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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 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 People Services for information on how to apply for 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 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.

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

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

As a general principle, researchers should retain all key research-related documents for as long as the research data are held – including any data held in their anonymised/archived form. 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. Researchers at the OU are generally advised to keep research data and documents until the completion of the project plus 10 years.

Where collaborative projects are involved, the responsibility for a secure process for storing consent forms generally lies with the Principal Investigator (PI). The HREC would advise OU researchers on this, where they are the PI. However, the actual detailed processes recommended will depend on various factors, such as who is collecting the data (for different strands of a project) and gaining consent from participants. Sometimes it may not be appropriate for those who have collected the consent (e.g., a partner, or PI) to share the actual forms, which would be stored locally and for which there is no valid purpose to justify moving/sharing the forms more widely. If working with a PI or partner on a project, it is worth gaining written confirmation of any local process, i.e. how consent is being collected, how it is being stored securely, who has access to it and then later confirmation that this has been completed as agreed. In practice this is based on trust between partners. HREC would be asking about this kind of process being in place for any collaborative research project.


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 original consent forms do not need to be kept for any particular length of time and should be digitised and stored securely (encrypted), permitting the originals to then be destroyed securely by means of shredding as soon as practical.


If researchers are asked to provide copies of consent forms to editors (e.g., before or after publication) these should be provided as blank copies only (not as personally identifiable).

Digitised consent forms should be stored securely on an OU server, checking that there is sufficient data retention scheduling inbuilt (ie. retention will not be timed out).

The GDPR 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: GDPR – How does this affect RDM.

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

In the case that a researcher leaves the University, it is the responsibility of the relevant Faculty to ensure proper retention of all research data and records.

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.