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APPENDIX 5: Faculty of Environmental Studies ethics review process for research involving human participants
November 1, 2001; Approved by the Council of the Faculty of Environmental Studies on September 20, 2001
"Research concerns the investigation, acquisition, and dissemination of knowledge, and ethics is important in all its aspects." (Final Report of the York University Task Force on Ethical Issues in Research, October 1992, p. 19).
"The Senate of York University affirms that investigators must respect the safety, welfare, and dignity of human participants in their research and treat them equally, fairly, and not only as a means to an end... (a)cademic freedom is complemented by the requirement to respect the rights of human participants." (Policy for the Ethics Review Process for Research Involving Human Participants, June 24, 1993).
I. GUIDELINES: PREAMBLE
This document is intended as an aid to FES faculty members, students and staff in understanding and implementing ethical principles for research involving human participants* in cases of unfunded research** and research involving minimal risk***. The purpose of these guidelines and procedures is primarily to satisfy FES responsibilities for Faculty-level review of such research, under the Senate policy for the ethics review process for research. Faculty of Environmental Studies Guidelines regulate research by faculty, undergraduate students and staff. These guidelines follow below under Section II. Ethics review of graduate student research involving human participants is governed by the policies and procedures of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. These regulations have been adapted to the specific needs of Faculty of Environmental Studies. They follow below under Section III.
* "Human participants" in research will be defined as persons who provide data or information to the researcher which are typically not part of their professional capacity.
** The draft definition of funded research from the Human Participants Review Sub-Committee [HPRC] is: “‘Funded’ will refer to all research that is receiving money that is in response to a specific proposal and administered by the university. Research using monies not administered by the University, and/or not in response to a specific proposal, will be considered ‘unfunded’.”
*** The definition of minimal risk being used is the one given in the SSHRC/NSERC/MRC Tri-Council Policy Statement “Ethical Conduct for Research involving Humans” (August, 1998): “If potential subjects can reasonably be expected to regard the probability and magnitude of possible harms implied by participation in the research to be no greater than those encountered by the subject in those aspects of his or her everyday life that relate to the research, then the research can be regarded as within the range of minimal risk.” (p. 1.5)
The Office of Student and Academic Services will collect information on all categories of minimal risk research mentioned above including names, course numbers and titles, paper titles, etc. and transmit them to the Associate Dean for them to report to SCOR by July 1 of each year.
II. FES GUIDELINES AND PROCEDURES FOR ETHICS REVIEW OF RESEARCH INVOLVING HUMAN PARTICIPANTS FOR FACULTY, UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS AND STAFF
(a) General Principles
Good research practice, in general, requires “informed consent” by human participants in the research. This means that participants have received full information about the research procedures in advance, and have agreed to participate. Participants’ rights should be respected. They should remain anonymous unless they give specific written permission to be quoted or identified in any way.
Respect for the rights of research participants includes providing a means for them to learn and benefit from the end results of the research in which they are involved.
Research is not acceptable if it is likely to cause psychological or physical harm to, or invasion of the privacy of, individual participants, groups, communities and organizations. It should be made clear that participants are free to withdraw at any time; if this happens, any personal data collected on or provided by the participant will be returned or destroyed. All data on specific individuals are to be kept confidential unless this right is expressly waived or disclosure is required by law.
Many other important ethical issues are involved in research design, whether or not human participants are involved. This document does NOT address all aspects of research ethics! Research ethics includes the ethical implications of research for non-human natural entities. Appropriate guidelines are required to assist both faculty members and students in understanding and implementing ethical research principles based on respect for the welfare and integrity of non-human beings and natural environments. Research designs should be sensitive to the needs and interests of all involved - humans and non-humans alike - and where possible should provide a means for all to benefit from the end results of the research. FES researchers are encouraged to consult other sources on the subject of research ethics, and to thoroughly consider the ethical implications of their research projects.
(b) Research Relationships
In specific cases, the relationships between researchers and other people who are participating in the research may span a very wide range: they may be temporary or long-lived, involve physical or physiological tests, questionnaires, interviews, yes-or-no responses, views and opinions, joint participation in research design, feedback, access to results of the research, or many combinations of the above.
The primary determinant of the degree of “informed consent” required in a particular research project is the nature of the relationship between “outside” researcher and “inside” participants. By relationship we mean the nature of the interaction or transaction that takes place between the researcher and the human participant -- a request for information, an interview, observation of behaviour, application of survey instrument, participation in discussion/dialogue, involvement as co-researcher, or taking decisions on tasks/action initiated by research.
The following are several broad categories of exchange between researchers and participants, with general guidelines regarding the type of “informed consent” which may be considered acceptable in each relational situation:
- Collecting published material: No explanation or consent is required.
- Involving insiders in search for unpublished information: Consent of authors/owners of material is required, especially when confidentiality is involved.
