COVID-19 update: guidance on planned research and enterprise activities

**Updates: As the COVID-19 situation continues to develop, the default institutional expectation remains that research and enterprise activities should proceed in online or virtual formats. It is recognised that exceptions will exist, but until further notice, all face-to-face research/enterprise activities work can only proceed with the approval of the most relevant Dean or Deputy Dean (or for LLS/ILT – Head of LLS), following risk assessment in alignment with current University of Northampton guidelines. As a default position, research/enterprise work will not be allowed to proceed if:

  • alternative, remote research methods could be used which will meet the objectives of the research in an ethical manner;
  • the planned work involves UK or international travel;
  • the planned activity can feasibly be postponed.

Further guidance, plus expectations about risk assessments and new resources for online research methods are outlined below.

Current position

The University of Northampton’s Situation Updates page is the primary source of information and updates for colleagues and researchers at the University of Northampton: https://www.northampton.ac.uk/about-us/situation-updates/

Given the exceptional, unprecedented situation which is ongoing as a result of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, all researchers must reflect on their planned and ongoing activities: this may necessitate pausing, rescheduling or amending activities. Amendments to activities, or proposals for new research/enterprise activities, must be reviewed and approved by the University of Northampton’s Research Ethics Committee or Faculty Ethics Committees.

It is likely that COVID-19 will cause significant disruption for research activities, particularly where:

  • proposed/ongoing research activities require face-to-face contact with participants, particularly those who are at-risk or require self-isolation as per the latest UK Government advice;
  • researchers are themselves at-risk or require self-isolation;
  • proposed research involves UK or international travel;
  • planned research requires visits to settings which are closed or have restricted access as a result of COVID-19.

If you are concerned about the impacts of the current situation on your ongoing/planned research, support is available as follows:

  • for undergraduate or Master’s students doing research projects or dissertations, please contact your supervisor in the first instance. Supervisors – please be in contact with your supervisees at this time;

All researchers planning or doing research projects which involve face-to-face contact with participants must consider: 

  • can the research be paused or rescheduled to such a time as guidance on self-isolation, safeguarding and at-risk communities changes?
  • can the research be conducted remotely or online instead of face-to-face?
  • can the project be adapted to involve different methods or activities? (This crowdsourced resource initiated by social scientists at the University of New South Wales gives some interesting ideas, although these must be discussed with supervisors and may require additional ethical approval: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1clGjGABB2h2qbduTgfqribHmog9B6P0NvMgVuiHZCl8/mobilebasic).

New University of Northampton resources and expectations about tools for online research are provided below.

The current and projected situation relating to Covid-19 is complex and rapidly-changing. The default institutional expectation is that most research and enterprise activities should continue to proceed in online or virtual formats. However, it is recognised that, in some circumstances, online or virtual formats may not be appropriate or ethical. It is also anticipated that, if Covid-19 precautions are (hopefully!) relaxed going forward, then increasing numbers of researchers will return to face-to-face research methods and appropriately socially-distanced research visits.

Until further notice, all research/enterprise activities must be fully risk assessed in alignment with current University of Northampton guidelines. All research/enterprise travel, fieldwork or face-to-face work can only proceed with the approval of the most relevant Dean or Deputy Dean (or for LLS/ILT – Head of LLS). As a default position, research/enterprise travel, fieldwork or face-to-face work will not be allowed to commence if:

  • Alternative, remote research methods could be used which will meet the objectives of the research in an ethical manner;
  • The planned work involves international or UK travel;
  • The planned activity can feasibly be postponed.

Risk assessments

Faculties, research institutes and LLS/ILT should ensure there is a clearly communicated four-stage procedure for risk assessing research/enterprise activities where:

1). Each researcher completes a comprehensive risk assessment covering Covid-19 hazards, in alignment with the University of Northampton’s current Covid-19 risk assessment. The risk assessment must include a specific case for any face-to-face research, travel or fieldwork explaining why alternative virtual/remote methods cannot be used. In addition to the generic risks covered in the institutional risk assessment, researchers must clearly consider any additional risks relating to their research/enterprise activities. The risk assessment should include:

  • specific measures to ensure social distancing and safeguarding of researchers and participants
  • use of face coverings, gloves/PPE as required
  • hygiene measures (e.g. use of sanitisers, disinfectant etc)
  • consideration of any specific vulnerabilities, underlying conditions and risk factors among participants
  • protocols/consent for contacting participants in the event of researcher/participant experiencing Covid-19 symptoms
  • consideration of any additional risk assessment/mitigation required by any settings where research is planned to take place
  • consideration of the University of Northampton’s current guidance about travel

The University of Surrey’s Guidance for research involving face-to-face participation during Covid-19 restrictions provides some helpful advisory prompts and practical considerations to bear in mind when preparing a risk assessment for face-to-face research in the context of Covid-19.

