Covid-19: SHU guidance for staff and students undertaking institutional research and evaluation

The most recent guidance on research ethics can be found here Research Ethics and Covid19 (30th march 2020)

Research and evaluation activity takes place across our whole institution.  This week, many of us should have been engaging in institutional research and evaluation to support strategic objectives and collecting data with staff and students.  For example, planned STEER activity included conducting focus groups with foundation year students, cognitive interviewing with students to test module evaluation questions, administering the Disabled Student Support Survey and designing an evaluation of the Student Success Scholarship. Elsewhere, you might be evaluating the local impact of activity to narrow attainment gaps or strategies to enhance retention or support student wellbeing.  In all these cases, there is important institutional guidance to follow.

The guidance below has been provided by Dr Lisa Mooney, PVC Research & Innovation and should guide decision making in the immediate future. STEER will be shortly be sharing resources for researching and evaluating at a distance, including key ethical considerations about the burden on students and the potential skew on institutional data which should guide decisions about re-scheduling or adapting methods. Risk assessments should include burden and bias as factors in any adaptations.

Covid-19: SHU Guidance for Staff and Students undertaking research and knowledge exchange activity (17th March 2020)

 

Purpose of the Guidance

This document provides supplementary guidance to the advice provided to all staff and students at SHU and which is available here: www.shu.ac.uk/coronavirus.  This guidance relates to all research and knowledge exchange activity which may be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and includes the specific case where the activity involves human participants.

The critical messages in this guidance are that:

  1. All research and knowledge exchange activities with human participants which involves face to face contact should be postponed immediately.
  2. All other research and knowledge exchange activities must undertake a Covid-19-Risk Assessment

(If in any doubt of how to proceed, please discuss directly with your Head of Research Centre/Dept. Head of Research, or Head of Department).

What is research and knowledge exchange (KE) involving face to face contact?

Activity involving human face to face contact includes:

  • Undertaking research and KE with members of the general public (e.g. interviews undertaken in public places with participants who are unknown to the researcher before the start of the interview)
  • Undertaking research and KE with a defined population group (e.g. interviewees who have been selected for interview from a wider population)
  • Undertaking research and KE in specific settings (e.g. in schools, hospitals or care homes)
  • Undertaking research and KE with employees of an organisation (e.g. employees in a business, charity or local authority)
  • Undertaking research and KE with participants involving face to face contact, hands on contact, the use of equipment that presents an increased infection risk (e.g. masks, mouth pieces etc.) and the collection of samples (e.g. blood, saliva etc.).

Prior to the commencement or continuation of any such activity during the Coronavirus pandemic, the project lead, principal investigator, doctoral degree director of studies, or student project supervisor, must ensure that the latest UK government and Public Health England guidance is consulted and followed. This can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-list-of-guidance

The University guidance provided here is intended to support all staff and students involved in research and KE and provides a framework for responding to the Coronavirus, for instance whether planned activity should be delayed or cancelled, whether any steps to mitigate risks to staff, students and participants should be implemented, or whether the activity should be undertaken as planned.

Key steps

There are four main elements to the supplementary guidance which ALL research and KE undertaken by staff or students must follow:

    1. Risks to Staff and Students. SHU’s primary responsibility is to its staff and students. All staff and students undertaking research and knowledge exchange should be aware of the SHU advice on the Coronavirus. ALL research and KE activity which involves face to face contact with human participants should be postponed immediately. Where feasible, participants should be given the option to be involved through some other contact (such as an online survey or telephone interview). Any previously agreed incentives or payments for participation should be honored.
    2. Risk assessment prior to undertaking research and KE more broadly. All research and knowledge exchange should undertake a Covid-19-Risk Assessment that specifically addresses the additional risks and required control measures associated with coronavirus (this is additional to any existing health and safety assessments already in place). This must be completed prior to the activity commencing (or continuing). The Covid-19 risk assessment must consider the current situation and the latest guidance from Public Health England at the time of undertaking the research or KE activity. This must be signed off by the project lead AND the relevant Head of Research Centre/Head of Department. A central record of these should be held by the Research Centre or Department and made accessible to ADRI and RIS. The risk assessment proforma is in Annex 1.
    3. Communications with associated external bodies, partners/collaborators and funders. Where research and KE involves any external organisational party the following steps should be followed:

 

    • Funders. Contact should be made with all funders of research involving human participants. This should be done either by the Project Lead or Head of Research Centre/Head of Research in Department. It is the responsibility of the Head of Research Centre/Head of Research in Department that this be undertaken and logged. It is recommended that an initial communication be made, and this be followed up by sharing this guidance document and the risk assessment for the project. A result of the risk assessment may be that it is recommended that the activity is delayed, that another method is used or that some or all the research is cancelled. This has contractual implications, and these should be discussed with the appropriate contact in the funding organisation. Early contact with funders is likely to be welcomed. However, project leads should be aware that the Coronavirus may be presenting other more significant challenges to that organisation which will take priority (e.g. a charity running care homes).  If unsure of how to proceed, you should seek the advice of your ADRI.
    • Research partners/collaborators/sub-contractors. Where research and KE is undertaken with a collaborator, a sub-contractor or where we are the sub-contractor, early contact with the partner should be made to discuss and agree a shared response. This should take the form of the risk assessment (in Annex 1) and agree arrangements for contacting the funder.

 

    • Research and KE involving external bodies. This may involve, for example, research and KE which is undertaken on the premises of another organisation and dissemination activities and where representatives of external bodies are present. Where this is the case a representative of the organisation should be made aware of this guidance and the risk assessment discussed with them and ensure it aligns with the local policies.

4. Risk Log. Heads of Research Centre and Heads of Research in Department should produce a risk log for all research and KE projects in their area (to ensure we understand where project may be impacted by the pandemic) – see annex 2. This should be undertaken with appropriate support from across RIS. For doctoral researchers, a similar risk log for all projects should be established by the Post Graduate Research Tutor. This should include a risk rating (RAG). The documents will be reviewed by the relevant ADRI.(For undergraduate and taught postgraduate student projects, risk management will be undertaken by the relevant course team)

 

Remote Working and Other Research Methods

In all cases, alternative approaches for conducting the research and KE activities should be explored as appropriate. This may involve swapping face-to-face contact for an alternative method. Such changes should be considered in terms of the effect of the validity of the activity, research ethics and the requirements of the funder.

Resources

The following provides a useful list of resources

  1. SHU: The SHU Coronavirus advice page is here: www.shu.ac.uk/coronavirus
  2. Market Research Society: has published detailed and very helpful guidance on the conduct of research. This is primarily aimed at research with the general public, but it is helpful especially in terms of the screening questions asked. www.mrs.org.uk/resources/coronavirus
  3. Public Health England: the main government guidance which updated regularly is available from the PHE site: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england This also contains links to the government guidance to the public, organisations, employees and health professionals.
  4. National Council for Voluntary Organisations. The NCVO has published detailed guidance for its member organisations. It includes guidance for organisations and groups working in communities as well as links to the guidance from the governance and many of the UK’s major charities on working with particular groups: www.ncvo.org.uk/practical-support/information/coronavirus
  5. MIND, the mental health charity, has produced guidance to support everyone who may be experiencing mild to severe anxiety or depression: www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing/