A human sciences ethics committee had partly misinterpreted TENK guidelines, but acted in accordance with them when requesting additional justifications and supplementary material for the application appendices (TENK 2021:14)

Humanities researchers A and B requested a statement from TENK on the statement of their university’s human sciences ethics committee. In its statement, the committee had ruled that those under the age of 15 could not participate in the study without informing a guardian. The committee had asked for more solid grounds for not informing guardians. The committee had also requested that the application be accompanied by a consent form and a privacy notice.

According to the researchers, the planned study was to be carried out as a survey and its subject was such that the guardians could not be informed. The researchers also argued that the privacy notice was not necessary because the purpose of the survey was to target a large number of respondents and the respondents’ personal data would not be collected. TENK’s position on this topic is that the participation in the study of a person aged under 15 without their guardian’s separate consent or knowledge is justified if the matters under study are those for which it would not otherwise be possible to obtain comprehensive research data. In such cases, the research must be subject to an ethical review and the researcher must substantiate the reason why it is not possible to inform the guardian or obtain their consent. In addition, it must be ensured that the study does not cause harm to the research participants and that the minors who are asked to participate are able to understand the subject matter of the study and

what participation in the study specifically requires of them.

In this case, TENK took the view that the topic of the study was such that it was justified not to seek consent from the guardians. The topic was thus subject to the guidelines on ethical reviews. However, the committee had acted in accordance with TENK guidelines when requesting additional justifications and supplementary information for the application appendices, which were still partly incomplete even after this information was provided. For example, the researchers had reason to note that personally identifiable information may be collected from background information and responses even if the subjects were instructed not to provide personally identifiable information.

Both providing application appendices that conformed to the TENK guidelines and more precisely assessing the criteria would have facilitated the ethical review work of the Ethics Committee, prevented key interpretative disputes, and sped up the processing of the statement and initiation of the study.