The web-site is now in readonly mode. Login and registration are disabled. (28 June 2019)

Ethics and research: the OU framework

Sheila Peace Workshop 4E and Workshop 5E

Cloud created by:

14 March 2010

Sheila Peace

Wednesday 24 March, 10.30-11.30am
Workshop 4E
Library seminar room 1

Wednesday 24 March, 11.45am-12.45pm
Workshop 5E
Library seminar room 1

This workshop will start with a review of the history and recent developments of research ethics, covering both medical and social science areas. This will aim to show the range of issues that arise when considering whether a proposed study is ethical or not. After an opportunity for discussion, there will then be a summary of the Open University governance arrangements for ethical review. The workshop will conclude with a discussion of issues raised by those present.

Shelia Peace is Professor of Social Gerontology within the Faculty of Health and Social Care.  A social geographer by first discipline, she gained her PhD in the area of environment and ageing in 1977.  Sheila has maintained an on-going research career - funded through DH, ESRC, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Local Authorities - concerned with quality of life issues for older people living in care homes, mainstream housing and supportive housing as well as social interaction within the community.  She joined The OU in 1991 and with colleagues in the Centre for Ageing and Biographical Studies (CABS) has contributed to the development of participatory research involving older people.  She has recently come to the end of a long period as Associate Dean (Research) within the Faculty and is currently working on collaborative research concerning the ‘kitchen’ with ergonomic colleagues from Loughborough University within the ESRC led New Dynamics of Ageing programme.  Sheila is a member of the Executive Committee of the British Society of Gerontology and was recently appointed to the Academy of Social Sciences.  Widely published she edited the text Researching Social Gerontology in 1990; contributed to the new edition Researching Ageing and Later Life in 2002 and has examined eighteen PhDs.  She has developed Ethical Guidelines for the BSG and is currently the Deputy Chair of the OU’s Human Participants and Materials Ethics Committee. 

Extra content

Live blog of this seminar

(blogged by Rebecca Ferguson)

Issue from last presentation of this seminar: Some people find it difficult to see the relevance of ethics within their department if they are not working with vulnerable people.


Some elements of research ethics management are quite new at the university. The Ethics Committee has only been in place at the university for four or five years. Not all supervisors have had the opportunity to find out how the system works in different cases.


Brief history of ethical codes

500BCE Hippocratic Oath – taken by doctors as they begin medical practice. Often rewritten to reflect the values of society. Not required by most modern medical schools. It is an underpinning. There is a key principle of doing no harm. It makes reference to confidentiality.

1803 Percival’s code (England) – Another example of medical ethics. Percival practiced in Manchester. Concerned with how we go about developing an evidence base. Adopted by the British and American Medical Associations. 1833: Beaumont’s code – and American code. Sees the requirement for experiments, but requires researchers to use a sound methodological approach and to be conscientious and responsible. Mentions the voluntary consent of subjects.

1931 The Reich Circular (Germany) – raises issues of informed consent and of medical ethics. Not everyone adhered to these codes were not adhered to by everyone. Nuremberg Medial Trial in 1946 led to the development of the Nuremberg Code, which stressed the voluntary consent of subjects – and the need for full disclosure of what was being researched.

1964: Declaration of Helsinki (Finland) – this code is periodically revisited and revised. First British REC (research ethics council) was formed in 1966.


NHS Ethical approval

If you are doing research on people who are patients or members of staff of the NHS, then you need to go for that stream of ethical approval – and it takes time, so you need to think about this early on. If you are doing research in more than one area, there are multiple research committees to be approached.


Need to consider

Consider these in terms of participants, researchers, institutions, sponsors / funding bodies and society as a whole.

Negatives Physical trauma/injury (to participant, researcher, institution), distress, offence, breach of confidentiality, inconvenience, coercion (are you offering incentives?), waste of time, waste of resources/funds, disrepute or litigation – failure to publish.

Benefits Research as intrinsic good, contribution to knowledge, development of theories, improvement to lives, training researchers, career advancement, enhancing reputation. Image, increasing commercial success, and entertainment and enjoyment.


OU Human Participants and Materials Ethics committee

There is an overarching Research Committee (chaired by the PVC for research), to which the Human Participants and Materials Ethics committee (HPMEC) reports. (There is also an animal research committee, but this is not dealt with here.) HPMEC deals with everyone doing research as part of their OU contract, also with taught undergraduates and postgraduates, and links with the OU research community and the National HEI research community. The committee includes four external members: a medical practitioner, a researcher from outside the OU, a lay person and a representative from a corporate body (currently from John Lewis).


The committee tries to speed the system by use of a triage system (do you really need ethics approval?), a pro-forma, a pre-review scan and advice if required, and by having a 10-day maximum turnaround.


The pro-forma helps you to clarify your research proposal due to its structure: title of project, schedule, abstract, source(s) of funding and justification for research, investigators, published ethical guidelines to be followed, location(s) of data collection, participants, recruitment procedures, consent (give copies of consent forms and information sheets), methodology, data protection recompense to participants, deception, risks, debriefing, declaration and final report.

Anesa Hosein
13:05 on 24 March 2010

Embedded Content


Contribute to the discussion

Please log in to post a comment. Register here if you haven't signed up yet.