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Human ethics

07 June 2024

Any research or teaching activity in which people are subjected to experimental procedures, observation, questioning, or are otherwise used as a source of information or data requires ethical review and approval - unless excluded by the scope and exemptions in the Human Ethics Committee (HREC) Policy. If your research will involve mātauranga Māori or Māori participants, Māori Consultation will also be required. Learn about ethics approval for research at UC.


The Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) reviews all proposals that are conducted within the University or outside the University. The HREC reviews research proposals from all Faculties and research units within the University.


The Human Research Ethics Committee of the University of Canterbury (HREC), only accepts project applications for review from:

  • Academic staff of the University of Canterbury
  • Visiting academic staff
  • Research Associates of the University of Canterbury, as endorsed by an academic staff member
  • Students who are enrolled in a course of study at the University of Canterbury and who will carry out research under the supervision of, or in collaboration with, an academic staff member of the university

Please note that it is not possible to grant "retrospective" ethics approval for projects.


Any research or teaching activity in which persons are subjected to experimental procedures or observation or questioning or otherwise used as a source of information or data unless excluded by the scope and exemptions in the Human Research Ethics Committee Policy requires ethical review and approval by the UC HREC.

Please refer to the Human Ethics Policy below for further information

Māori Consultation

If your research is likely to involve Māori participants or have an impact on tangata whenua including kaupapa Māori, taonga artifacts and species, or access to Māori land, you will need to complete the Māori Consultation process and obtain an acceptance letter in support of your research. You can find further information and application forms for this here

If your research involves any of the following, you may also require, by law, review by the Ministry of Health administered Health & Disability Ethics Committees (HDEC).

  • Human participants recruited in their capacity as consumers of health or disability support services, or relatives or caregivers of such consumers, or volunteers in clinical trials; or
  • Human tissue; or
  • Health information.

See the Health and Disability Ethics Committees (HDECs) website for more information.

A scope of review form should be completed to determine whether or not HDEC review is necessary.

Should you require HDEC review, the University of Canterbury requires a finalised copy of your application when it is submitted and when it is approved and reserves the right to ask for changes within the scope of HDEC’s approval.

  • Public Records Act 2005
  • Care of Children Act 2004.
  • Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Act 2001
  • Health and Disability Commissioner Act 1994
  • Health Research Council Act 1990
  • Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992
  • New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990
  • Official Information Act 1982
  • Privacy Act 2020
  • Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988
  • Human Rights Act 1993
  • Archives Act 1957

For details of each Act see New Zealand Legislation.

Social Media and Research – Blogs and Forums

[With thanks to Keely Blanch, PhD Candidate from the University of Otago for these suggestions].

One of the key principles of ethical research is that information is used for the purposes for which it is given. Most social media sites are developed to provide a forum for a particular issue, without a research audience in mind.

The following is intended as a guide only to help you consider some of the ethical issues involving researching Blogs, Forums and other Social Media. If you are unsure about anything mentioned here, please contact the HEC Chair or Secretary at to discuss your research.

If blogs are public, posts can be seen to be public statements and consent to quote/research them may not be necessary. However, there are still many ethical and practical considerations to bear in mind. Some of these are outlined below.

  • Does the blog have any statement anywhere that aims to protect posts or restrict use of content? Even if not legally enforceable, this would raise ethical issues. You may need to check the blog host's Terms and Conditions, e.g. Google Blogger or Wordpress for any restrictions of use.
  • Does the blog aim to be widely read by a public audience - does it advertise or cross-post to increase traffic etc.? Is this a niche topic - What is the writer's expectation of privacy? Do you need to consider this? Does the researcher have to join/ login to site to access? Even when posting ‘publically’, research shows many writers aim their posts at a select few of their friend group and do not consider the invisible audience. Often people write for 'people like me' and won't have had the general public or researchers in mind.
  • What identifiers need to be masked – name, profile pictures, photos used (all searchable)?
  • When researching forums - how will you anonymise the data? How much data will you share? Online personas and networks are “like fingerprints” and can be identified. The more individualised data shared, the more potential for identification. Data can be linked and tracked back. Direct quotes are traceable – you can consider rewording but will this keep the original intent of the post? Perhaps multiple pseudonyms per individual could be used to mask identities? Can you truly promise anonymity? Is the forum dedicated to addressing a sensitive issue? If so, you ask permission from the forum participants to use their data.
  • Is the research likely to increase the visibility of posts and increase risk for participants? Participants may have posted publically originally, but may have only conceived a particular audience and not considered the risk of a wider exposure.
  • Is there any discussion/pictures/details of people from the writer's life (e.g. family, especially children) that may be impacted? The use of pictures by people who have not consented to be part of a research project is highly risky and should be avoided if at all possible. If a writer does not consider ethics, should researchers compound this?
  • Check if anyone can post or is the site for approved authors only? In which case what Terms and Conditions do they operate under as authors?

