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ETHICAL ASPECTS OF ARCHIVAL RESEARCH

See IRB exemption guidelines to determine whether to use the IRB Exemption form or the Expedited/Full Review form. Below you’ll find the types of issues to address in either form to do observational research.

In writing up your application material, consider the following:

Will your study be using pre-existing Public Records (e.g., court or police records)?

  • If yes, describe in your application what type of records will be gathered, where the files are kept, and who will gather the information.
Will your study be utilizing pre-existing Private Records (e.g., medical, employment, insurance, school records)?
  • If yes, describe what type of records will be gathered, where the files are kept, and who will gather the information.
Helpful tips to protect confidentiality are available. See Confidentiality of Collected Data for general guidelines. Also, consider the following regarding archival records and confidentiality.
  • Is this information in which there is an expectancy of privacy? If so, be sure to describe how you have obtained permission to use this data. If you are unsure as to whether there is an expectancy, feel free to ask the IRB Chair prior to submitting your application.
  • How do you plan on recording the information so subjects can not be identified directly or indirectly through identifiers? Data coding is often an important safeguard.
Another element to consider is whether the archival data deals with sensitive areas, such as illegal conduct, drug use, or sexual behavior. If subjects could be at risk of criminal or civil liability, damage to employability, financial damage, or undue embarrassment if his/her responses became known, planning appropriate safeguards will be important. Data coding and locked storage are two such precautions.