Permission and approval

Permission and approval: Key questions

In general, you need to get your research ‘approved’ by an ethics committee, which could include one (or exceptionally more) of the following:

  • an ethics committee in your institution;
  • an ethics committee in a partner institution;
  • a Ministry of Defence Ethics Committee, if you want to recruit participants in the armed forces;
  • the Work and Pensions Longitudinal Study ethics committee , for research involving this specific dataset;
  • a National Research Ethics Service (NRES) NHS Medical Research Ethics Committee (MREC), if you want to recruit NHS staff or patients or their relatives, or if you want to recruit adults who lack capacity under the terms of the Mental Capacity Act; or
  • the National Research Ethics Service (NRES) Social Care Research Ethics Committee (SCREC) if you want to recruit adults who lack capacity under the terms of the Mental Capacity Act.  The SCREC is also available to review any research that involves adult social care service users, their carers or relatives, and staff providing those services.

The questions of which ethics committee you need to go and which permissions you will need depend on:

A. Your funder’s requirements

Some funders set specific requirements for ethics review in their funding guidelines. For example:

  • ESRC requires that research is reviewed by an ethics committee that meets certain requirements in terms of its independence and constitution (see the ESRC Framework for Research Ethics for more details).
  • Research that is funded as part of the EU framework programmes has to go through an ethics review as part of the application process.
  • Research funded by central government departments may also have specific requirements.

You should check the requirements of each particular funder.  See our links to the websites of major social science funders, or our section on funders’ requirements as a starting point for checking what you need to do.

B. Your institutional requirements

Aside from funder requirements, many institutions now also require that research they host is subject to independent ethics review. Most universities, and some independent research organisations, developed ethics committees as a response to the introduction of the ESRC Research Ethics Framework (if they did not already have them) and as a result have systems for ethics review that apply, not just to ESRC-funded studies, but to all (or most) of the research their staff and students carry out. That said, the systems and requirements differ depending on the institution, and so you should check (with your research office, line manager, or supervisor) what specific requirements apply to your institution.

The important point is that your institution may require ethics review even if your funder does not. And, whether or not your institution requires ethics review, you may still need to get independent ethics approval from a committee that is external to your institution, depending on the data and/or participants that you plan to study.

C. The participants or data involved in your study (see below)

Requirements for independent ethics review that is external to your institution procedure usually applies only to particular groups of participants or categories of data. These requirements tend to come from central government departments – as the responsible bodies for the participants or data concerned. The rationale for these requirements is often that the responsible body has judged that there are potential ethics (or other) risks involved in doing the work, which could include the following:

  • participants who are deemed to be potentially – or particularly – vulnerable (e.g. in relation to their capacity to understand the research, and thus give fully informed consent);
  • participants whose freely given consent may be compromised because of their professional role, and who may be over-burdened in that role if required to participate in that research; or
  • a need to ensure safeguards on data access and data use, according to the terms under which data were collected.

To determine what kind of permission and approval your research might need to have, click on the relevant link below.

For more information, see: