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Research ethics and fieldwork preparation

Ethics are a very important issue for gathering data involving other living beings or persons, or even sensible data, such as autobigraphies or journals. Researchers in any social sciences will have to tackle this problem sooner or later when they intend to publish their data internationally or in academic journals which may ask to see how the data was handled.

Although the German universities have central ethics committees, these committees only become active if projects are screened or will be screened, but this is not enough for international research projects.

Our PIs and colleagues in the German Anthropological Association (DGSKA)have finally published very usable guidelines for fieldwork: https://en.dgska.de/ethics/

We would also recommend to at least think about discussing the DGSKA reflectivity sheet with your supervisor(s) before going to the field. Especially in times of crisis, such as during a pandemic, the risk assessment sheet could also be useful before going into the field.

If you are doing interviews, you should think about informed consent forms and handling data if you conduct interviews. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) provides information and generally publishes recommendations in German, but the latest recommendations are a bit dated.

There is no consent form provided by the university, so you can work with other templates or develop your own categories of asking for consent, alongside with some of the recommendations.

Thorsten Dresing and his team (who have developed the interview transcritpion software (f4)) provide a template for consent forms for interviews. These are very detailed and also include the "new" 2018 EU data protection ordinance (in German), in case you have to ask for special consent (i.e. categories according to §9 (1) DGSVO).

This form/template is a good start for doing interviews. The data protection issues are particularly important if you include a third party or a service/assistant to transcribe your data. Not all parts in this template are necessary for your specific research project.

The template is in German, but we will provide an English translation if necessary.You do not have to use the entire template - you can adapt it to your purpose of research.

In short:

1. Inform your interview partners in advance about the research project and the consent form you have adapted: that you want to record/transcribe and analyse the interview. Explain for what purpose your research is intended, who has access to the data and how you will handle data and data protection. Also, let your interview partners know that they have the right to withdraw at any time and provide them with a copy of the adapted written consent form. Keep the email correspondence if necessary. 

3. Store your data in a safe and password-protected place, such as the university server or the repository. Do not store personal data in a cloud. Also, try to keep the data within the reach of the EU ordinance for data protection. Also, have a look at the FAQ point research data management here at the Library.

Data handling is a very important measure for every research project. At any point in your research career or further projects, you might be asked how you are going to or how you have handled your data. 

This should be prepared in the project planning phase and should always be adapted during the entire project. The following points should be considered in your research data management.

  •     What kind of data is generated and how is it generated?
  •     Which methods are used?
  •     Which general conditions (standards and policies of the discipline, research institution or funding agency) apply with regard to archiving and publication?
  •     Which formats will be chosen and how large will the volume of data be?
  •     How will data be named and ordered?
  •     How will the data be regularly backed up?
  •     How will sensitive data be protected?
  •     How will the data be described?
  •     Should the data be published later? If not, why? If yes, where and with which license? 


The university library research data management is able to help you manage your data. if you have any questions on storage or a good storage facility, we have a lot of specialists that also help you develop a plan.

Good research practice recommendations by DFG ask all researchers to keep their research data for about 10 years after publication.

For backup services, you can ask the ZEDAT.

For a long-time repositiory, the FU library is able to store your data institutionally. As the Freie Universität Berlin institutional repository, Refubium provides Freie Universität members with a free-of-cost framework to electronically publish documents, doctoral and habiltation theses, as well as research data. Even if you do not want to electronically publish your data, they can help with long-time storage (Langzeitarchivierung).

Any questions on the refubium and your research data:

E-Mail: forschungsdaten@fu-berlin.de


Redaktion Dokumentenserver

Freie Universität Berlin University Library
Garystr. 39 
D-14195 Berlin

Questions concerning the publication of your research data
E-mail: kontakt[at]refubium.fu-berlin.de

The DFG (German Research Council) issues recommendations for Safeguarding Good Research Practice, which all researchers should abide to. It is advised to read and understand the guidelines before starting a project.

The Codex can be downloaded at the DFG website in German and English.

The following FAQ should help implementing the commitment to this codec, in particular with regard to research ethics and fieldwork at GEAS.