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Number 12 (3/2003)

Adequate Information to Research Participants Guarantees Re-use

Arja Kuula    

When planning their research, researchers normally pay a lot of attention to data content and data collection methods. This goes both for quantitative and qualitative research. The modes and methods of informing the research subjects may get less attention.

However, adequate information to the participants about the research project and about the way in which their contribution will be used is crucial. It may well determine the eventual usability of the data: can the researcher personally or other researchers use the material after the project has been completed, can the data be archived or must it be destroyed as soon as the validity of the findings have been confirmed.

Planning the cover information

Whenever data are collected by asking respondents to answer questions or by tape-recording/ videotaping participants' speech or other activities, participants should be given basic information about the research project and the use of data. Three things must be taken into account when planning the information:
- potential for wider use
- current legislature
- confidentiality of the information given by participants

Potential for wider use includes re-use potential. Legislature restricts the processing and storage of data containing confidential information. Research ethics dictate that promises given to the participants at the time of data collection must be kept.

Participants have the right to be informed of the following matters:

1. Contact information
Participants must be given information, preferably in writing, on which persons or bodies are responsible for the research project, where does the main funding come from and who can be contacted for more information.

2. Goals of the research
Participants must be informed of the main goals and purposes of the research.

3. Voluntary nature of participation
Participants must be told that it is voluntary to participate. Practical details of participation (time needed, cross-sectional or panel study etc.) should be clarified.

4. Confidentiality
Participants must be informed how the confidentiality of the information given by themselves is to be preserved and how the disclosure of their identities will be prevented. The researcher must ensure the participants that their anonymity will be protected; this guarantee must also be honoured in practice.

5. The use of data
The way in which participants' contribution will be used must be stated clearly. The Finnish law decrees that if the data cannot be anonymised, it must be destroyed as soon as the research is finished, unless otherwise agreed with participants in advance. The law allows the re-use of anonymised data but it is good research practice to honour the promises given to participants.

6. Other information sources
In case further information about the participant will be collected from other sources, participants must give their written consent to this. This issue often arises in research where interview data will be combined with, for example, official records or register information concerning the individual participant.

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