Research Design 1: Minimising risk

Protecting your participants

Human Research Subjects – the participants in research who provide researchers with the data they need to advance knowledge – have made, and continue to make, a phenomenal contribution to science. Whether they’re involved in early trials for vaccine testing, or providing views on their proposed measures to address climate change, our collective knowledge could not advance without them. It goes without saying then, that, as a researcher, protecting your participants from any potential risks of their participation in your research, should be central to your research design.

Whatever the kinds of data you are collecting from your participants, and regardless of whether they include personal data as defined by GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation), it is vital that: 

  • you are aware of the potential risks that your research might expose your participants to (both during the research and in the longer term)
  • you have taken steps to minimize or mitigate these risks, and
  • your participants are aware of, and have agreed to these risks and mitigation measures
  • you execute precisely the agreements you make with your participants (normally via Informed Consent)

An effective way to incorporate Human Research Ethics into research design is to organise a risk-planning session early on in the design process (eg: in the early phases of drafting a proposal for funding or a Master’s thesis). Although you can do this by reflection on your own, a small group that can role-play different stakeholders will help to more effectively:

  • reflect on any possible risks to your participants (both during and after your research)
  • reconsider whether all of these risks are necessary to take, and if so how you might mitigate them
  • prepare a gap analysis and follow-up plan for any unanswered queries emerging from your discussions

Try putting yourself in the position of thinking like one of your research participants and you might see any potential risks differently!