- Conducting in-depth/unstructured interviews aimed at obtaining information, opinions, or attitudes unless participation in such activities is part of a person’s professional capacity (e.g., politicians, bureaucrats, etc.); listening to or recording personal storytelling and group dialogues/discussions for research purposes: Formal consent is required.
- Administering questionnaires/surveys: Formal consent is required.
- Unobtrusively observing or recording people’s behaviour in such a way that the researcher’s observer/participant roles are concealed: Precise definition of the nature of the observation and full justification of this activity is necessary -- see section on deception below.
- Observing participants with the knowledge of the individuals, groups, or organizations under observation: Consent is required; it may come from representatives of the group, setting, or organization involved.
- Conducting Participatory Action Research (PAR) in which participants are co-researchers involved in design, implementation, and evaluation of research that focuses on real-time/space issues selected jointly by outside and inside researchers: Full information should be provided and consent given as a function of the research process.
(c) Informed Consent
In most cases, formal “informed consent” can be obtained by having the participant read and sign a document presenting information pertinent to the investigation or project, indicating that he or she agrees to participate under the conditions described. The document should be written so as to be easily understandable to the participant, and provided in a language in which the participant is fluent.
Informed consent, in general, involves providing to participants the following types of information:
- A general statement of the background of the project and its objectives.
- An explanation of the research methodology.
- An offer to answer any queries of the participant concerning any aspect of the project.
- A statement that the participant is free to withdraw consent and to discontinue participation in the project or activity at any time without prejudice to the participant.
- A statement that the participant is free to deny answers to specific items or questions.
- An explanation of the procedures to be taken to ensure the confidentiality of the data and information to be derived from the participant. If participants are to be identified by name or quoted in the manuscript, permission should be requested in advance or obtained in writing at a later date.
If the participant is to be videotaped or photographed, this must be disclosed. The participant must be advised as to who will have custody of such videotapes or photographs, who will have access to them, how they are to be used, and what will be done with them when the study is completed.
Provision should be made for the signature of the participant and/or a legally authorised representative, and the date signed. It is generally advisable to precede this with a statement to the effect that the participant and/or representative have read and do understand the statement.
A form is one way to obtain research participants’ informed consent. A letter or other means may be more appropriate, depending on the particular research project.
“Off the record,” information provided in the course of an interview cannot be cited or referred to in the final report of the research; in many ways it is simpler not to accept “off the record” remarks in the context of an “informed consent” research process.
(d) Special Groups
Research designs are to be sensitive to the participants’ cultural, emotional, physical, and intellectual needs of any individuals or groups involved in the research.
In cases where dependents or those with legal advocates are participants in the research, it is necessary to obtain permission from a parent, guardian, or advocate prior to their involvement.
Incomplete disclosure of information to participants about the study in advance is warranted only if the research requires ignorance of certain items of information, if alternative research strategies which give participants more information will not yield valid findings, or if the “scientific merit” of the research procedure is sufficient to justify incomplete disclosure. Especially in these cases, participants should have access to the final research results.
If “informed consent” and/or respect for participants’ rights cannot be ensured in a specific case, the researcher should have considered why this is so, and should be able to explain what alternate procedures will be employed for protecting and dealing fairly with people involved in the research.
(f) Ethical Review and Legal Responsibilities
In the process of undertaking research, researchers may discover or come across evidence of illegal activities. This raises both ethical and legal issues that may require further investigation. For example, if the researcher discovers evidence of child abuse or the abuse of a dependent adult, it is the researcher’s legal responsibility to report this to the appropriate child protection authority, i.e. police or children’s aid.
In another instance, the researcher may discover evidence of illegal dumping of toxic waste. In this case, it is the responsibility of the researcher to become aware of the legal obligations and implications of reporting this to the relevant authority.
In some instances, there may be ethical responsibilities to report illegal activities even when no legal obligation to report exists. It is the researchers’ responsibility to become familiar with the relevant ethical and legal issues that they may encounter and to understand the implications of their action or inaction.
(g) Research in Hostile Environments
The issue of ethics needs special consideration in the case of research conducted in hostile environments.
This issue is related to but not the same as the issue of safety of the researcher. The ethical issues that evolve in a hostile environment have to be separated from the safety issue. In terms of safety, the researcher has a responsibility to inform her/himself of the risks and to organize her/his work such that the risks are limited to an acceptable level. The Faculty has established a screening process for safety during research field work -- see Appendix Six of these regulations, “Policy and Procedures Concerning Risk to Students Undertaking Field Study.”
In research settings where research participants and/or researchers may be at risk or denied access to information, the need for consent or knowledge regarding research from some actors may be waived; however, as noted above, full justification for such an action is required.
For the purpose of these guidelines we can distinguish two kinds of situations which we can refer to as hostile. They are quite different in character and each presents different challenges in terms of research ethics.
