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Other sources

Much material of interest to researchers is not openly published. Broadly this falls into four categories:

  • Research commissioned for internal use that is not intended for public dissemination. For example a Social Service Department commissioned a review of its fostering and adoption services. The authority anticipated some of the findings would be sensitive and preferred them not to be made public. Awareness of what is a vast body of research may be reliant on word of mouth and having local contacts. Sometimes organisations are willing to share some or all internal reports with agreement on their specific use.

  • Another type of material intended for an internal audience or closed list of recipients includes in-house newsletters of a health trust or a social services department. These may help identify individuals undertaking research within the organisation or research of the type mentioned above.

  • 'Grey literature' - an umbrella heading for much of the paperwork which circulates around governmental and private organisations. For example committee minutes, internal discussion documents and planning papers. Some of this is theoretically publicly accessible though often difficult to track down (like local authority committee minutes); much is not confidential. Rather it is likely to be aimed at an internal audience and written with this in mind. You may again need some insider contacts in order to obtain sight of copies,although again more of this type of material is now accessible via the internet.

  • Materials that are confidential, usually because they contain personal information, such as patient/client files and where special permission is needed to use them for research purposes.

Accessing confidential materials

Researchers have no right to use confidential data as the raw materials for their studies. They have to negotiate access and meet specified conditions. These operate at three levels:

  • Data Protection Act 1984 and 1998. These set out the rules for the UK under which personal data, whether held electronically or on paper, may be held and the purposes for which it may be used.

  • Local regulations. Within health services there are local Ethical Committees which must vet and approve research proposals. Social services are subject to the guidelines laid out by the Research Governance Framework for Health and Social Care. Agencies are responsible for protecting client data, so they will have their own protocols. A sub-committee of the Association of Directors of Social Services tries to provide some national co-ordination to avoid, for example, duplicating research. Generally all local regulations will be geared towards access for approved research projects only so access data solely for professional interest is very unlikely.

  • Individual arrangements. Even if you get through the other hurdles to an 'in principle' agreement, you still have to negotiate a detailed arrangement to cover the terms for your specific access. These are likely to involve:
    • The procedures you will use, such as looking at files and restrictions on taking them out of the room, etc.
    • Formal commitments from you as to your conduct, or your willingness to abide by the organisation's own rules for seeing confidential material.

Fact file

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