Last update: October 2013
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Research Ethics in the Department of Computer Science

The University of Bath has ethical oversight of all the activities that take place within the institution through the University Ethics Committee.

The University has an agreed Institutional Code of Ethics, which requires each University Department to have a local code of ethics adapted to its own academic discipline. Ethical considerations cover both teaching and research. However, there are special provisions for research ethics. Ethical implications should be considered in the conduct of any research activity, including research-based project work that is part of a teaching exercise.

This page provides specific advice for Computer Science:


Ethical review of proposals for funded research

The University requires all applications for funded research to be subject to ethical review.

The procedure:

If you want to apply for funding to support your research, you must do the following:
  1. consider whether your research could have any negative consequences for any people or animals you plan to involve and then record 'not applicable' or what the issues are on the official University of Bath ethics form called EIRA1
  2. ask a 'second reader' to go through your proposal to see if they agree with yoru assessment and the ask them to sign the EIRA1 form if they do in fact agree.
  3. iff you are uncertain about how to respond to any of the items on EIRA1, discuss them with the Departmental Research Ethics Officer (currently Professor Stephen Payne)
  4. attach the original EIRA1 to your full proposal for the Head of Department to sign.
  5. copy the EIRA1 form and attach it to a summary of your proposal, then give it to the Departmental Research Ethics Officer

FAQ for proposals of funded research:

Where can I get the official form?

You must fill in a University of Bath form called the EIRA1. It stands for Ethical Implications of Research Activity. You can download the EIRA1 form from the main University Research Ethics page or from the link below:
  • EIRA1 as a pdf file
  • The EIRA1 form is updated periodically. At the time of writing (September 2011), the current version is Issue 3, dated 11th of May 2010 (check the date on the form, bottom left-hand corner of each page).

    Why am I asked to say if the researchers are competent and the enquiry approach is sound?

    It is particularly important to ensure that recruitment criteria are clear and that the research methods are reasonable if physical risks are likely to be incurred by participants or researchers on the proposed project. These questions are required for projects of this nature and have been adopted by the University as standard questions for all proposals.

    A fair response to the competence question is that the research will be conducted by the proposer and/or that you have prepared a job description stating minimum competence of a research officer (if you are bidding to fund one).

    A fair response to the soundness question is that the approach is consistent with established paradigms in the field, or else that the approach is argued for in the proposal and will be subject to peer-review as part of the bidding process.

    Who is the 'second reader'?

    The 'second reader' is an independent member of the Department who will read and discuss your proposal with you and agree that you have correctly completed the form. The second reader must not being a co-investigator on the proposal.

    Why must I copy the EIRA1 with a summary of my research proposal?

    The Department must be able to account for its ethical review process. This is done through its Research Ethics Officer, who completes a report each year summarising what was done. Unless copies of these forms are retained with a brief description of the work you have proposed, it would be impossible to do this.

    Student and staff project work

    Student and staff projects sometimes involve other people as research subjects or participants. For example, projects may include discussions with people who work in a relevant company, interviews with individuals, or laboratory usability tests. If you plan to involve other people in your research project, it is important that they are treated fairly. This means that they must be able to understand what you are asking them to do, that they are permitted to do it, and to know why you are asking them to do it. To help you think this through, you must respond to a set of thirteen questions. You must write answers to each question and discuss them with your supervisor (if you are a student) or with a colleague (if you are a member of staff). The review process for our Departmental Local Code of Ethics is as follows:
    1. answer the thirteen questions on the Computer Science Local Code of Ethics checklist.
    2. discuss your answers with another member of staff (or if you are a student, with your supervisor), and amend your plan as appropriate.
    3. Include your completed 13-point Ethics Checklist as an appendix to your report/dissertation/thesis (if you are a student).
    If your project does not involve the participation of any fellow students or other members of the public, it is unlikely that any particular research ethics will arise. However, it is likely that you will want to address concerns that owe to your consideration of professional ethics. Therefore it is sensible for you to review the BCS Code of Conduct and Good Practice and to account for any issues that arise in your report.

    How do I answer the questions on the 13-point Checklist?

    The easiest way to do this is to edit the checklist directly, replacing the text beneath each question with a statement of how you address the issue in your project.

    For example, the final item on the checklist is:

    13.    Will the data collected from participants be stored in an anonymous form?
              All participant data (hard copy and soft copy) should be stored securely, and
              in anonymous form.                                      
    

    You could answer this by stating: that

    	The study will record error data in aggregate form only (totals). 
    	No personally identifiable information will be collected.
    

    Another possible answer might be:

    	Participants will be video recorded. Each video recording will be kept with a 
    	numerical identifier for each participant. Video will be burned to a DVD and 
    	kept in a secure location. 
    
    A third possible answer could be:
    	Members of the public are to be observed interacting with an automated ticket machine
    	in a public location. Descriptive notes will be made and photographs will be taken. 
    	Only photographs that do not identify individuals will be retained. 
    	If members of the public request that records of their activities are not kept, 
    	they will be destroyed immediately. 
    

    In each case, you should think about item on the 13-point checklist as an aid for you to think clearly about exactly what you will be doing and exactly what you are asking your study participants to do.


    Department of Computer Science Local Code of Ethics

    In Computer Science, our local code of ethics is expressed as a 13-point checklist. Our checklist should be used to help researchers carry out their investigations in a way that safeguards the interests of all concerned but in particular any people that you involve in your research.

    The over-riding ethical concerns are to make sure that people who are involved as participants in your research are properly informed about what you are trying to achieve and what they are being asked to do.


    You can download a pdf of the checklist or an rtf version of the checklist to help you work through the issues that follow on from these over-riding concerns.


    You can download presentation slides on ethics in Computer Science a pdf or an an Apple Keynote file or an an MS PowerPoint file


    Acknowledgements

    I am greatly indebted to Dr Helen Purchase of the Department of Computer Science at Glasgow University for permission to adapt the DCS Glasgow ethics procedure that she developed.
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