Guidelines for Researchers

Guidelines for Professional Practice and Community Contact in the Conduct of University Research or Related Activities. Appendix 1 of Ethical Conduct in Human Research and Related Activities Regulations, University of Waikato.

In the course of engaging in research activities as part of their work or study at the University, staff  and students may interact with members of the wider community in a variety of ways. In all such interactions, the staff member or student concerned is representing the University, and must therefore be mindful of the importance of professional conduct, with a view to upholding and enhancing the University’s, as well as their own, reputation.

The following guidelines have been developed by the University of Waikato’s Human Research Ethics Committee to articulate good practice for engaging in research involving human participants. In preparing ethics applications, researchers should demonstrate an awareness of the following principles and expectations of behaviour.

1. General Principles

2. Ethical considerations around privacy in research

3. Ethical considerations when working with children

4. Ethical considerations around the identification of health concerns through research

5. Ethical considerations around the disclosure of illegal behaviours through research

6. Ethical considerations in Social Media Research

1. General Principles

The guidelines reflect practices based on the principles of:

  • respect
  • cultural awareness
  • commitment to learning and sharing knowledge
Understanding the context

Familiarise yourself with the University’s policies and regulations about research. As well as the Human Research Ethics Regulations, the following documents all provide important information relevant research and ethical conduct:

  • Student Research Regulations
  • Staff Code of Conduct
  • Code of Ethics for Academic Staff
  • Social Media Policy
  • Intellectual Property Rights Policy
  • Child Protection Policy
  • Interests (Conflicts of Interest) Policy
  • Koha, Donations and Sponsorship Policy
  • Personal Information and Privacy Policy
Preparing for the engagement

Ethics approval is required in advance for any research involving people, so you must first seek approval of your research project (refer section 22 of the Ethical Conduct in Human Research and Related Activities Regulations).

Be clear about the purpose of your research, whether it is a regular part of your professional training or a one-off assignment as a student, or a professional/research activity as a staff member.

Discuss proposals with your supervisor, course co-ordinator, or other appropriate staff member before arranging meetings with members of organisations or the general public.

Organise well ahead of time: schedule appointments appropriately in advance (normally at least one week). Accept that you may have to accommodate your own preferences to fit the busy timetables of individuals and organisations.

Respond to phone calls, letters, text messages or emails related to the project as promptly as possible.

Learn as much as possible ahead of time about the person/ organisation/cultural group you will be contacting. Actively seek advice, through supervision and professional support, regarding both major and minor matters that may contribute to successful or unsuccessful outcomes.

Prepare for sessions thoroughly to ensure as far as possible that the time spent with those you consult will be used efficiently.

During the engagement 

Act professionally at all times: be polite, courteous, prompt and dependable.

Adopt appropriate standards of dress, behaviour and language that signal your commitment to the successful conduct of the meeting.

Arrive on time for appointments. If lateness or late cancellation is unavoidable, ring and apologise (preferably before you are due to arrive).

If negotiating entry into a setting without prior arrangement, seek permission appropriately from those with the right to grant it and express your gratitude to all those who facilitate the visit.

If activities are related to coursework requirements, adhere to agreed arrangements and do not change plans without the formal approval of a staff member with responsibility for the assignment.

Use appropriate language for introducing yourself, based on your own position and the position(s) of those with whom you are meeting. Normally introduce yourself by your own full name (first name and surname, and title if appropriate) and address others using their full name and titles as appropriate (e.g., Dr, Professor, Your Worship) until they instruct you otherwise.

Follow appropriate etiquette (e.g., do not sit until invited) and become familiar with cultural variations (e.g., regarding the exchange of business cards).

Do not take things for granted: attention (or lack of it) to even apparently trivial conventions or protocols can significantly influence the outcome of encounters.

Regardless of information sent in advance, restate or further explain your purpose, intention, what you want or expect from the meeting, how you wish to use any information obtained, and what you can do for the individual(s) or institution(s) participating (e.g., share reports, offer a presentation).

Ensure there is mutual agreement regarding the way any information discussed may be used and disseminated. Formalise this agreement in writing when there are conditions.

Ensure any financial reimbursement arrangements are professionally and ethically appropriate and that payments have been properly organised. Provide clear information about reimbursement arrangements.

