Code of good practice

Code of good practice for research, evaluation, monitoring and review
studies in social, housing and health studies

Research work in the general sense outlined above requires the skills of a Social Researcher. This paper sets out a Code of Good Practice for studies of this kind.

The Researcher is a professional in respect of the whole research study and should be responsible for ascertaining at every stage of the project that good practice is undertaken. This incorporates the responsibility for the choice of a suitable methodology which is in line with ethical considerations and technical developments.

The Researcher is responsible for the various stages of a study being carried out properly, even if different stages are not to be

undertaken personally by the Researcher. The owners of the data collected by a research study is an important issue, and needs to be agreed between the relevant parties and clearly recorded.

A Code of Practice is set out below for the main stages of Research, evaluation, Monitoring and Review Work. These are:

  1. Preparation
  2. Implementation
  3. Presentation of Results
  4. Dissemination

The Code of Practice is recommended by SSRG for studies carried out directly by Local Authorities and research by academic institutions or independent agencies, whether funded by central government or sponsored by service-providing agencies. The Code is submitted for endorsement by relevant professional and local authority associations.

1. Preparation

1.1 A clear and brief statement should be made of the aims of the research study to be undertaken. This needs to be discussed carefully with the commissioning agent/agency, written down and circulated to all participants or relevant personnel and agencies. The constraints of scope, timescale and size of survey which are placed on the whole research study and on the staff employed in it should be identified and recorded as part of the basic description of the study.

1.2 A clear agreement should be reached on the framework for the research study. This should include details of the time allowed and the resources allocated for the work. The expectations of the commissioning agent/agencies should be clearly stated, and the responsibility for the overall study and particular actions within it should be clearly ascribed.

1.3 The design of the study and the specific research methods should be thoroughly discussed and approved by all parties to the research. The researcher should have the primary role in advising on the choice of methodology. There is always a need for negotiation, and there may be conflicts of interest between what would be desirable and what is possible in resource or practical terms. The requirements of the commissioning agent/agency and those being researched may also create some conflict. The researcher may be flexible but should not agree to any method which will compromise the criteria of good research. Attention is needed both to the ethical standards of conduct of the research, and to the reliability and validity of results. Attention must also be drawn to any limitations of method, and reservations by the research worker should be made explicit.

1.4 The objective, design and framework of the study must meet ethical standards. The researcher should be sure that informed consent is properly obtained from research subjects. In normal circumstances (see 1.5 below) no gathering of information should be undertaken directly or indirectly unless the research subjects have indicated their willingness to participate in the project. Formal consent should be obtained unless there are specific circumstances which make this impossible. Invasive questioning must not be undertaken.

1.5 The only exception to this practice should be where it is clearly not possible for the research subject(s) to understand and give consent to research work. In these circumstances the researcher must be satisfied that the research is in the interests of the subject and is of sufficient worth to proceed without direct consent; and must also take all reasonable steps to identify and obtain consent from the legal guardian or responsible authority for the interests of the research subject(s). In many and perhaps most research studies, the subject(s) awareness of the study can affect their behaviour and the study results. Methodology should recognise and allow for such effects, and may take steps such as ensuring sufficient length of observation or study to minimise them. This consideration should not lead to the conduct of social research without the knowledge of research subjects.

1.6 As a general rule, research subjects should not be identified either in the analysis or in the presentation of results. Effective

protection against the inadvertent identification of the subject must be taken – for example by aggregating data, and by careful attribution of quotations or information in research results.

1.7 In the design and conduct of research interviews or communications, steps should be taken to avoid raising expectations for service which cannot be met. It should be made clear to research subjects that questions about their needs do not imply that resources will be available to meet these. Researchers should however acknowledge an obligation to pass on requests for help or information on any situations which give rise to serious concern, to the appropriate agency.

1.8 In line with the law that applies to computerised personal data, access to such data should not be granted to other agencies unless the research subjects give their permission. Data should also not be put to any use which conflicts with the original purpose for which they are being gathered, and for which the research subjects have given their consent.

1.9 It should be made clear to research subjects that refusal to participate in a research study, or to answer any specific questions, will not result in any less favourable treatment and that the receipt of services is not conditional on their co-operation with the research exercise.

1.10 Once the project brief is agreed, alterations in design or in the way the study is carried out should only be considered in an emergency or other unavoidable change of circumstances. Any alteration which has to be made must be carefully considered and agreed, and then clearly recorded and communicated to those taking part in the research.

1.11 An outline of the likely format and content of results produced from the research, and the likely scale of dissemination or publication, should be incorporated in the basic statement of the research study. This should be available to all participants including research subjects.

