Ethical review in human sciences

Last updated 10.10.2023

In Finland, ethical review of non-medical research involving human participants is based on a set of guidelines drawn up by the Finnish National Board on Research Integrity TENK:

The ethical principles for research with human participants serve as a starting point for ethical review work carried out by ethics committees in the human sciences.

The guidelines for ethical review in research with human participants are intended for research designs where ethical review is not regulated separately in the Medical Research Act (488/1999).  Besides humanities and social sciences, these research designs include research with human participants in the natural sciences and technology, in artistic research, and in some cases also in non-invasive health or medical research.

Ethical questions associated with research in the humanities and social and behavioural sciences relate mainly to the interaction between researcher and research subject, which may involve unpredictable factors. It is always the researcher who bears responsibility for the ethical and moral decisions involved in the research.

Ethical review applies only to precisely defined research configurations. The researcher must request an ethical review statement from a human sciences ethics committee, if their research contains any of the following:

  1. participation in the research deviates from the principle of informed consent,
  2. the research involves intervening in the physical integrity of research participants,
  3. the focus of the research is on minors under the age of 15, without separate consent from a parent or carer or without informing a parent or carer in a way that would enable them to prevent the child’s participation in the research,
  4. research that exposes participants to exceptionally strong stimuli,
  5. research that involves a risk of causing mental harm that exceeds the limits of normal daily life to the research participants or their family members or others closest to them or
  6. conducting the research could involve a threat to the safety of participants or researchers or their family members or others closest to them.

If the research contains any of the factors above and the research has not undergone ethical review, this may constitute a violation of responsible conduct of research (RCR) and, where necessary, it may be resolved through the process of handling allegations of research misconduct.

An ethical review statement may also be requested when a funding body, collaborative partner, research object or publisher so requests. However, it must be noted that a statement cannot be requested once the research has commenced. Where research is carried out or data is gathered outside Finland, the researcher must familiarise themselves with the ethical review practices in the target country.

The updated guidelines have been in force since 1 October 2019 in organisations that have committed to compling with them. Research organisations may commit to complying with the guidelines by signing a form to this effect (available only in Finnish and Swedish). TENK publishes on its website a list of organisations (in Finnish and Swedish) that have undertaken to comply with the guidelines.