Ethical review in the humanities and social and behavioural sciences
On this page, you can find basic information on the tasks of the Ethical Review Board in the Humanities and Social and Behavioural Sciences. You can find the members of the board, the meeting schedule, contact information and instructions for drafting a request for a statement.

The University of Helsinki Ethical Review Board in the Humanities and Social and Behavioural Sciences

  • ensures the ethical review of research conducted in the human, non-medical sciences at the University of Helsinki
  • through statements and actions, steer the ethical development of research in the human sciences by, for example, monitoring and coordinating training in research ethics
  • provides consultation in matters related to research ethics and offers advice for solving research ethics problems

The Ethical Review Board abides by the guidelines of the Finnish National Board on Research Integrity for the ethical principles of research in the humanities, the social and behavioural sciences, and proposals for ethical review in these fields.

If you have any questions, please contact the board secretary.

Members of the Board during the term 2018–2021

Chair

Professor Erika Löfström.

Secretary

Specialist (Research Services) Aura Kivilaakso, PhD. Contact by email!
 

Members (deputy member in parenthesis)

  • Postdoctoral Researcher Heli Korkka-Knuts (Professor Kimmo Nuotio)
  • Professor Salla Kurhila (Professor Jan Lindström)
  • Academy Research Fellow Marius Lahti-Pulkkinen (University Lecturer Viljami Salmela)
  • Postdoctoral Researcher Karoliina Snell (Associate Professor Hisayo Katsui)
  • University Lecturer Riitta Freese (Postdoctoral researcher Suvi Itkonen)
  • Professor Auli Vähäkangas (University Lecturer Outi Pohjanheimo)
  • Doctoral Candidate Oona Myllyntaus (Doctoral candidate Ilja Kokkonen)
  • A data protection specialist participates in the board meetings.
Meeting schedule

Summer break in July.

 

The Ethical Review Board meetings scheduled for autumn term 2021 are as follows:

  • August 20, 2021
  • September 20, 2021
  • October 18, 2021
  • November 15, 2021
  • December 16, 2021

Requests for statements that applicants wish to submit for processing by the Ethical Review Board meetings must be sent as one PDF document no later than two weeks before the meeting in question (the same weekday by 24.00). Send your request using an eform!

Late requests will be processed at the next meeting.

If the Ethical Review Board finds that the study meets the ethical requirements set for research in the human sciences, its statement will be emailed to the applicant within two weeks of the meeting where the request was discussed.

Please note before drawing up a request for a statement

The study connected to the request for a statement must be part of the research activities of the University of Helsinki. The principal investigator of the study must be employed by the University of Helsinki. Project funding, a grant or a visiting principal investigator's contract at the University of Helsinki for the duration of the project is also considered sufficient affiliation.

The board does not review studies that have already commenced.

Please read the instructions carefully before submitting a request and make sure you have included all required documents.

If your study does not fall under the remit of any of the research designs that require an ethical review according to the guidelines of the Finnish National Board on Research Integrity, we ask you to find out whether a description of the Finnish system suffices for the publisher. Such a description is available upon request from the board secretary.

If your research design does not require an ethical review, but you are nonetheless requesting a statement, you should contact the board secretary before drawing up the request for a statement.

Doctoral students should discuss the necessity of an ethical review with their supervisor. If the review is necessary, it must be requested together with the supervisor. As a rule, the board does not review master’s theses. If you are considering requesting a statement for your master’s thesis, please contact the board secretary.

Before drawing up a request for a statement, carefully read the ethical principles of research with human participants and ethical review in the human sciences in Finland (Finnish National Board on Research Integrity).

If you have any questions, please contact the board secretary by email.

Instructions for requesting a statement

The University of Helsinki Ethical Review Board in the Humanities and Social and Behavioural Sciences provides statements on the ethics of research designs. This statement does not
constitute a research permit, nor does it shift the researcher’s ethical responsibility for his or her
work to the Ethical Review Board.

Research approval is normally granted by the target organisation, i.e., the unit under which the material is collected or other research work is conducted in practice. Each individual research subject gives his or her consent to participating in the research.

The starting point for the work of the Ethical Review board are the ethical principles of research in the humanities and social and behavioural sciences:

  • respecting the autonomy of research subjects
  • avoiding harm
  • privacy and data protection

The ethical review examines the manner of carrying out the research, or in other words

  • the plan for material collection
  • research methodology
  • the information provided to the research subjects
  • the plan for processing and storing data from the perspective of avoiding risks and harm.

