There are two ways of gathering the data you need in order to conduct your research: obtaining copies of existing data and collecting new data.
It is always a good idea when starting out on a project to check whether any existing data are relevant to your research questions; see our guide to discovering research data.
If you find third party data you would like to use, check that you are happy with the licence terms under which they are made available. Ensure that you duly acknowledge the originators of the data, and consider whether it will be necessary to archive the data you have used. For more information, see our guides to using third party research data and citing research data.
If collecting new data, you should consider from the outset how you will want to use them and what will happen to them after the project. The agreements you have with study participants, project partners and collaborators will constrain what you are able to do, so make sure you obtain the consent and permissions you need right from the start.
Obtaining informed consent
Under the terms of the Data Protection Act 1998, individuals have rights over the data that relate to them, in particular what they are used for, with whom they are shared, and for how long they are retained. It is vital, therefore, that before working with human participants in a study, you obtain explicit, written, informed consent from them for what you intend to do with the data.
Informed consent is needed even if the study participant is representing an organisation rather than themselves. While the personal element of the data may be minimal, they should still be given an opportunity to protect commercially sensitive or compromising information that may have entered into the data.
Typically you should ask for consent for the following actions:
- any use of the data that might impinge on the participant's intellectual property, eg quoting them verbatim;
- retention of the data in an archive;
- sharing the data, along with any restrictions or conditions of access you will impose;
- use of the data in future research.
While not strictly necessary for legal compliance, it is also best practice to ask for consent to retain and share openly an anonymised version of the dataset, with an indication of how the data will be anonymised. Indeed, some external data archives will not accept anonymised data unless informed consent for data retention and publication was obtained.
For more information on obtaining consent, see the guidance provided by the UK Data Service.
For University of Westminster specific support see Research ethics which includes a link to the University’s Ethics Code of Practice and useful resources and a tool-kit for applications (intranet link – login to access).
When more than one organisation collaborates on a project, the shared understanding of how the project will be conducted is set down in a collaboration agreement. If you are an investigator on the project, you should ensure that the collaboration agreement addresses the basis on which research data will be stored, accessed, retained and published. The following are typical of the issues you should address:
- Intellectual property
- Who holds the rights to data collected by the project?
- If the data will have multiple rights holders, how will those rights be administered during and after the project?
- Will published data be released under a common licence (which one?), or will licensing be decided case-by-case (and by whom)?
- On what terms will data owned by one partner be shared with other partners?
- Information classification
- What classes of data will be considered commercially sensitive or otherwise confidential?
- Under what terms might third parties be granted access to those data? Could the archived data be shared with other researchers subject to a non-disclosure agreement? Would access be restricted on the basis of purpose; for example, granting access only for the purposes of peer review or validation?
Every effort should be made to ensure that publicly funded research involving third parties is planned and executed in such a way that published findings can be scrutinised and, if necessary, validated by others. If you feel that broaching this subject with your collaborators would jeopardise your research, contact [email protected] for advice.
For more information about setting up collaboration agreements and other research-related agreements and contracts, please get in touch with the Contracts and Commercialisation Manager ([email protected]).