Secondary data

The University of Leeds Research Ethics Policy states that ethical review is not normally needed for purely documentary research on sources that are already in the public domain such as historical, literary, and theoretical research. For example, documentary sources that are not covered by the terms of the Data Protection Act (primarily those concerning deceased individuals or already in the public domain) and to activities such as the compilation of bibliographic material and other research that does not have a substantive interpretative element.

If you are also collecting new data from human participants then you must apply for ethical approval before commencing the study. If it is envisaged that that dataset will be used for secondary analysis this can only be undertaken with the consent of the participants. All participant documentation should reflect the future use of the data in research.

Advice may be sought from the FRECs and the University’s Senior Research Ethics Administrator.

Points for consideration

Responsibilities to the original researchers:

  • Is the data publicly available?
  • Do you need permission to use the data?

Responsibilities to the original participants:

  • Does the consent for the original research cover secondary data analysis?
  • Is the data completely anonymised or could further use of the data lead to the identification of individuals?
  • Could use of the data result in damage or distress?
  • How likely is it for the individuals to object to the use and analysis of the data?
  • Could and should the original participants be contacted to ask for their permission/ consent?

Preparing data for secondary analysis

It is good practice to prepare data in such a way to enable its use by other researchers, and for an appropriate data archive to be able to create accurate catalogue records. Increasingly funders expect researchers to take into account the long-term use and preservation of data when planning how to obtain informed consent from the research participants.

Advice may be sought from the Library’s Research Data Leeds team.

Further reading