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Research Ethics at the HKAGE


Preamble

The broad principles guiding research have long been established. Central to these principles are:

  • respect of the rights and interests of research participants
  • adherence to high ethical standards which is critical to maintaining public trust and confidence in research
  • validity and accuracy in the collection and reporting of data

The Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education (HKAGE) supports and follows these principles. Guidelines that have been laid down to ensure that all research undertaken by the HKAGE conforms to high ethical standards and professional conduct are provided in the ensuing text.

Scope

In these guidelines, research refers to all forms of data collection processes involving human participants. These data collection activities may take place both within and outside the Academy, covering:

  • surveys, including online, pen-and-paper and telephone surveys
  • group or individual interviews, including face-to-face, telephone and online interviews
  • psycho-educational evaluations
  • case study of the target participant(s)
  • observations of human behaviour in natural and controlled settings
  • quasi-experimental studies

Further, “researcher” means any staff members of the HKAGE or research teams carrying out any of the above research activities for the HKAGE. A research team may involve people outside the Academy.

Ethical guidelines governing research involving human participants

Protecting participants’ welfare
  • All research must be designed to minimise potential physical or psychological harm, discomfort or stress to participants. Normally, participants should not be exposed to risks that are greater than those encountered in ordinary life.
  • If unavoidable additional risks are present, researchers should assess these risks for their probability and severity, and inform the participants what measures will be taken to minimise such risks.
Informed consent

Researchers should ensure that every participant consents freely to the process on the basis of adequate information according to the following guidelines:

  • Appropriate informed consent must be obtained from any research participant who is able to give such consent. This can be done in the form of written, verbal or online/email recorded consent.
  • In seeking informed consent, researchers should explain to participants the purpose of the research, expected duration and the procedures to be followed in a comprehensible manner.
  • Researchers should inform the participants about all those aspects of the research that may influence their willingness to participate, such as potential risks, benefits to the individual or to others, incentive for participation, and limitations in ensuring confidentiality.
  • Researchers should assure participants of their right to decline to participate in and withdraw from the research at any time with no adverse consequences. Any data collected from those participants withdrawing from the research will be removed.
Parental consent and student assent

a) For research involving children below Secondary School

  • active consent of parents or legal guardians1 is required for all research involving children below Secondary.

b) For research involving children in Secondary School

  • for school-based studies of students in Secondary (S1 and above), school consent is deemed sufficient.
  • for research conducted outside school:

i) parental consent is not normally required for research involving adolescents aged 16 or above on the basis that they are mature minors;

ii) passive parental consent2 is normally sufficient for studies involving secondary students aged below 16.

In any case, students who have been given permission from their parents to participate in the research are able to decline participation. They will be provided with sufficient information in a manner that is comprehensible to them to facilitate their decision making.

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1In the active consent procedure, parents or guardians will be informed about the research undertaken and provided with a method to return signed permission to the researchers.

2In the passive consent procedure, parents or guardians will be informed about the research undertaken and provided with a method to retract permission.

Renewal of parental consent
  • If the research requires a substantial commitment of time or repeated data collection sessions from students, such as in longitudinal studies, researchers may need to seek renewed consent from parents. In case the participant have reached the age of 16, passive parental consent will be sought irrespective of whether the parents/guardians have previously agreed or refused to allow their children to participate in research. In such procedure, parents or guardians will be given reasonable time to object to their children’s participation.
Confidentiality of data
  • Research studies undertaken by the Research Division will be either

i) anonymous - names are not recorded and thus the identity of the participant is not known to the researcher and cannot be disclosed; or

ii) confidential - the identity of the participant is known only to the researchers and will not be disclosed to anyone not involving in the research without the participant's consent.

  • Researchers should ensure that information provided by the participants is treated confidentially in compliance with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, and will not be personally identifiable if published.
  • Except in anonymous surveys or naturalistic observations, researchers should indicate to the research participants the method used to ensure confidentiality of the collected data.
Use of pre-existing data
  • Researchers must seek informed consent from participants again if they wish to use pre-existing research data with personal identifiers for a new purpose, or use pre-existing data that were originally collected for non-research purposes for research analysis, e.g., student assignments or artifacts.
  • Under the following conditions, the use of existing research datasets for further analysis will normally require no further consent from the participants concerned:

i) the dataset contains no personal identifiers; and

ii) use of the data is directly related to the purpose and use specified when the data were originally collected, with an appropriate consent  having been gained in the initial collection.

Storage and security of data
  • All research data will be stored in a durable and secure format. In most cases, the data of completed research studies will be retained for a minimum of 7 years.
  • Data containing personal identifiers will be kept in locked cabinets and only the researchers can have access to them. Identity capturing data which are collected using video or audio recording, photographs or other methods will be stored under the same secure conditions.
  • For private sensitive data, efforts will be made to use indirect identifiers and store in a separate location from direct identifiers, if applicable.
  • Researchers should ensure that electronic data collected via online surveys will be transmitted in an encrypted format.

Further information

Note: These guidelines may be amended from time to time and should not be considered an exhaustive guide to address all ethical issues in research involving human participants.