Follow practices consistent with the University’s commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi. Be aware of Māori protocol, where appropriate, and behave accordingly. If you are in doubt, ask an appropriate person.

In all contexts, be aware of and respect the cultural practices of others.

Ongoing relationships

Always explicitly thank the contact person/placement supervisor/ organisation before and after the interaction. Be sincere in expressing your appreciation for their time and effort, even if the meeting failed to achieve everything you hoped for.

As appropriate, sustain healthy and collaborative working relationships with individuals and/or organisations.

Adhere to agreed arrangements for confidentiality or anonymity. Check any issues that were not explicitly clarified during discussions.

Do not take advantage of people’s willingness to divulge sensitive or proprietary or trivial information. You are in a position of trust: do not share information around, even informally.

Implement the principle of reciprocity in relationships. As far as possible follow through on anything you promised to undertake or provide.

More generally, try to ensure through your conduct that individuals and organisations will be likely to assist other University staff or students in similar ways in the future.

If matters do not proceed in a satisfactory manner for any reason, contact your supervisor/course coordinator/Departmental Chairperson or other appropriate senior University staff.

2. Ethical considerations around privacy in research

Confidentiality arrangements between researchers and their project participants must ordinarily be honoured by researchers. There are very limited circumstances when a researcher may need to breach a confidentiality arrangement.

Under New Zealand Law [Privacy Act 1993, Principle 11], a researcher is obliged to disclose personal information when there is an immediate threat to society at large, or to an individual:

Limits on disclosure of personal information (principle eleven):

An agency that holds personal information shall not disclose the information to a person or body or agency unless the agency believes, on reasonable grounds -

(f) that the disclosure of the information is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious threat (as defined in section 2(1)) to -

(i) public health or public safety; or

(ii) the life or health of the individual concerned or another individual (cont.)

In such cases, existing confidentiality arrangements  between a researcher and participant are superseded by New Zealand Law.

3. Ethical considerations when working with children

Research being carried out with children through a regulated service (e.g. Health, Education) must comply with the regulations of the service provider. Researchers are responsible for finding out about regulations, and taking steps to comply. If the researcher is planning to engage in repeated contact with children as participants, where contact is overnight, or at least once a week, or at least 4 days per month, a Safety Check may be required.

Children (under 14 years) and young people (14 to 17 years) are identified as vulnerable in research.

  • research involving children should only be considered where comparable research with adults would not be able to address the same question
  • research involving children should select older rather than younger children as participants wherever possible
  • consent for the child or young person under the age of 16 must be provided by a proxy who is the child’s parent or guardian
  • consent must be sought from the child or young person under the age of 16 themselves, wherever practical
  • a young person aged 16 to 17 years can consent as an adult to participate in research

When children are participants in Health Research, their data must be stored for a longer period of time than the standard University of Waikato data storage period of 5 years beyond completion/publication of a project.

  • research data pertaining to the child participants should be retained by the researcher for ten years after the child has attained the age of 16 (HRC Research Involving Children 8.a.i).
  • children have the right to withdraw consent to the continued use or retention of personally identifiable health research data once they attain the age of 16 (HRC Research Involving Children 8.a.ii).
Reference Documents:

Child Protection Policy (University of Waikato)

Research Involving Children (Health Research Council guidelines)

Vulnerable Children Act (2014)

4. Ethical considerations around the identification of health concerns through research

Health Research, whether physical or psychological, may result in the identification of serious concerns with the health of a participant. These concerns could indicate a need for referral to a health service. When a participant’s health is at immediate risk, researchers are obliged by New Zealand law to disclose the risk to an appropriate health professional (see section 8.2). This may mean breaching a confidentiality arrangement.

It is important for researchers to have an action plan in place to address health concerns that may arise through their particular research project.  Researchers should be able to identify signs indicating the need for additional support and/or referral. Depending on the level of concern, an action plan might include such actions as engaging with participant whanau, immediately seeking advice from project supervisors, contacting named project advisors for advice, or actively supporting the participant to engage with appropriate services.

