Proposal writing advice: Ethics issues
When you carry out research at SLU, it is expected that you will employ good research practices and comply with all legal and contractual obligations. Conducting ethical research is good research practice, and most (if not all) funders will require you to describe any ethical considerations relevant to your project in your proposal for funding. Depending on the funder, the inclusion of an ethics section in your proposal may be an eligibility criterion. As each funder has their own evaluation rules and procedures, your proposal’s ethics section might not be reviewed by the evaluators. Instead, it may be assessed by an ethics panel that has the power to reject your proposal on ethical grounds or require you to provide more information.
It’s in your best interests to appropriately describe any ethics issues relevant to your project at the proposal stage - do not give the evaluators or ethics panel any reason not to award you funding or delay their decision. It will also help you improve the quality of your research project, as you can prepare for any permits, licenses, or reviews that you must have in advance. You can also consider whether you need any specialist expertise in your research team to manage specific ethics issues you have identified (and whether you need to factor this into your budget).
Common ethics issues to consider
Every project is unique, and you should review your proposal for ethical considerations relevant to your research area and your planned activities. You can do this using an ethics self-assessment tool, such as the one produced by the European Commission for the Horizon Europe programme.
However, some ethics issues are more common and worth paying particular attention to. For example:
- Personal data/GDPR
Activities that involve processing personal data for research purposes, even if the people are not actively engaged in the research itself. This is an ethics issue in almost every project since, for example, creating a database of project participants or stakeholders or a mailing list is processing personal data. When you do this, or other activities involving any type of personal data, you must comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
- Working with people
Activities where people will be research or study participants. You will have to consider issues such as informed consent, the rights and interests of participants, ensuring your methodologies do not result in discriminatory practices or unfair treatment etc.
- Animal welfare
You have a responsibility to ensure the welfare of any animals you come into contact with during your project. Depending on the nature of your research, the funder, and the countries involved in the project, there will likely be various licenses, legal requirements, and ethical reviews that you must comply with. Information on the use of animals in research at SLU is available here.
Information and support
- Ethics self-assessment - European Commission
To support researchers applying for funding under the Horizon Europe programme, the European Commission has prepared a guide on ‘how to complete your ethics self-assessment’. The ethics issues covered and advice offered are quite comprehensive and can apply to any research area and any funder. The guide includes a series of yes/no questions, and for any ethics issue identified, there are suggestions for what information and documentation an ethics board would expect you to provide.
- Ethics in Research - VR initiatives
The Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) has been mandated to take initiatives to ensure ethical issues are recognised in Swedish research and to publish information on research ethics issues. They have published a report on Good Research Practice to help researchers make well-reasoned ethical research decisions. They have also published information on their website to explain ethics in research, how to conduct ethical research, and research involving experiments on animals - each with links to other useful resources.
- The use of animals in research and education at SLU
This information is aimed at anyone who works with animals in research and teaching at SLU. There is a solid regulatory framework that all concerned must be aware of.
- The Swedish 3Rs Centre
Formed by the Swedish Board of Agriculture (Jordbruksverket), the 3Rs Centre is an arena for knowledge and progress in Replacing, Reducing and Refining animal experiments in Sweden. They aim for better animal welfare and fewer animals in experiments.
- Swedish Ethical Review Authority
The Swedish Ethical Review Authority (Etikprövningsmyndigheten) examines applications for ethics reviews of research involving humans and human biological material. Their website is currently only available in Swedish, and all applications to them must be written in Swedish. (Copies of the application forms are available in English for reference/guidance only.)
- SLU Legal Affairs Unit - ethical reviews and GDPR
The Legal Affairs Unit provides information on the staff web about your obligations when an ethical review is required for your research. They also offer in-depth guidance about GDPR, data management and personal data.
- SLU Grants Office
As always, you can reach out to the Grants Office to ask questions about writing proposals at any time, and we will do our best to help. Contact us at email@example.com.