can, but you need to ensure that you only use one of the University’s three approved platforms:

  • JISC
  • Qualtrics
  • Gorilla.

Other platforms such as SurveyMonkey have not had the necessary GDPR assessment completed by the University’s Information Compliance Unit and should not be used.

You will need to adjust your consent procedure to ensure that appropriate consent is still obtained, and that participants can be properly briefed via an equivalent form of material to that contained in the Participant Information Sheet (PIS).

Provided you do not change any of the questions, and that you are able to gain informed consent from your participants in an equivalent form to that in your FEO using an online method, then there is no need to submit an amendment. However, you should email RIGO an updated set of documents with any changes you have made, highlighted in yellow, before proceeding to data collection.

This information has been provided in conjunction with advice from the Information Compliance Unit.

If you have any questions, please email RIGO for further advice.

If your project needs to reviewed by the University Ethics Committee, and you have not yet submitted your ethics application, please re-assess your protocol and participant information sheets with regards to recruitment, consent and data collection methods and consider whether remote interaction strategies can be applied. Where this is not possible, and direct interaction is necessary, a Health and Safety risk assessment must be in place demonstrating how Public Health England advice has been implemented. The researcher with their PI, must discuss this with the Head of Department/Associate Dean of Research & Innovation. It is the researcher/ supervisor’s responsibility to review the latest PHE advice and then make a recommendation.

Any new ethics applications will be allocated to UEC reviewers by RIGO following the usual process albeit remotely. We ask researchers to be patient in these unprecedented circumstances with regards to any delay in ethics and governance reviews.

The status regarding keeping campus open is being monitored closely, but to safeguard the health and safety of its community and visitors, you should carefully consider whether undertaking research in the laboratory is necessary. Professional services support is being maintained to the laboratories. Please consider with the principal investigator of your project whether any changes to research design are either possible or prudent. Principal investigators should follow any advice being provided by their funders unless this contradicts UK government policy.

You may wish to co-ordinate with colleagues about accessing facilities at different times, however, the conditions described in the University’s lone working policy should be adhered to at all times.

We are moving towards greater remote working on a gradual basis. The status regarding keeping campus open is being monitored closely, but to safeguard the health and safety of community and visitors you should carefully consider whether accessing University facilities to conduct research is necessary.  

Please follow latest advice regarding conference travel.