Essentially, it is important that researchers understand some of the 'unspoken' rules and norms of sites to ethically research and use data, or have someone who does (like the blog owner) to 'interpret'. The researcher could find it useful to contact the blog owner and ask for permission to use posts in their research. If authors have to be approved by the blog owner then they will possibly have communicated guidelines for posting. Forums are different, and will depend on how the site is set up, but again, ideally permission is sought for the data to be used for research. This could be done by posting a statement on the forum board giving an email address (remember to space it out and use 'dot' for ' . ' so the spambots don't pick up the address!) to opt out of having posts considered; and this also gives people a chance to look at their posts with a researcher/non-community member in mind.

Privacy Obligations and Considerations for Research with Human Participants (PDF)

It is the responsibility of the researcher to securely store their research data for the appropriate length of time as stated in their ethics application. The researcher must then ensure that any data is securely destroyed after this period of time has elapsed.

Should it become necessary to transfer hard-copy or video data to electronic format, this should be done in a secure manner and any hard-copy or video data should then be securely destroyed. The electronic format data should then be held for the appropriate length of time as stated in the ethics application and then securely destroyed.

Researchers may choose to give participants a token of appreciation, such as a voucher, for taking part in their research. It is important that any such token is understood as a gift and not as a reimbursement for time, due to the potential tax implications. Researchers still need to hold a register of who has received gift vouchers and this can be kept confidentially by the researcher.

  • TREAD (The Research Ethics Application Database) - for examples of ethics applications from around the world.
  • Survey Policy - If you are surveying students or staff at the University of Canterbury.
  • The aspirational New Brunswick Declaration on Research Ethics (PDF) (promoting respect and equality for all in the regulation of research ethics).
  • Ethical Research Involving Children: A product of the ERIC (Ethical Research Involving Children) to help researchers consider the ethical complexities of research involving children. ERIC is a joint project between UNICEF’s Office of Research, Innocenti, the Childwatch International Research Network, the Centre for Children and Young People at Southern Cross University, Australia, and the Children’s Issues Centre at the University of Otago, New Zealand.

Membership of the HREC

One member nominated by the Vice-ChancellorDean of Science or nominee: Position Vacant
Three members nominated by the Dean of Arts
One each from the Department of Psychology, the School of Humanities and the School of Social & Political Sciences

Dr Jacinta Cording (Psychology, Speech and Hearing) (Co-Chair)
Dr Raewyn Tudor (Social Work)

1 Position Vacant

One member nominated by the Dean of BusinessDr Anushia Inthiran (Accounting & Information Systems)
One member nominated by the Dean of EducationDr Patrick Shepherd (School of Teacher Education)
One member nominated by the Dean of EngineeringDr Lui Holder-Pearson (Mechanical Engineering)
One member nominated by the Dean of LawDr Sascha Mueller (Law)
One member elected by the academic staffPosition Vacant
Two Laypeople appointed by the committee

Dr Lauretta Muir
Charlie Martin

A representative of the Students' AssociationErin Spencer
Two representatives of the Maori communityOne of whom is nominated by the iwi, and the other by the Maori Community within the University.
Iwi representative: Dr Lindsey MacDonald (Co-Chair)
Maori Community within the University: Dr Phillip Borell
Co-opted members

Dr Dean Sutherland (Psychology, Speech, & Hearing) 
Dr Bahareh Shahri (School of Product Design)
Dr Donald Derrick (New Zealand Institute for Language, Brain, and Behaviour)
Kathryn Andrews (Library)

Dr Christoph Teschers (Educational Studies and Leadership)

James Bowden (Research and Innovation)

Dr Jayson Ware (Faculty of Law)

Dr Shweta Sharma (School of Teacher Education)

The committee should elect its own Chairperson and have the power to co-opt.


For all enquiries concerning:

  • Principles and guidelines
  • Scope of HREC process
  • Exemption from application
  • Filling out application forms (including low risk and full applications)
  • HREC training programme
  • Complaints
  • Presentations to students and/or staff regarding the ethical process

Contact the Co-Chairs, Dr Lindsey MacDonald and Dr Jacinta Cording

For all enquiries concerning:

  • General enquiries
  • Circulation of applications
  • Progress of applications
  • Letters of approval

Contact the secretary, Rebecca Robinson, +64 3 369 4588 ext: 94588. 

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