The review weighs the potential negative effects or harm to the subjects resulting from participation in the study in relation to the intended scientific value of the study.

When weighing the potential risks and harm, ethical considerations focus on the encounter between the researcher and the subject, which can include unanticipated factors.

A statement on the ethics of a research design, regardless of the discipline in question, must be requested from the University of Helsinki Ethical Review Board in the Humanities and Social and Behavioural Sciences if the study meets certain requirements specified by the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity.

These research settings are described in the next section of this page titled "These research settings require ethical review".

A researcher can also request an ethical review if

  • the research subject, funding agency or cooperation partner so wishes
  • the results are to be published in a scientific journal which requires ethical review.

Under the Medical Research Act (No 488/1999), each hospital district (in Helsinki, the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS)) shall have an ethics committee responsible for the prior evaluation of research projects.

The University’s Ethical Review Board may, however, assess human research conducted in healthcare settings if it falls outside the scope of medical research as defined in the above Act or the mandate of the ethics committee of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki.

Ethical review of Master's theses

As a rule, the Ethical Review Board will not conduct ethical reviews on Master's theses.

According to the 2009 Ethical principles of research in the humanities and social and behavioural sciences and proposals for ethical review by the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity, the guidelines for ethical reviews are intended to cover postgraduate research.

At the undergraduate stage, thesis supervisors are responsible for ensuring that thesis work complies with ethical principles.

However, if the planned thesis research includes any of the features requiring ethical review, the student, together with his or her supervisor, must request an ethical review; the request must be accompanied by the supervisor’s statement on the study in question. This exception was established primarily for situations in which a Master’s thesis is written as part of a more extensive scientific research project led by the supervisor.

An ethical review may be requested even if some of the project results are published in a Master’s thesis. In such cases, however, the supervisor must request the ethical review.

If the grounds for requesting an ethical review of research for a Master’s thesis are solely based on the publication objective and the publisher’s ethical requirements, the supervisor must anticipate the grade of the thesis and the likelihood of its acceptance for publication.

Participation in the research deviates from the principle of informed consent

With regard to a study that deviates from the principle of informed consent, the Ethical Review Board will evaluate whether conducting the study is ethically acceptable. Conducting the study is ethically acceptable if the following preconditions are met: 

  1. Research participants are appropriately informed of the processing of their personal data where the research design so permits.
  2. The research is justified and could not be carried out if participants were asked to consent to participating in the research.
  3. Data collection does not cause damage or harm to participants. 
  4. The real content and purpose of the study are explained to participants as soon as this is possible in view of the research.

The research involves intervening in the physical integrity of research participants

Intervening in physical integrity for research purposes may include, for example, measuring physical condition, taking physiological samples, eating dietary products or restricting physical freedom, e.g., using technology, so that research participants have no opportunity to stop their participation in the research of their own free will within a reasonable period of time.

When research intervenes in physical integrity, it is necessary to check whether this is a case that must be evaluated under the Medical Research Act or research that falls within the remit of a human sciences ethics committee. Statutory medical research must be referred to the ethics committees of the relevant hospital district.

The Ethical Review Board will evaluate anticipated negative effects (risks, harm and their probability) in relation to the intended scientific value of the study.

Studies must be conducted in a manner that minimises any harm and risks to research participants. Assessing physical risks requires expertise and background information based on empirical studies.

The Ethical Review Board can, if necessary, request an ethical review from an outside expert if it considers its own expertise inadequate for risk evaluation.

The focus of the research is on minors under the age of 15, without separate consent from a parent or carer or without informing a parent or carer in a way that would enable them to prevent the child’s participation in the research

If a participant under the age of 15 participates without the separate consent of a parent or carer and without a parent or carer being informed, it must be ensured that the research does not cause harm to the participant and that the minors asked to participate in the research are capable of understanding the topic of the research and what the research requires of them in concrete terms.

In addition, at least one of the following criteria must be met:

  1. The research focuses on issues of which sufficient research information cannot be obtained if the participation of children requires the consent of the parent or carer (e.g., domestic violence, social problems).
  2. The research focuses on issues that minor participants do not themselves want their parents or carers to know about (e.g., drug or alcohol use, sexual orientation and similar).