1.12 The design of the study should not discriminate against research workers or subjects on the basis of sex, ethnic origin or disability. Participation in the study in either capacity should be on the basis of equal opportunity. Research objectives in relation to any of these factors should be clearly stated and agreed with commissioning agencies, researchers and subjects.

2. Implementation

2.1 The researcher is responsible for good communications. S/he should ensure that everyone who is involved in or affected by the research work is fully informed about it’s design, objectives and progress. This will include the commissioning agent/agency, managers, service-providing staff, and service users. Other agencies or relevant services not involved in the research, should be aware of it. For example, the Police may need to know

of survey activity. All the staff who will be involved in assisting with the implementation of the research should fully understand how the research is being conducted and what is expected of their own role. It is the researchers responsibility to ensure that members of staff receive appropriate instruction in research tasks, and that action plans required by the research are clearly understood. This may incorporate help and guidance to line managers involved in carrying out action relevant to the research. The researcher should ensure that data are collected in a consistent and standardised form. This may involve specific training sessions for those collecting data.

2.2 Data collection needs to be well planned and efficiently operated. Planning should include the preparation of effective recording documents in terms of collecting, recording and analysis of data. Research documents need to be accurate and accessible to personnel other than the original researcher. Documents should be checked routinely for completion, errors noted and stored efficiently before data is entered on computer or analysed manually. A rigorous approach should be taken on all research documents including field notes or other informal recording.

2.3 It is essential that respondents giving sensitive information have confidence that it will be treated properly. Effective measures to preserve the confidentiality must be set out and observed, and the researcher is responsible to ensure that information is not passed to third parties without the consent of research subjects. The requirements of the Data Protection Act should be strictly observed for computerised records. It is good practice to observe similar constraints with manual research records, again including informal recording.

2.4 Analysis needs to be planned as an integral part of the research from the outset. Data which cannot be analysed are useless. The way the data is analysed is a major consideration in the method of collection, and this must be clearly explained and recorded. It is vital that the staff responsible for collecting data are aware of the methods of analysis and the way in which responses are to be interpreted. Analysis should be undertaken as soon as practicable to ensure that data does not become unnecessarily dated.

3. Presentation of Results

3.1 It is the researcher’s responsibility to ensure that the way the results are presented conveys an accurate picture of the work undertaken and the data collected. The appropriate statistical measures should be applied to data, including tests for significance, so that the personal interpretation of the researcher or other interested parties does not have undue influence on research findings.

3.2 It is the researcher’s responsibility to ensure objective judgement is applied in the interpretation of both statistical and perceptual data gathered by the research exercise. Any possible sampling bias or areas of uncertainty should be acknowledged.

3.3 It is the researcher’s responsibility to ensure good standards of presentation. This applies to brevity and clarity, the use of plain language, good layout and visual presentation, and the effective marshalling of statistical data.

3.4 Research reports should clearly distinguish between their findings in terms of data and records of comments or information gathered by the research, and the comments and observations on the findings by the researcher should ensure that practical recommendations are included with a clear basis in the data collected. The researcher should consider including suggestions on the implementation of the findings, and for continued monitoring which can evaluate the progress of such actions.

4. Dissemination

4.1 The researcher has a high degree of responsibility for the use made of the data which has been collected by research effort. The efforts of respondents, research workers and other participants will be wasted if the results are not communicated. An important part of the preliminary work of commissioning and preparing the research is to obtain agreement to full dissemination of the research results.

4.2 The researcher should ensure that clear agreement is obtained to the ethical standards of the research in its use and dissemination as well as conduct of the study itself. In particular, individual or collective (e.g. service unit areas) confidentiality should continue to be respected; information and conclusions should be shared with research subjects; and results should not be used to discriminate on the grounds of: sex, ethnic origin or disability. Where positive discrimination or steps to ensure equal opportunity are part of the purpose of a study, these objectives should be openly stated and policy proposals should be discussed with the relevant group.

4.3 In addition to good presentation of main reports, the researcher should prepare short summaries and should consider alternative methods of presentation of the results.

4.4 The researcher should also consider continuing attention to the implementation of the recommendations of research, and the requirements for evaluation of actions recommended by the initial study.

4.5 Information should be accessible and, therefore, be provided in an understandable form, so that all involved in the research can be communicated with. Summaries designed for feedback, and presentations other than written reports, should be used in addition to access the main reports or publications. These should be available in a number of appropriate languages. The choice of video/audio tapes or sign language may also be advisable to ensure that people with sensory impairments obtain feedback.

November 1990

Reprinted: December 1993

Revised: April 1997