Applying for ethics approval

Light touch review

The ESRC Framework for Research Ethics states that, in the first instance, it is the responsibility of the researcher to judge whether the project should be subject to a light touch or full review.  However, it is the  research ethics committee that will determine what kind of review the project should have - as a researcher, all you can do is request a light touch review if you think that is justified.

The FRE lists 16 examples of research (below) that would normally require full review, because it will entail more than minimal risk.  As can be seen from this comprehensive list, it is likely that much research activity will require full ethics review - and methods such as secondary analysis are not necessarily exempt from full review.

If you think your research might be eligible for light touch review, you should:

  • check that the research ethics committee to which you are submitting your application has an option for light touch review, and what information they require; and
  • prepare a careful statement to explain why you think your project is eligible for light touch review - it may help to make reference to the FRE criteria, below. 

ESRC FRE: Research that would normally require full review

(1) Research involving potentially vulnerable groups, such as children and young people, those with a learning disability or cognitive impairment, or individuals in a dependent or unequal relationship.  An exception, according to the FRE, is where the research is following well-established protocols for commonly occuring situations (e.g. research with healthy children in schools).

(2) Research involving those who lack capacity, under the terms of the Mental Capacity Act.  As noted in the FRE, it is a legal requirement for this research to be approved by an approved ethics committee (an NHS REC or the Social Care Research Ethics Committee).

(3) Research involving sensitive topics.  The examples given include sexual behaviour, political behaviour, ethnicity and, potentially, elite interviews.

(4) Research involving deceased persons, body parts, or other human elements.  See our section on the Human Tissue Act.

(5)  Research using administrative data or secure data.  The FRE notes that light touch review may be possible if researchers/research centres can confirm that they have the necessary approval to access the data.  However, full review may be necessary if there is data linkage or it may otherwise be possible to identify participants.

(6) Research involving groups where the permission of a gatekeeper is required. Examples given include research where the gatekeeper is an adult professional (e.g., research with children or the elderly), or research in communities (UK or abroad) where permission from another adult is necessary (e.g. the participant’s husband).

(7) Research involving deception or conducted without participants full and informed consent.

(8) Research involving access to records of personal or sensitive information concerning identifiable individuals.

(9) Research which might induce stress, anxiety or humiliation, or cause more than minimal pain.

(10) Research involving intrusive interventions or data collection methods.  Examples given include hypnosis and physical exercise.

(11) Research where the safety of the researcher may be in question.

(12) Research involving members of the public in a research capacity - e.g. participatory approaches.

(13) Research outside the UK, where there may be issues of local practice or political sensitivities.

(14) Internet research, especially where visual images are used or sensitive issues discussed.

(15) Research involving visual or vocal methods where identifiability may be a concern.

(16) Research which may involve sharing of confidential information beyond the initial consent given - for example, because of concerns about an individual’s safety or well-being.