2). Risk assessments are robustly reviewed by supervisors, line managers or Faculty colleagues with responsibility for risk assessment, with only those presenting a strong case for face-to-face research proceeding to stage 3

3). Risk assessments are checked and approved by a relevant Dean or Deputy Dean (or for LLS/ILT – Head of LLS)

4). Decisions are communicated and logged as per Faculty processes

Update: resources for online research methods

Online surveys

Any colleague or student who wishes to complete an online survey can now be set up with a log-in for ‘Online Surveys’: a GDPR-compliant, password-protected, user-friendly online survey tool which is widely used in the HE sector.

  • Individual staff or postgraduate researchers can request a log-in by emailing surveys@northampton.ac.uk directly
  • Undergraduate or Master’s students can be set up with log-ins. Tutors/supervisors are advised to send a password-protected document or spreadsheet with a list of names and UoN email addresses of those students who require access to surveys@northampton.ac.uk

As a condition of use, everyone requesting access should confirm they have read the T&Cs of this survey tool and individual students requesting access will be asked to complete a specific Linkedin Learning online training activity about data protection. Tutors/supervisors who request access for a student group will be required to take responsibility for training/support in use of the ‘Online Surveys’, highlighting the Terms & Conditions to their students and ensuring students have a basic understanding of data protection and copyright. To support this comprehensive instructions/user guides are available at:

When using Online Surveys, data should be downloaded from the online interface and stored as password-protected files ASAP: personal identifiable information must be stored separate to the data once this has happened, and data should be stored and managed in line with principles laid out in the University of Northampton’s Ethics Code and Procedures. Data must not be left live in the survey system long after surveys have closed.

For Data protection reasons, colleagues and students should not be using free online survey tools such as Survey Monkey. ESurv was previously recommended as a free online survey tool appropriate for use by University of Northampton undergraduates: however, be aware that this site has experienced technical problems and disruptions to service in 2020, and its future is not clear.

Online interviews

As a safe, password-protected, GDPR-compliant space for conducting online interviews or group discussions, postgraduates and undergraduates can now be set up with a personal Blackboard Collaborate account by LearnTech. This will enable students to conduct and record interviews in a space similar to the Collaborate interface used by many colleagues for learning & teaching and meetings. To set this up, the process is:

1). Staff member sends Robert.Farmer@northampton.ac.uk (plus CC to Rob.Howe@nothampton.ac.uk) a password protected spreadsheet with the account details in the following format: Student Number; First Name; Last Name; Email Address.

In the body of the email, the staff member should also define an expiry date for the account(s). Accounts will not be set up without an expiry date, and the date should be the same for all students on the spreadsheet. If different expiry dates are needed then more than one spreadsheet should be used.

 2). LearnTech will alert staff when accounts are ready, and staff member conveys this information to their students. Students must be made aware by the staff member that their recordings will be deleted and their accounts suspended without warning or reminder on or shortly after the specified account expiry date. Recordings will be completely unrecoverable after deletion. Colleagues should send students this guide, which details how to use Collaborate as a Moderator: https://help.blackboard.com/Collaborate/Ultra/Moderator. Please note that the Learning Technology Team will not be able to provide student training for Collaborate. However, staff may request Collaborate training for themselves from their Learning Technologist, and can then provide their own training sessions for their students if they wish.

3). Once accounts have been created, students can enter their Collaborate accounts by going to eu.bbcollab.com and selecting ‘Forgot Password’. It is recommended that students use the Chrome browser when using Collaborate. A password reset request is then emailed to them from notification-service@bbcollab.com (students may want to add this email address to their contacts or safe senders list prior to resetting their passwords to ensure that it doesn’t get sent to their spam/junk email folder). The subject line of the forgot password email is: Blackboard Collaborate Password Reset. Students then select the link that has been emailed to them and enter a new secure password. Students then use the Collaborate accounts to conduct interviews and create recordings as needed, in line with guidance from academic staff and their research ethics committee. Under no circumstances should recordings be downloaded from Collaborate. Collaborate users are responsible for keeping their recordings safe and secure, and failure to do so may make them personally liable for a data breach.

Prior to the account expiry date, students should delete all recordings.

Please note that LearnTech will not extend the account expiry date on student request. If the date is to be extended the request must come from staff, with ample notice given for this request.

All online interviews should be conducted with regard for principles of informed consent and safeguarding as laid out in the University of Northampton’s Ethics Code and Procedures. Note that guidance from the University’s Data Protection Officer is that students or colleagues should not be using phone-based apps to record interviews for GDPR reasons. Similarly, we should not be recording interviews in Zoom/Skype etc

 (although, as a work-around, it may be appropriate to use a Dictaphone to record an online conversation providing all parties give informed consent to this).

Posted on November 4, 2020, in Doctoral journey, Early Career Researcher, Research, Support. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s