It is University policy that research projects involving human participants are subject to ethical review, and the University’s ‘Central University Research Ethics Committee (CUREC)’ holds overall responsibility for University policy and the ethical review process. Further detail is available online, including how to apply, resources, useful contacts and training opportunities. In almost all cases, CSLS researchers will need to submit an application for ethical review to the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) IDREC using the CUREC 1A form, which has been specially designed for this purpose; process information, relevant advice and key documentation is provided.
CUREC forms are supposed to be sent to the relevant IDREC and approval received, before the start of fieldwork. Students will need to obtain signatures from both their supervisor and the DGS. In unproblematic cases approval can be received fairly quickly. Ideally, however, forms should reach IDREC 30 days before fieldwork starts.
CUREC forms change from time to time, so please check for latest versions of these on the CUREC site. A helpful decision flowchart is also available.
Human participant research generally covers any situation where people are the subject of study and personal data is obtained either directly from them or indirectly. However, IDREC has confirmed that ethical approval is not required for the use in research of information in the public domain. This includes use of material such as blogs, biographies, newspaper accounts, published diaries, and archives that are open to the public.
Filling in the CUREC/1A Form
This form is specially designed for research in the social sciences and humanities. It aims to raise awareness of relevant ethical issues and also to identify aspects of a research project which could merit further scrutiny. The form places considerable emphasis on the applicability of professional guidelines and, in most cases, all that is required is a commitment to using relevant guidelines. The entire form should be read in line with CUREC’s advice that “[o]nly in a limited number of cases is it necessary for researchers to complete the full application form [CUREC/2]”. In reviewing research projects the relevant University of Oxford Committee - SSH IDREC - takes account of the overall nature of the research project. Elite informants and interviewees, for example, are in many cases regarded as being substantially less at risk than other participants.
In examining the form it should be noted that the research project can, and indeed is likely to, change subsequent to completion of the form. However, IDREC need not be informed of this so long as (1) the changes are not such as would require completion of a CUREC/2 and (2) this change is not so drastic that you are planning what amounts to a different project. This further underscores the centrality within the scheme of the application of professional guidelines.
The form is structured in to a number of sections many of which elicit Yes/No answers to a variety of declarations.
Section A: This gateway section includes a variety of declarations, many of which are couched in medical/technical language. The ticking of any shaded box here will necessitate the use of a CUREC/2 submission. However, it is envisaged that the need for any such answer will be very much the exception.
Question A.2 This asks you to consider whether your research project could place your research participants at the risk of serious criminal prosecution, for instance by eliciting incriminating evidence from them through interviews. This is, in most cases, unlikely to be the case and this question should also prompt you to think about secure storage of your research data.
Sections B and C: This free text section B allows you to briefly outline your research and its methodology, including the way in which any professional guidelines will be applied. It is expected that the following guidelines will prove particularly helpful to CSLS researchers:
Statement of Principles of Ethical Research Practice from the Socio-Legal Studies Association
Ethical Guidelines of the Association of Social Anthropologists
Section C requires you to provide information through a tick box about the research techniques you are intending to use.
Section D asks you to identify through a tick box the professional guidelines which are most relevant for providing principles for the ethical conduct of your research.
Section E: This final section requires you to sign the form yourself and obtain the endorsement of your CUREC1 form through the signature from the Head of Department, i.e. the Director of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, or his or her nominee, i.e. the Centre’s Director of Graduate Studies.
Section F: The form should then be sent electronically to the Social Sciences and Humanities IDREC. You are advised to keep a copy of the form yourself for future reference.
Some CSLS students have been experiencing difficulties in obtaining approval via the CUREC process. They can obtain further advice from their supervisor or Dr Marina Kurkchiyan (Director of CSLS).