1. Dealing ethically with research subjects who are hostile to the aims of the research being conducted:
Research subjects who do not share the researcher’s aims may, for example, be in opposition to the researcher’s philosophical or political beliefs. This category includes cases such as doing research with organizations or individuals to disclose the nature of their plans, politics or strategies against their will and perhaps without the participants’ knowledge (for example, disclosure of an environmental accident caused by a corporation, or undercover research in a racist or fascist organization). This type of research is similar to muckraking journalism, investigative reporting and “undercover participant observation” which does not necessarily disclose the identity of the researcher or the direction of the project. In contrast to the situation described under category 2 below, in hostile environments as characterized here, the potential danger is most pronounced for the researcher him or herself. In any case, a distinction needs to be made between doing research on relatively powerless groups and doing research on powerful groups. Dishonesty is not acceptable, and the integrity of the research findings may not be subordinated by the researcher to propagandistic, ideological, political or journalistic aims.
Great care should be taken in planning and conducting this type of research. Researchers should not use methods that are unethical or endangering. An example could be to use published documents of a hate group to expose their politics rather than participating in their activities personally. Should no other research method be advisable or feasible, fundamental ethical values of research should not be discarded: if possible, identities of interviewees should be protected and personal harm should be minimized.
While it is unethical under any circumstances to lie or falsify information given to human participants, researchers are not required to disclose in full the philosophical or political leaning of their research project. For the purposes of research ethics, it suffices to disclose the formal methodology and the kinds of expected results rather than the ideological underpinning or the specific purpose of one’s research.
2. Avoiding risk of harm to research participants or subjects:
It is important to avoid risk of harm to research participants/subjects (as well as other vulnerable individuals or groups not involved in the research process, but indirectly implicated, e.g. indigenous forest dwellers who might become the target of retaliatory action as a result of interviews with local environmentalists). This includes all situations in which information obtained from individuals or groups could potentially lead to sanctions, threats or actual harm to life, limb, health, freedom, livelihood, property, etc. against the informants through authorities or other groups that expect negative consequences from the publication of the research data.
In some circumstances, doing research alone, regardless of the substance of the inquiry, can lead to situations that endanger both the researcher and the human participants. Such situations can include research in war zones or militarily restricted areas, in countries or regions of state repression, in situations of political turmoil or popular uprising, in areas in which death squads, criminal organizations, landlord goon squads, gangs or vigilante groups operate, in fiercely divided neighbourhoods or communities, or in situations of workplace conflict (labour-management, whistle-blowing, etc.).
In situations that can be characterized as hostile in the sense mentioned here, formal requirements for participants’ informed consent (such as a written letter) may be waived after discussion with the researcher’s reviewing committee centering on how best to protect the life and health of all participants.
In grave cases, the reviewing committee may advise a researcher to renounce a project in a hostile environment.
(h) Applicability of These Guidelines
York University research ethics procedures require that all research conducted by faculty members and students conform to the general principles adopted by the Senate. The university-wide Human Participants Research Committee (HPRC) must review and approve all research involving human participants which is externally funded and which is internally funded through university-wide programs. All other FES research is subject to internal FES review, and requires submission of the form “Application for Ethical Approval of Research Involving Human Participants” (Appendix A). Internal FES review is based on the guidelines outlined in this document. It is the responsibility of the FES Research and Awards Committee to receive and address any complaints which may arise about the ethical propriety of ongoing FES research which is subject to internal FES review.
(1) Research Conducted by Faculty Members, Fellows and Support Staff
When faculty members, Fellows and support staff members engage in research directly related to their position in the university, they are honour-bound to submit application for ethical review if the research involves human participants.
In such instances, the researcher is asked to adapt the pro forma application for ethical review (Appendix A) and submit the application for consideration by the FES Research and Awards Committee, at least one month before the research is intended to commence.
The university-wide Human Participants Research Committee (HPRC) must review and approve all research involving human participants which is externally funded and which is internally funded through university-wide programs. Unfunded research and research involving minimal risk will be handled by the Research and Awards Committee of the Faculty.
(2) Research Conducted by Undergraduate Students
The procedure for ethical review of student research involving human participants depends upon the context of the research, as follows.
2.1 Research conducted in the context of lecture, seminar and workshop courses:
If a student in a lecture, seminar, or workshop course carries out research involving human participants as part of the course requirements, it is the responsibility of the course director to be satisfied that the ethical guidelines have been adhered to.
2.1.1 Each undergraduate course outline will include a paragraph on non-funded minimal risk. This paragraph will contain the Tri-Council Policy Statement’s definition of minimal risk research as quoted above.
2.1.2 The instructor of each course in which minimal risk/ human participant research may be occurring will spend a designated time during the course to explain and advise students on the procedures to be taken in order to achieve ethical standards of research in course work.
