Permission and approval

Ethics and governance

Research ethics and research governance are sometimes assumed to be one and the same, but it is important to recognise the differences between them. 

When we speak of research ethics, we refer to the ethics considerations and dilemmas that apply throughout the research process, from having an idea through the the dissemination and reporting of research findings - as discussed throughout this guidebook.

Research governance is essentially about ensuring high standards in research - including (but not only) standards of research ethics.  These standards are ensured through regulation and assurance - in other words, through checks such as ethics and governance review.

Whilst different research governance models use their own definitions, the Department of Health’s Research Governance Framework (RGF) provides a useful example.  Its stated aims are to encourage and sustain a research culture that promotes excellence in research conduct, and to reduce unacceptable variations in practice (Department of Health 2004). The objectives of the RGF are achieved through a series of principles, requirements and key standards in five domains (ethics, science, information, health and safety, and finance), with mechanisms to deliver them, including monitoring and assessment arrangements.

In practice, requirements for research governance mean that your research is likely to be subject to one or more checks, to ensure it meets required standards, before you can go ahead and carry out the work.  Ethics review is one such check, but there may be other requirements, depending on the nature of your research.  See our section on Permission and Approval: Key Questions for guidance on the approval that you need to get.