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
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:
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