What is observational research?
Observational studies are studies in which a population is observed, with no controlled manipulation of independent variables (in contrast with experimental studies).
For more guidance about observation research, see this page.
What do I need to consider?
The main considerations are:
- Do you need permission from anyone to carry out observation in your setting?
- Do you need to let anyone know you are doing the study?
- Do you need informed consent from participants?
- What if some people do not want to participate?
Do you need permission from anyone to carry out observation in your setting?
You may need to get permission from someone in charge of the setting (e.g. the manager, or other gatekeeper). If so, please make this clear in your ethics application. Permission should be documented.
Do you need to let anyone know you are doing the study?
Consider whether there are other relevant people or organisations who would want to know the study is being conducted. For example, if you are conducting a study directly outside a school, you should still let the school know (and potentially ask their permission).
Do you need informed consent from participants?
The simple answer is yes. The ethics committee will only consider covert or deceptive research under exceptional circumstances.
However, this does not necessarily mean that written consent is required. Get in touch with us to discuss the specifics of your case.
NB: Recording people people without their consent is (in anything other than the most exceptional circumstances) unethical.
What if some people do not want to participate?
If you are observing a setting (i.e., a workplace or classroom), some people may not want to take part. You must respect the wishes of those individuals. For example, you must exclude any observational data that includes those individuals, even if it also includes people who have agreed to take part. Also consider whether people might feel pressured to take part if the person in charge of the setting (for example their teacher or employer) has authorised your study. In group observation (as in group interviews) you need to establish ground rules for the group, and ensure consent from individuals and not just from gatekeepers or the group as a whole. (This text has been adapted from this page.)