Research that exposes participants to exceptionally strong stimuli

Exceptionally strong stimuli for participants may be, for example, data containing violence or pornography which the participants will be shown as part of the research design.

Exceptionally strong stimuli may also be involved in research designs in which the participants are deliberately presented with ideas and data that are completely incompatible with their values.

Research that involves a risk of causing mental harm that exceeds the limits of normal daily life to the research participants or their family members or others closest to them

A risk may arise, for example, if the research is associated with traumatic experiences of research participants or their family members or others closest to them.

Research situations can and may, however, include emotional experiences similar to situations of everyday life.

Conducting the research could involve a threat to the safety of participants or researchers or their family members or others closest to them

A threat to safety may arise, for example, in research into domestic violence or in research conducted in crisis situations or areas.

The Ethical Review Board will base its statement on the following required documents: 

  1. Cover letter.
    Present the grounds for requesting a statement and indicate the contact details of the person responsible for the research, as well as their signature. When the applicant is a doctoral researcher, their supervisor serves as the principal investigator. 
  2. Grounds for requesting an ethical review statement form.
    Download the Grounds for requesting an ethical review statement form here.
  3. Research plan and summary.
    If the research will be conducted in English, the abstract must be in Finnish or Swedish.
  4. Assessment of the ethical nature of the study by the person responsible for the research.
  5. Information intended to be given to research participants.
    If the study deviates from the principle of informed consent, the grounds for conducting such a study must be presented in the assessment of the ethics of the study.
  6. Consent form to be signed by research participants.
    A consent form is required to supplement the information leaflet to the participants if the analysed research data includes identifying or sensitive information. 
  7. Other material to be given to participants.
    E.g., interview outline, logs, questionnaires.
  8. Data management plan.
    A plan for the processing, storing and archiving of data.
  9. Data protection statement for scientific research.
    This is required, if data containing identifiers is gathered from participants and if identification is possible, for example, by combining the data.

These documents must be submitted to the board as a single PDF file. Separately submitted appendices will not be considered.  

The Ethical Review Board follows the principle of openness as stipulated by the Act on the Openness of Government Activities (621/1999), according to which official documents shall be in the public domain. Consequently, the Ethical Review Board has decided that all documents except research plans and their appendices be considered public documents.

The researcher must describe potential harm and risks so that the Ethical Review Board can evaluate whether the study is ethical, weighing possible risks to research participants against the intended scientific value of the study.

Studies must be conducted so as to minimise any harm and risks to participants.

The intended scientific value will be weighed against any potential harm and the measures taken to reduce harm to participants during or after the study (physical and mental harm) or to prevent them altogether. The review must take into account the free will and autonomy of participants. To a certain degree, participants can always independently assess the risks associated with participating in a study. 

When reviewing experimental studies, the ethical guidelines in the particular field can be applied in a supplementary manner. A researcher can also request an ethical review if the research subject, funding agency or cooperation partner so wishes or if the results are to be published in a scientific journal which requires ethical review. 

Researchers must take the data protection and information security of the study into consideration. Data protection preliminary evaluation and, when needed, data protection impact assessment (DPIA) must be carried out before sending the request for a statement. Please describe the results of the evaluation and the assessment in the request. Researchers at the University of Helsinki will find instructions on data protection and information security in the Flamma intranet (login required).

When designing informed consent forms and questionnaires, a number of aspects should be taken into consideration prior to requesting an ethical review, as such aspects may have an impact on the research subjects’ understanding of the study and their attitude towards it.

Below is a compilation of aspects that often emerge during ethical reviews.

Clarity and intelligibility

In the information letter to the subjects and in the consent form, researchers should use language that is intelligible to the target group.

For example, in a study involving children, care should be taken to describe the research in a manner that takes into account the child’s phase of development.

Similarly, information letters and consent forms designed for laypersons should not contain field-specific terminology that non-professionals cannot be expected to understand.

Language

Information letters and consent forms should be in the subjects’ native language or in a language that they understand fluently.

Within the resources of the study, it might be necessary to consider the translation of questionnaires to ensure the participation of linguistics minorities in the study.

For example, it is recommended that in national surveys based on random samples the questionnaire be translated into Swedish. Care should also be taken to ensure that the language used in the forms is polished.

Gender- and status-neutral language

Depending on the research topic and target group, researchers should consider whether their choice of words excludes any group of respondents.

For example, when studying the diversity of families, it might be necessary to include other alternatives for the background variables of “male” and “female” or “father” and “mother”, such as “other” or “other parent or adult carer”.

