Research guidelines and

data protection

Whenever collecting data about individuals you need to be aware of legislation around data protection. This is a quick summary of legislation and industry guidelines which may be relevant to you; it is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such
What is data protection?
The Data Protection Act 1998 regulates the processing of personal data. It protects the rights of individuals to ensure that all personal data is stored securely and processed fairly and lawfully.
For more in-depth information on these issues, please consult the websites of the Information Commissioner’s Office ( and the Market Research Society (

The Market Research Society Code of Conduct The MRS Code of Conduct is a voluntary code of practice which all MRS members are obliged to ensure any research programmes we are involved with also follow the code. Even if you are not an MRS member, it’s a really useful guide to ensure that professional standards are maintained at all stages within the research process, giving you better research and putting respondents at ease. The code can be found at The general principles of the MRS code of conduct: • Research is founded on willing cooperation. It depends upon confidence that it is conducted honestly, objectively and without unwelcome intrusion or harm to respondents. Its purpose is to collect and analyse information, and not directly to create sales nor to influence the opinions of anyone participating in it. • The general public and other interested parties shall be entitled to complete assurance that no information collected in a research survey which could be used to identify them will be disclosed to anyone else without their agreement; that the information they supply will not be used for purposes other than research and that they will in no way be adversely affected as a result of participation. • Wherever possible, respondents must be informed as to the purpose of the research and the likely length of time necessary for the collection of the information. • Research findings must always be reported accurately and never used to mislead anyone, in any way. When carrying out any surveys: • Respondents must not be misled when being asked for cooperation to participate in a research project. • A Respondent’s right to withdraw from a research project at any stage must be respected. • Respondents must be able to check without difficulty the identity and bona fides (credentials) of any individual and/or their employer conducting a research project. • Interviewers must ensure that all of the following are clearly communicated to the Respondent: » the name of the interviewer; » the general subject of the interview; » the purpose of the interview; » if asked, the likely length of the interview. • Respondents must not be unduly pressured to participate. • Interviewers must delete any responses given by Respondents, if requested, and if reasonable and practicable. • Interviewers must not reveal to any other Respondents the detailed answers provided by any Respondent or the identity of any other Respondent interviewed. • Where incentives are offered, Interviewers must clearly inform Respondent who will administer the incentive. • Respondent right to anonymity and confidentiality: the anonymity of Respondents must be preserved unless they have given their informed consent for their details to be revealed. • Strict regulations apply for interviewing children – parent/guardian consent is required for interviewing under 16s.

The Data Protection Act Data protection legislation must be adhered to, and not doing so can have serious consequences. It operates on the principle that individuals must give informed consent to the ways in which their personal data is used. Informed consent consists of two main elements: • Transparency: ensuring that individuals have a very clear & unambiguous understanding of the purpose/s of collecting the data and how it will be used. • Consent: at the time that the data is collected, individuals agree to their data being collected, and have the opportunity to withhold their agreement to any subsequent use of data. This is especially important to remember at the point of collecting the data – the respondent needs to be told why the research is taking place, what it will be used for, and explicitly agree to their data being collected. The eight principles of data protection – personal data should be: • fairly and lawfully processed; • processed for limited purposes; • adequate, relevant and not excessive; • accurate and up to date; • not kept longer than necessary; • processed in accordance with the individual’s rights; • secure; • not transferred to countries outside the European Economic Area unless the country has adequate protection for the individual. What is personal data? The Data Protection Act 1998 applies to personal data about a living, identifiable individual. Although there are some exceptions, it is best to assume that all information about a living, identifiable individual is personal data, and therefore should be treated in accordance with the Act. What is sensitive personal data? Some personal data is classed as sensitive personal data. This type of data is subject to further regulations under the Data Protection Act and can only be processed under certain circumstances. Personal data becomes sensitive if it includes any of the following types of information about an identifiable, living individual: • racial or ethnic origin • political opinions • religious beliefs • trade union membership • physical or mental health • sexual life • commission of offences or alleged offences. Some of these areas, in particular ethnic origin, may be ones which you wish to include in your research in order to monitor diversity. You should only ask for personal sensitive data if you need to – this isn’t to say you should shy away from doing so if it is necessary, just that you will be required to treat it with more care than other sorts of data. On the whole, by sticking with the MRS Code of Conduct you will also be adhering to data protection law. More information is available at the Information Commissioner’s Office, (

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