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Dissertation Projects Ethics Guidelines

Do I Need Ethical Approval?

Before you start your dissertation project, you must consider its ethical implications. Your project will need ethical approval if it involves any form of interaction with or data collected from humans or animals. This includes data from existing sources as well as data collected as part of your project. You will collect data from human subjects if you gather a requirements specification from a potential user or ask people to user test your software. If you are monitoring network traffic or doing A B testing with competing designs, or storing user details in a database, then you will need ethical approval.

What is the Process?

Before you start your project, you and your supervisor must consider whether or not ethical approval is required. There are two forms you should look at. The first is the ethics checklist. If you can answer "No" to every question on this form, you do not need ethical approval for your project. Look in particular at question D11, which says "Does the proposed research involve interviews with participants or the use of questionnaires?". If you are doing user testing (and you probably are) then you must answer "Yes" to this question.

If you are able to answer "No" to all the questions in the ethics checklist, then you should complete that form and submit it with your project proposal. If you answered "Yes" to any of the questions on the checklist, you must complete the student dissertation ethics form with your supervisor before beginning the project.

Supporting Documentation

If you complete the dissertation ethics form (not just the checklist) then you will be asked for supporting documentation. These might include some of the following:
  • Participant info sheets
  • Consent forms
  • Risk assessments
  • Data collection instruments
  • Interview schedules or topic guides
  • Participant recruitment materials
  • Participant debrief information

If you are simply doing software evaluation or user testing, then this software evaluation participant document will help. Download it and edit to suit your project. It contains a participant information sheet and a consent form. You can use the information sheet as a debrief sheet too (it describes what happens to the data next). You probably do not have the exact questions you will ask yet, so take a look at this sample user test and edit it to suit your needs. You may leave it reasonably vague if you have to.

Please email your completed ethics form to ethics@cs.stir.ac.uk.

What Guidance is Available?

You supervisor will be able to help you with filling in the forms. You might also like to consult the BCS code of conduct.