Research ethics in Social Work - a brief guide to procedures Research ethics in Social Work - a brief guide to procedures

All staff and students in the School undertaking research must meet the University's ethical standards.  The School of Social Work has a Research Ethics Committee to help ensure that research conducted in the School meets generally accepted ethical principles and any legal requirements.  All research that involves collecting data from or about human participants will require ethical approval from the School's Research Ethics Committee or an approved alternative (e.g. another UEA research ethics committee or an NHS research ethics committee. If your research is:

  • To be carried out within the NHS
  • Involves the collection of human tissue
  • Or involves adults who lack mental capacity

 then you will need to seek ethical approval from an NHS research ethics committee.

Flowchart outlining pathways to ethical approval for UEA research (takes you to intranet page).

In preparing a research ethics application, applicants should refer to both the University ethics policy, and appropriate ethical guidelines such as those published by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the British Psychological Society (BPS), or the Joint University Council: Social Work Education Committee (JUC-SWEC).

The process of applying for ethics approval

a. All applicants must complete and submit the UEA research ethics checklist. The purpose of this is to screen applications to determine whether they can be treated as "light touch" or whether they need a full review and/or to advise you where you should submit your proposal for review. Please click here to download the checklist.

b. If a full review is required, you should submit the full application form.  If it is clear to you that your proposal will need a full review (i.e. if you have ticked anything on the checklist) then you should submit the checklist and the full proposal at the same time. (If you are not sure whether a full proposal is required, please contact the chair to ask for advice)

c. If, after completing the checklist, you think your project will qualify for a "light touch review" you need not submit a full application.  You should however include sufficient details in the brief outline of your project to enable the committee to make a judgement about the appropriateness of light touch review.

Application Form

d. Postgraduate research students also have to obtain ethical approval before undertaking any data collection.  They should submit the UEA research ethics checklist and the Ethical Approval Form (if a full review is needed) after close consultation with their primary supervisor, who will need to sign both forms to indicate their satisfaction that all ethical issues have been identified and that satisfactory procedures are in place to deal with ethical issues.  The form is then submitted to the ethics committee as detailed above.  When submitting their proposals, students should please send an electronic copy to their programme director for their records.

e. Copies of the forms should be completed by the principal investigator and submitted, along with supporting documentation on the research proposal, to the Chair of the School Research Ethics Committee, via the School Ethics Committee Administrator (Eve Slaymaker e.slaymaker@uea.ac.uk).  Please submit a hard copy and electronic copy to Eve. 

You should expect that ethical review of full proposals may take up to 4 weeks for initial review.  Complex proposals may take longer.  If you plan to submit a proposal in August or December you should also allow for extra time, as reviewers may be unavailable.

If your study is likely to raise significant ethical issues, you are advised to discuss these with the Chair in advance of submitting an application.  If your project is large or complex, you may wish to consider submitting different ethics applications relating to different stages of your project. This may be particularly relevant where later stages of the project cannot be determined at the outset because the precise nature of the research will depend on the outcome of earlier stages of the project.

Proposals requiring a full review will be reviewed by two or more members of the SWP research ethics committee.  ESRC proposals will be reviewed by the whole committee.  The membership of the committee has been determined in order to comply with relevant guidelines by UEA and ESRC. The committee can also co-opt other people to help with reviews where additional expertise is required and/or where there is a conflict of interest. 

The chair of the SWK research ethics committee is Dr Beth Neil (e.neil@uea.ac.uk) and current members of the SWK Research Ethics Committee are detailed below. The School committee may also refer your proposal for review by another university sub-committee, or upwards for review by the University committee. 

Applicants will be told in writing about the committee's decisions about their project (for example if any amendments or clarifications are asked for, if the study is approved, if the study is not approved etc).

When your project is approved

When your project is approved you will be notified of this in writing by the Chair of the Committee.  There will be an obligation for researchers to report any adverse events to the Ethics Committee, to contact the Chair of the Ethics Committee if the design of the study is to be significantly altered, and to supply a brief report annually or sooner if the project is completed within one year.

Committee members (February 2013)

Chair:  Beth Neil

Deputy Chair:  Gillian Schofield

Secretary:  Eve Slaymaker

Charlie Seger (External Member from the School of Psychology)

Peter Jordan

Jonathan Dickens

Caroline Ball (Lay Member)

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