Sensitive questions

The cover letter should be carefully formulated to ensure that the recipient is well informed about and prepared for the researcher’s sensitive questions.

Also, attention should be paid to the content of the background variables and questions on the form, the options provided for potential responses and the accuracy of measurements.

For example, is the collection of details on some sensitive matter really necessary?

Collection of unnecessary data

Questionnaires and consent forms should not contain questions asked merely to be on the safe side. The questions should be relevant and to the point

Data protection

Forms must be designed so that the respondents need not worry about the misuse of the information they submit.

For example, identification markers printed on the form may raise suspicion.

When asking for background data, it is advisable to mention that such data are collected for statistical purposes.

Respect for others

When drafting information letters and forms, use polite, respectful language.

Depending on the target group, the manner of addressing the recipients may well serve as a sign of
respect for them.
 

The purpose of this check-list is to help researchers make sure that the perspective of ethics is sufficiently considered when cooperating with companies.

Taking care of research ethics is the responsibility of researchers. Not all companies possess the required competence, which makes it necessary for researchers to ensure that research ethics are reviewed during discussions between researchers and company representatives.

Furthermore, researchers should prepare for the need to clarify the thought processes and principles on which decisions related to research integrity are based.

These guidelines have been drafted through cooperation between the Ethical Review Board in the Humanities and Social and Behavioural Sciences and the legal services offered by Research Services at the University of Helsinki.

Matters of ethics

Ethics review

Is it necessary to review the ethics of a research project before its commencement?

When necessary, researchers are responsible for requesting a review of the research project from the Ethical Review Board.

Guidelines and principles on ethics

Has the research group reviewed the following guidelines and principles with the partner company and have both the group and the company agreed to follow them?

Guidelines on the use of the name and logo of the University of Helsinki should also be reviewed.

In addition, it is advisable to review the following guidelines, which include advice on business collaboration:

Conflicts of interest for researchers and companies

Have existing conflicts of interest between the researchers and the company been noted and reported to the University?

Conflicts of interest significant to the research project must be reported to the legal counsels at Research Services (link to Flamma intranet, requires login).

Content and nature of cooperation

Is the cooperation related to product development or research, or both?

Scientific contributions resulting from the cooperation must be demonstrable, unless it is explicitly agreed with the partner company that no research will be conducted during the cooperation.

Ownership, utilisation and publication of research results

Have research results, the manner in which partners may use the results, and result ownership been defined?

According to the University of Helsinki’s ethics principles of fundraising and business collaboration:

“In collaborative research performed even partly with public funding, the University cannot use government budget funding or other public funding to support companies. Consequently, companies do not obtain exclusive rights to the results of such research; rather the results are published and used in accordance with the terms of funding and the University’s principles.”

Additionally, the following observation is included in the Montreal Statement:

“Agreements that unduly or unnecessarily restrict dissemination of data, findings or other research products should be avoided”.

Is there an agreement on the manner in which the results will be published?

As a rule, decision-making authority regarding scientific publication should remain with the University (research group).

It is advisable to agree on the individuals participating in drafting scientific publications and their contribution at the beginning of the writing process (see the Montreal Statement).

Additionally, The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity guidelines state the following:

“Authors and publishers consider negative results to be as valid as positive findings for publication and dissemination”.

Data management

Has an appropriate data management plan been drafted for the project?

If data is transferred to the partner company, the transfer and management of the data must be organised in such a way that data protection and privacy of study subjects are not put at risk.

Data that has not undergone anonymisation must not be transferred outside the University/research group without a separate agreement. In such cases, no personal data can be transferred to the partner company without permission from the study subjects.

Arrangements should also be made for the eventuality that study subjects wish to discontinue their participation. At what point can collected data still be removed with reasonable effort and at which point is this no longer possible?

Read more about research data management.

University of Helsinki researchers will find guidelines on data protection and data security in the Flamma intranet (requires login).

Study participation from the angle of study subjects

Has the compensation for study subjects been determined and is the voluntary nature of participation preserved in spite of the compensation or does it create pressure to participate in the study?

Reimbursement for costs covered by study subjects is always acceptable, as is compensation for the subjects’ time and effort (either monetary compensation or a comparable product or service).

The research design and expected contribution of study subjects can vary greatly between projects, but compensation of several hundred euros, for instance, typically creates pressure to participate.

