Research Methods: Considering Ethics in your research

Eira Patterson | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Anonymity and confidentiality

Under the UK Data Protection Act (1998) legal requirements exist which require that the identities and personal information of participants in a research project are protected, which has implications for how information is collected, stored and communicated. Key terms associated with the ethics of research are anonymity and confidentiality. The key difference between anonymity and confidentiality is that anonymity involves protecting the identity of a research participant, whereas confidentiality ensures the personal information of participants is protected. To maintain confidentiality of data it is important to anonymise individuals at the earliest possible stage in data processing, for example label data files with pseudonyms and store the codes that link the data to the real names of individuals securely and away from the actual data. It is necessary to be aware that your understanding as the researcher of confidentiality and what this will mean in practice may differ from participants’ understanding and research in this area has highlighted this as an issue (Corden and Sainsbury, 2005).

Where possible it is good practice to allow participants to see how you intend to use the data collected in relation to their contributions. When planning your research, consider whether it is possible for an opportunity for ‘checking back’ where participants can review the data and gain insights into how you intend to use it. This is difficult where a large amount of data has been collected or where participants cannot be easily contacted subsequent to data collection. An alternative approach is:

  • to check with participants following an interview if there is anything that was discussed that they would not be happy for you to include in the research data;
  • to include as much detail as possible about what you intend to do with the research data in the information given to participants prior to them agreeing to be involved in the research.

Anonymity is not an essential requirment and gaining permission to publish data that is attributed directly to participants is possible, as long as permission for ''the right to share' is gained (Data Protection Act). Many children would benefit greatly from having their views etc. attributed to them in published work, however caution should be excercised as it is ESSENTIAL that no negative connotations or interpretataion of the data could be possible that would reflect negatively on participants. Therefore this appraoch should only be used where the focus of the research will reflect positively on participants.