Conducting your research

Destroying data

What happened?

A study involved video observation of group dynamics during student discussions over the course of tutorials in one academic year.  All students who participated in the discussions had signed consent forms, agreeing to be videoed.  Subsequently, one student dropped out of the course and decided that he also wanted to withdraw from the study. He asked for his data to be destroyed.  The researcher was very reluctant to do this, as destroying the video recordings would mean that she lost data on all the other students who had been involved in those discussions.

What did the researcher do?

The student was entitled to ask for destruction of his data when he withdrew from the study.  The researcher explained why she wanted to keep the recordings, and suggested that she analyse them only in terms of interactions that did not involve the student concerned – so she could still use partial data from these sessions.  The student did not agree and threatened to make a formal complaint to the University ethics committee, and so the researcher destroyed the data as requested.