It is the researcher’s responsibility to see to it that the compensation creates no pressure to join the study. When determining compensation given to groups, for example, whether the compensation creates peer pressure to participate in the study must be taken into consideration.

Sponsoring and compensating a group should be kept clearly separate from each other to avoid creating such pressure.

Have the subject groups to be recruited for the study been selected on ethical grounds? Who will benefit from the research?

The selection of participating groups and their size may have an impact on research results.

When studying, for example, new products or services, the objective of getting as positive results as possible may influence how a study is conducted. This may skew the study group selection process.

On the other hand, the distribution of benefits gained from the study should be taken into consideration. Benefits should be distributed as fairly as possible.

Thus, researchers must consider whether it is more justifiable to carry out the study with groups that are already in a privileged position or whether it would be possible to recruit subjects/groups whose participation could promote equality.

Have risks with respect to the participants been assessed, could the study harm the subjects, and have any risks been minimised?

It is the researcher’s responsibility to evaluate the impact of the study on the subjects. The partner company, however, has knowledge regarding the product or service under investigation, which makes it necessary to conduct risk and damage assessments in cooperation with it.

Open discussion!

The Montreal Statement gives a reminder of the importance of discussion when parties may have different practices, areas of expertise, standards and assumptions:

“Diversity of perspectives, expertise and methods, and differences in customary practices, standards and assumptions that could compromise the integrity of the research should be addressed openly”.

Legal and other contractual and administrative matters

Researcher and the University

Is the principal investigator employed by the University of Helsinki?

Drafting a research agreement

Has a research agreement been concluded with the partner company?

All agreements related to business collaboration are made in writing.

Legal counsels at the University of Helsinki have created model agreements that can be used when drafting new agreements. These models are general in nature and provide a preliminary understanding of University policy.

The model agreements must always be revised to suit each individual case. To assess the applicability of model agreements, as well as the need for revision and supplements, a legal counsel specialising in research matters must always be contacted (link to Flamma intranet, requires login).

The research plan must be completed before beginning agreement negotiations.

Division and definition of duties

Has the division of duties between the University (risks, liability, funding, etc.) and the company been clearly defined?

The responsibilities of the University of Helsinki must be defined in a manner approved by a University legal counsel.

Duties refer to actual research, and as a rule they are defined in the research plan, which is the responsibility of the researcher.

Please pay attention to phrasing! Problems may arise if research plans included in research agreements are written in the passive voice (“is done”, “is investigated”, etc.), since this may leave the division of duties between the parties unclear.

Legal counsels at Research Services will check risks and liability from the legal perspective (e.g., demarcation of responsibilities, limitation of liability within the boundaries set by legislation). Research-related risks and liability will be checked by the researchers.

Depending on the project type, either the project accountant or controller will help researchers in the budgeting. Legal counsels at Research Services will only intervene in distinct problems (e.g., if 80% of costs in a project of €100,000 are covered by the University, but the benefits are accrued by the two parties evenly).

Research schedule

Have the commencement and end dates of the research project/commission been unambiguously defined in the agreement (date, achievement of milestones or objectives, etc.)?

Often these matters are defined in the research plan, which is the responsibility of the researcher.

Payments

In the event of money being transferred between the company and the University, have the payment schedule and the sums payable to the University been clearly defined? Legal counsels at Research Services will only intervene in distinct problems (e.g., payment by the customer is made in full only after the completion of a commissioned research project).

Legal counsels at Research Services have created an agreement model for commissioned research projects including a proposed payment schedule.

Contact details

Have the official contact details of the parties been checked in the Finnish Business Information System?

Communication within the University

Has the principal investigator been in contact with the required parties at the University (controller, project accountant, legal counsel, head of department, dean)?

Transfer of rights

Have all individuals participating in the project on behalf of the University of Helsinki executed the undertaking on the transfer of rights?

An undertaking on the transfer of rights must be executed if at least one external collaborator takes part in the execution of the project alongside the University or if the University receives external funding for the execution of the project.

The undertaking on the transfer of rights is used by researchers to transfer to the University of Helsinki the rights to all results generated by the research. The undertaking is needed in order for the University to fulfil its obligations to its collaborators.

University of Helsinki researchers will find additional information on concluding agreements in the Flamma intranet (requires login).

Request for a statement

Please send your request for a statement no later than two weeks before the meeting in question.

Send your request using an eform.

See also