In Sports Science research, there is a expectation that physical training interventions will bring performance benefits to participants. There may, however, be occasions when unanticipated adverse effects are identified. In such cases, individual participants may need to be supported to receive medical services (including first aid). When a researcher suspects that adverse effects are more than random within a population, the research activity must be abandoned immediately in order to address the adverse effects. Researchers should have a plan in place, including a decision making process, to cease a research activity in such circumstances.

When research involves sampling human tissues (e.g. bloods, saliva, urine), an appropriately qualified professional must be involved in taking the tissue samples. Requirements will vary depending on the nature of the tissue being sampled. Equally important is the provision of an appropriately qualified professional to read the samples and identify abnormalities. If abnormalities are identified, researchers must refer participants to appropriate medical services for further tests. It is important that researchers do not ‘diagnose’ participants, but rather highlight the need for a closer look at a participant’s health.

5. Ethical considerations around the disclosure of illegal behaviours through research

Certain research topics may result in participants disclosing illegal behaviours.

In planning research, researchers should anticipate specific illegal behaviours that might be disclosed through the research process and should be familiar with the possible consequences for participants, should illegal behaviours come to light (fines, imprisonment).

Researchers should inform participants that the research topic may stray into the area of illegal activities, and provide information about the risks associated with disclosing illegal behaviours related to the research topic.

Changes to law mean that some behaviours which were previously illegal are now legal, and that some behaviours which were previously legal are now illegal. By preference, researchers should focus their attention on time periods when the behaviours were not previously/are not currently illegal.

In case of voluntary disclosure of illegal behaviours, the researcher should offer participants the opportunity to review information in their individual research record.

The researcher should consider how information in their project is being recorded, including the judicious use of field notes.

In the case that participants disclose behaviours that pose an immediate threat to the general public, the participants themselves, or another individual, researchers are required by New Zealand Law to disclose the threat to an appropriate regulatory service (see section 2 above).

6. Ethical considerations in Social Media Research

Social Media Research may be defined as research that employs one or more social media platform to engage with participants in a variety of ways, including:

  • recruiting participants;
  • communicating with participants;
  • distributing a research instrument;
  • collecting data;
  • distributing research findings.

Social Media Research needs careful consideration with regard to participants’ and researchers’ protection, rights, and responsibilities.

The central issues for researchers to consider within the context of using Social Media include:

  • terms and conditions of Social Media platforms;
  • participant recruitment;
  • participant privacy, anonymity, confidentiality;
  • informed consent, verification of age;
  • data sharing and storage;
  • re-use of data and publications.

A Social Media Framework

Townsend and Wallace’s (2016) Social Media Framework (SMF) offers a guide to support researchers in developing their project, where Social Media is being used to recruit, participants, collect data, and communicate through the project. It is not a prescriptive “one size fits all” approach (Association of Internet Researchers, 2012). Researchers should consider the questions below and refer to the Social Media Framework, as well as other Social Media resources.

Legal and Regulatory Considerations [SMF 3.1]

  • Have you consulted the terms and conditions of this specific platform?
  • Have you consulted the relevant disciplinary, funding, legal or institutional guidelines?

Privacy and Risk Considerations [SMF3.2]

  • Can the social media user reasonably expect to be observed by strangers?
  • Are the research participants vulnerable? (i.e., children or vulnerable adults)
  • Is the subject matter sensitive?
  • Do you need to verify participants’ ages or other characteristics necessary for the research?
  • Do you need to verify parental/caregiver consent where are under 18 or under 16 years of age?

Re-use and Publication Considerations [SMF3.3]

  • Will the social media user be anonymised in published outputs?
  • Can you publish or share the dataset?
Reporting research on Social Media

Researchers may wish to release information about their research-in-progress on Social Media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

It is important for researchers to consult the University of Waikato’s Social Media Policy, and to ensure their Social Media behaviours are compliant.

The release of images and footage on social media platforms should only take place with the express permission of participants. Care should be given to the confidentiality arrangements made with participants, as social media coverage will almost always result in the disclosure of participant identities.

Live-streaming of data collection in progress is not appropriate.

University Regulations and Guidelines

Ethical Conduct in Human Research and Related Activities Regulations

Intellectual Property in Research

Handbook on Research and Outside Professional Activities (being updated)

Staff Code of Conduct

Student Research Regulations

Postgraduate Studies