This week I was very pleased to receive approval for my ethics application (minor changes pending)! This means I can now start planning studies and setting up the steering group I have discussed previously.
I decided to apply to the Department of Health's REACH committee for approval even though my department is Computer Science, since I will be working directly with humans, and in some cases vulnerable adults.
To mark this milestone, I wanted to share with you my top tips for completing an ethics application. These tips are appropriate for projects involving people, but not animals or experiments that require taking samples from participants.
1. Read the documentation
It sounds obvious, but taking the time to read through everything fully will save time further down the line. This includes any FAQs or accompanying documentation from the committee, and any further resources from the library.
The REACH committee have very good guidelines for their process, which made it a lot easier on my part to complete my application. However, if the committee to which you are applying does not, then get in touch with the secretary, who will be able to give guidance should you have any questions.
2. Download and use templates
You have to submit participant information sheets, consent forms, data management plans, and all sorts of accompanying documents along with your ethics application. However, you don't need to come up with them on your own if you do not have any ready to go. Download templates and adjust them to your particular project. Since you ought to be doing this anyway, it also serves as a way of kick-starting your preparation for your studies.
3. Be as detailed as you can
If you can, include as much information about how long studies will last, how many sessions there will be, and any approaches you are taking to make sure participants will be treated well and any potential risks are avoided. Thorough, yet concise statements are best.
Sometimes, a draft plan of the session can suffice if you do not know exactly what you want to do. This shows you have considered the types of questions you will be asking and what you will be asking participants to do.
4. Be specific
In my first application, I was using a lot of hedging language because I was not 100% certain on what I wanted to do with members of the steering group. I used "might" and "may" a little too much. In my second attempt, I used "will" to assert myself, and there were no problems with this.
5. Include the very most you will do with your participants
By doing this, you will have approval to do anything up to that point.
For example, I want to allow members of the steering group to try out augmented reality headsets, but I did not include this explicitly in my initial application. All I said was 'members might be given the opportunity to try on headsets'. It wasn't clear that I would support members to do this, and limit the usage to 10 minutes to mitigate any physical discomfort associated with wearing a heavy headset.
This extra information showed the committee that I had thought of risk and how I would mitigate potential discomfort to participants.
6. Don't be disheartened if you don't get approval first time
I was advised that most applications do not get approval the first time around. There is inevitably something you have not thought of or that the committee wants to clarify. Getting in an ethics application is still a big feat, and means you're well on your way to getting approval. Update your application, taking into consideration the committee's comments, and resubmit.
I hope these tips have given you some ideas of how to put together your ethics application. Feel free to get in touch if you have any queries!