Ethics and data security


When doing research, it is essential that you think about ethics and data security from the outset. Not only is this good research practice, there are also legal frameworks that must be followed.

Research ethics form part of wider research governance. Research governance is a process for making sure research projects in their entirety (from planning to dissemination) protects the safety, rights, dignity and well-being of all of those involved in that research (this includes research participants and researchers). It is useful to think of this as ‘my research will do no harm’.

Some schools, local authorities and other bodies working with children and young people may already have research governance procedures in place. You will need to check with senior leaders in any organisation where you will carry out your research whether it needs governance approval. All universities, for example, have rigorous governance processes that must be adhered to before research can begin. 

Ethics must be considered throughout your research project. As things change, so might the ethical implications of your research. Ethics are important because they consider:

It is essential for you to consider data confidentiality and security to ensure your research complies with the Data Protection Act (1998). This means that all named and identifiable data – including memory sticks with interview notes, survey responses; handwritten notes from a lesson observation or audio and video recordings - must be stored securely and confidentially. This includes electronic and hard copy files. Electronic files should be password protected when saved on a shared drive.

It may be useful to have a look at NFER's Code of Practice, which is available for download here.


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