Research and Engagement

Technology and Research

Review of technology options available that can support the research process.

COVID Strand

Remote working and research activities

Information Services has developed general guidelines to support navigating on-line working on various University-supported platforms (Teams, SharePoint, Skype for Business and general information on online safety and best practice on-line)

Tools for remote working 

The National Cyber Security Centre and the Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure has also developed specific advice around cyber safety.

Trusted research during a pandemic

Qualitative and participatory research 

Many researchers are having to rethink their methods and the ways in which they collaborate, using technology to undertake participatory research in more distanced ways.

Alternative digital options may be considered for focus groups or face-to-face data collection – and indeed, such options may be helpful for research that is more sensitive or where anonymity is required. 

However, the available technical and financial resources, and preferences of research participants or the technology infrastructure of the geographic location may also impact choices. 

Some of the advantages and disadvantages of communication tools as used within the research context are summarised below.

Best practice in selecting participatory technology tools

Whichever digital tool is selected, researchers should ensure they revisit ethical review and scope of consent (and how to manage withdrawal), as reflected by the parameters of the technology. 

Whilst using many of these tools, project leads will also need to be careful to actively modify settings to obtain the level of privacy and anonymity required.

Researchers should be careful in considering the use of any third party tool that is not supported by the University in terms of how it may compromise research participants, data and confidentiality.

Even when using supported tools, researchers will need to be mindful that people can use personal recording devices without the knowledge of the host which could compromise group sessions and therefore it is important to understand the trust level of spaces and the reassurances that are provided to participants.  

Understanding of the participation or fall-out ratio for on-line research is evolving, as researchers will need to reflect on how to manage over recruitment and also how to achieve parity across groups when for example technology fails during key sessions or when key groups are less familiar with the tools. 

Technology offers additional research possibilities of gathering very geographic dispersed participants in the same focus group,  however risk management plans do need to assess the resources and infrastructure across locations and participants and identify contingencies for such considerations in mitigation plans (for example population groups, alternative dial-in numbers, etc).

In terms of financial impact and inclusion, it is recommended that the use and selection of tools take account of the financial impact on participants or organisations where relevant and that they are made aware of the implications of audio or video calls in terms of costs for research participation.

Tools should also be considered in terms of the contribution to equality, diversity and inclusion more generally and any implicit imbalances for the research study.

Securing research technology and data files

Research projects may face new challenges in managing the hardware and software used by other staff or collaborators. 

All equipment procured through the University will be encrypted at source, however staff may now have to consider alternative arrangements and may have to support collaborators through encryption processes.  In such situations, researchers should follow best practice around encryption.

Encrypting devices and documents (Information Security)

Follow-up advice is available through your local school IT support.  

Assessing risks of project tools for research integrity and information security

Data management plans support thinking about the range of considerations for data and research but they should be reviewed to operationalise during project implementation stages. 

Find further resources with the Research Data Service

Given the changes in practices of many research teams, there may be a range of situations in which use of platforms and technology creates new risks to data, subjects, privacy and security. 

In such situations, researchers should complete Data Privacy Impact Assessments (linked to ethical reviews) in order to inform the evaluation and mitigation of risks. 

Researchers will need to be clear about the data  journey in  projects and to reflect on responsibilities in relation to how technology will support GDPR requirements, particularly around the  key roles of data controllers and processors, and the transfer arrangements and platforms importing/exporting data between countries (especially outside of the European Union).

DPIA assessments (Data Protection team) 

Options to store and manage your data

Information Services have summarised helpful considerations to assist in the selecting of University-supported storage solutions in their Quick Guide to Research Data Storage Options.

Quick Guide to Research Data Storage Options

The guide profiles Wiki, OneDrive, SharePoint, Datastore, datasync, data safe haven, datashare and Datavault.

These solutions are reviewed in terms of their suitability for projects relating to the active nature of data, geographic location of data and GDPR compliance, sensitivity of data and encyption needs, range of users and access requirements, external collaboration, capacity and cost limitations. 

There are costs associated with Datastore and Datavault.