2.1.3 As a matter of course, each instructor will report B through a form provided by FES B on the number of protocols reviewed by him/herself in each course to the Program Director of his/her designate.
2.2 Research conducted in the context of individual activity courses:
When any individually arranged study activity requires research involving human participants, the student must complete an application for ethical review (Appendix A) and attach the application to the request for registration in the individual activity course, before the start of courses for the term. The application will be considered when registration for the term is considered for approval by the relevant student programs subcommittee - in the case of undergraduate students, the BES Program and Admissions Subcommittee (for ENVS 4900).
2.3 Undergraduate Senior Honours Work:
For undergraduate Senior Honours Work (ENVS 4000) that includes research involving human participants, the student must complete an application for ethical review (Appendix A) and submit the application for approval by the BES Program and Admissions Subcommittee before commencement of the work.
A negative outcome of the ethical review may be appealed by the researcher, to the FES Research and Awards Committee whose decision shall be final.
III. FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES, YORK UNIVERSITY - HUMAN PARTICIPANTS RESEARCH PROCEDURES
Approved by FGS Council, February 2, 2001
Graduate students doing Major Research Papers, Theses, or Dissertations and graduate course directors conducting courses in which research involving human participants occurs shall familiarize themselves with York University’s policies about the use of human participants and with the SSHRC/NSERC/MRC Tri-Council Policy Statement “Ethical Conduct for Research involving Humans” (August, 1998). These can be found at the Office of Research Administration, S414 Ross Building or on the web at http://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca/about-au_sujet/policies-politiques/statements-enonces/f_humans-b_humains-eng.aspx.
The following procedures deal with non-funded minimal risk research in graduate courses, Major Research Papers, Master’s Theses, and Doctoral Dissertations. Faculty and students are advised to see the Senate “Policy for the Ethics Review Process for Research Involving Human Participants” for definitions of “minimal risk,” “human participant,” and what constitutes “funded” research.
Graduate Programs shall distribute a copy of these guidelines to all students and faculty. They may also consider the inclusion of the guidelines in Graduate Program Handbooks. The Faculty of Graduate Studies shall add the guidelines to the Faculty of Graduate Studies website, and to the Faculty of Graduate Studies calendar.
(1) Research conducted in the context of lecture, seminar and workshop courses:
If a student in a lecture, seminar, or workshop course carries out research involving human participants as part of the course requirements, it is the responsibility of the course director to be satisfied that the ethical guidelines have been adhered to.
1.1 Each graduate course outline will include a paragraph on non-funded minimal risk. This paragraph will contain the Tri-Council Policy Statement’s definition of minimal risk research as quoted above.
1.2 The instructor of each course in which minimal risk/ human participant research may be occurring will spend a designated time during the course to explain and advise students on the procedures to be taken in order to achieve ethical standards of research in course work.
1.3 As a matter of course, each instructor will report—through a form provided by FES—on the number of protocols reviewed by him/herself in each course to the Program Director or his/her designate
(2) Research conducted in the context of individual activity courses:
When any individually arranged study activity requires research involving human participants, the student must complete an application for ethical review and attach the application to the request for registration in the individual activity course, before the start of courses for the term. The application will be considered when registration for the term is considered for approval by the relevant student programs subcommittee.
(3) Theses And Dissertations
3.1 All Thesis and Dissertation proposals must be submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies with a copy of the Faculty of Graduate Studies Human Participants Research Form attached (Appendix B).
3.2 Alternate forms may be used in place of the Faculty of Graduate Studies form, so long as the alternate form includes at least all of issues addressed in the Faculty of Graduate Studies form.
3.3 Proposals and forms will be reviewed by the Faculty of Graduate Studies Associate Deans (Academic and Student Affairs). Third parties may be consulted as appropriate.
3.4 A list of all Thesis and Dissertation proposals involving human participants will be compiled and reviewed for completeness on an annual basis by the Faculty of Graduate Studies.
3.5 The Faculty of Graduate Studies will forward a list of all Thesis and Dissertation proposals involving human participants to the Senate Committee on Research via the University’s Human Participants Review Subcommittee (HPRC) every July 1st.
(4) Major Papers and Major Projects
4.1 All Major Paper and Major Project proposals must be submitted to the appropriate Graduate Program Director or designate with a copy of either the Faculty of Graduate Studies Human Participants Research Form (Appendix B) or an alternative form attached.
4.2 Graduate Program Directors will compile and review on an annual basis a list of all courses (Appendix D) and Major Research Paper proposals (Appendix E) involving research with human participants. Each list will be filed with the Faculty of Graduate Studies every June 1st.
4.3 The Faculty of Graduate Studies will forward a list of all Major Paper and Major Project proposals and graduate courses involving research with human participants to the Senate Committee on Research via the University’s Human Participants Review Committee (HPRC) every July 1st.