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Frequently asked questions

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It is possible to conduct high quality research to stringent ethics standards using online (e.g. online surveys) or other remote (eg telephone interviews) methods. Refer to our ‘Conducting online research’ information pack for further guidance.

Please explore the following useful resources about Internet-mediated research and on-line surveys:

If you are planning to conduct an online survey, the OU Survey Office website (internal link only)  provides information and guidance about the different online survey systems you could use.

OU staff and postgraduate research students researching any vulnerable groups will need to obtain a DBS check. The cost of the DBS check is charged to individual departments.

Please contact the Operational Enablement team for help in initiating a DBS check.

Overseas research where a DBS clearance is required by OU policy

If you are carrying out research overseas with vulnerable groups, including children, you will need to obtain a DBS check. In addition, you should familiarise yourself with, and follow any local laws, customs and any ethics codes or standards, including complying with a local DBS equivalent, where available.

OU Safeguarding policy

OU staff who are carrying out research with children or vulnerable adults should be aware of the OU Safeguarding Policy (internal link only).

Research participants can be offered a small payment as compensation for the time commitment involved in taking part in a research study, although it should not be considered a benefit or inducement. For further guidance on reimbursing volunteers, please refer to the following:

The following guidance should be followed in any situation when you will be alone with a research participant:

  • Design the research to minimise lone working by working in small teams if possible.
  • Have a plan of activities, share that plan with a key contact (co-workers, members of the research team, partners etc.) and have a clear escalation route should you not be heard from within a certain time frame.
  • Try and conduct the research in public spaces. Although the risk of something untoward happening may be the same, there will be people to help if anything does happen.
  • Be contactable - carry a fully charged mobile.
  • Be prepared and be mindful. Look out for potential risks, continuously assess them, and have a plan to deal with them or extricate yourself from any potential danger.
  • Ensure you have particular plans for secure management of data when carrying out fieldwork as risks to data are higher in these circumstances.

You should also read and follow the OU’s guidance on Lone Working (internal link only).

If you are carrying out fieldwork in the UK or overseas, you should be aware of the OU Fieldwork Guidance (internal link only) and International Travel guidance (internal link only).

Any Human Tissue Act (HTA) enquiries should be addressed to Dr Duncan Banks, who will provide you with advice about the process that you need to follow.

Human tissue contains DNA and under the HTA it is ‘unlawful to have human tissue with the intention of its DNA being analysed, without the consent of the person from whom the tissue came’.

Further information about the Human Tissue Act can be found on the Human Tissue Authority website.

The following advice is available from the Student Research Project Panel (SRPP) on their website. This covers decision-making about which research tools to use for online surveys. Their advice is divided into a comparison of the research tools available at: Bespoke Surveys (internal link only) and wider Survey Guidance (internal link only). For example, there is advice on the latter page to help researchers understand the implications of using ‘unique individual links: personal to the participant’ as opposed to Open Links: a single link open to anyone it is shared with.

Retaining research-related documents and data

Researchers at the OU are expected to keep research data for a minimum of 10 years from the completion of the project. As a general principle, researchers should also retain all key research-related documents for this period, unless longer if stipulated by your research funder. Related documents will include ethics approvals, original consent forms, funding applications, interview schedules, etc. These documents are important to keep on record because they may potentially be required at a much later date in order to evidence that the research was conducted with integrity and in an ethical manner. All personal and sensitive data needs to be lodged on the information asset register through the Faculty Information Governance Liaison Officer (IGLO) by the researcher at the start of the project, covering the retention of documentation. This would include original consent forms. At the end of the research project the data and research-related documentation should be handed over to the Faculty. If a researcher leaves before the end of the research project, plans for retention (and access if necessary) should be agreed with Faculty.


Depending on the characteristics of the research project, a shorter or longer retention period may be appropriate. For example, retention periods may be longer for medical research, research with children, or higher risk projects. Researchers should check the specific retention policies of any funding body who has supported the research and comply with these. At the end of the retention period, records should be reviewed for further value and kept for longer is deemed necessary.

Destruction of consent forms

Consent forms should be kept for as long as the research data are retained (by the researcher or an archive). The hard copy consent forms do not need to be kept for any particular length of time. Therefore, we recommend that these should be digitised and stored securely (encrypted), as soon as practical, permitting the originals to then be destroyed securely by means of shredding.


If researchers are asked to provide copies of consent forms to editors (e.g., before or after publication) these should be offered initially as blank copies (not as personally identifiable). If publishers require full consent details to be shared, approach HREC and the data protection team for advice.

A proper process around storate of consent forms needs to be set up. Digitised consent forms should be stored securely on an OU server until the research project end date, after which they should be handed over to the Faculty for retention. Consent forms or any other personal data should only be shared/archived on platforms agreed in the original informed consent by participants.

The UK GDPR and Data Protection Act (2018) principle of storage limitation states that personal data can be kept indefinitely, if you are processing it for one of the research related purposes, as long as you have appropriate safeguards in place. Further information on GDPR and research provisions can be found in the following useful sources:

Depending on your status and context, you are likely to rely on either legitimate interests or public task for processing research (and research-related) data.

Faculty responsibility

It is the responsibility of the relevant Faculty to ensure proper retention of all research records, which includes personal data storage areas (eg. consent forms stored on OneDrive/SharePoint), the information asset register and other data repositories (eg. Open Research Data Onlin (ORDO), Open Research Online (ORO), external repositories). Whilst it is the researcher's responsibility to ensure the data and research-related documents are stored appropriately, these need to be handed over to the Faculty at the end of the research project. Should a researcher leave the University before the end of a research project, clarification about access to and plans for data and documentation retention should be agreed with Faculty for the research project. Guidance on what to do with data archived on ORDO if you leave the University is available on the Library Research Support website.

Microsoft TEAMS is one of the software tools which is considered OU compliant.

Collecting audio/video recordings

Please note that any audio/video recordings generated are considered personal data and so should be included in your Data Protection Impact Assessment, approved by the Data Protection Team and then registered on the Information Asset Register through your local Faculty Information Governance Liaison Officer.

The following considerations would be useful to consider when moving from the audio/video recordings to the transcription:

  1. Microsoft TEAMS interviews are easy to record but produce a large data file which is both audio and video. It is not easy to disaggregate the audio file only. Researchers need to make a decision made as to whether to use webcams and generate a video or ask participants to turn cameras off to generate an audio-only record. Participants should be made aware of what type of data will be generated and how related to camera use or not.
  2. Participants should be made aware that a transcript will be generated and that this will be used as the transcript as the de facto record of an interview.
  3. Please note that the recording exists for 30 days before being automatically deleted, unless this expiry date is extended.
  4. The file ‘sits’ on the TEAMS site and can be downloaded to a university folder ready for upload to a transcription service if this is to be used.
  5. The original 30-day window offers an opportunity to set as a deadline by which researchers commit produce and agree a transcript with an interviewee.
  6. If you want to make a back-up recording, ensure that this is Data Protection Act (2018)/GDPR-compliant.


If the Microsoft TEAMS automated transcription is to be used as the source of data, it needs checking for quality and amending by the researcher. Note the implications of this for researcher time. If the transcript is to be checked with the participants, they should be made aware of this in the original information before giving consent and time implications of this considered by both participants and researchers.

There are other possibilities for transcription. Site licences for other automated transcription software should be considered before use and software named in the DPIA submission. Alternatively, professional transcribers can be used and should be approved by the University, with a non-disclosure agreement in place. Whichever form of transcription is used, participants should be made aware of the method and who will be involved.