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Public Contexts and Groups

In certain types of research obtaining consent from every individual participating is impractical or unfeasible (e.g. observing a large crowd or observing discussions on the internet). In such types of research researchers must ensure the following:

  • That such research is only carried out in public contexts;
  • That where possible approval is sought from relevant authorities;
  • That appropriate individuals are informed that the research is taking place;
  • That no details that could identify specific individuals are given in any reports on the research unless reporting on public figures acting in their public capacity (e.g. reporting a speech by a named individual);
  • That particular sensitivity is paid to local cultural values and to the possibility of being perceived as intruding upon or invading the privacy of people who, despite being in an open public space, may feel they are unobserved.
  • That unless those observed give their consent to be observed, observational research should only occur where those observed would expect to be observed by strangers.

The privacy and psychological well-being of people participating in observational research and people participating in research activities in which a researcher may actually be acting as a fellow participant, for example as part of a wider group, must be respected. In such group based, participatory research activities every effort should be made to ensure that the group leader(s), or others in positions of responsibility, as well as other individuals of a group, understand they are being observed for research purposes. In such activities researchers must at least obtain the consent of the group leader(s) or the consent of others in positions of responsibility to undertake the research.

It is recognised that in certain types of observational research or organisational settings it may be more difficult to explain to people participating their right to withdraw at any stage. However, in such types of research, researchers are expected to make a reasonable attempt to do so.