UBC Behavioural guidance during the COVID-19 Research Restrictions

*June 29, 2020* The VPRI convened a task force to determine how social sciences and behavioural in-person/face-to-face research would resume as the Province and UBC reduce restrictions. The working group members are:

  • Dr. Paul van Donkelaar Chair | Associate Vice-Principal, Research – UBC Okanagan
  • Dr. Matthew Evenden | Associate Vice-President Research & Innovation
  • Sunny Loo | Patient / Community Advisor
  • Dr. Karen Bartlett | Chair BREB-Vancouver
  • Dr. Carolyn Szostak | Co-Chair, BREB-Okanagan
  • Dr. William McKellin | Associate Chair, BREB-Vancouver
  • Dr. Jude Kornelsen | Member, BREB-Vancouver
  • Jean Ruiz | Senior Research Ethics Analyst
  • Laurel Evans | Director, Office of Research Ethics
  • Wendy Bond | Research Ethics Coordinator

Direct input was also sought from the Heads of several research-intensive departments as well as from the Indigenous Research Support Initiative (IRSI).

The University has replaced the research exemption process (in place since March 2020) with Faculty-led procedures for authorizing and prioritizing the resumption of research. Please consult with your Faculty/Department Head for details. BREB forms and guidance have been updated to support the new process and are outlined below.

The guidance on this page will be effective June 29, 2020. 

How will my research be affected? 

Requirements at a glance

BREB table

With respect to in-person human participant research, the intention is to permit studies that are beneficial to the participants and/or are urgent due to circumstances related to the research outcomes or researcher constraints. Each department is responsible for considering which on-campus and off-campus/in-person/face-to-face research should proceed during this phase.

How long will it take for ethics review?

Once the departmental steps are completed and the application is submitted, the usual turnaround times for BREB review of ethics applications can be met. There will also be no change in how studies are assigned as Minimal Risk (review by one board member) or Above Minimal Risk (review at a scheduled full board meeting), with a few exceptions:

If your research does not allow compliance with the provincial physical distancing guidelines, your ethics application may be referred to the full board for additional consideration, even if the study would otherwise be considered minimal risk..

If your research is COVID-19 related and urgent, the BREB staff will expedite the review of your application.  Full Board urgent COVID-19 research applications needing to be expedited may need to be reviewed at a special meeting.  Please let BREB staff know as early as possible if your research is urgent and is subject to additional constraints outside your control.

The BREB encourages researchers – where it will not compromise research validity – to replace in-person/face-to-face data collection with online procedures.

Consultations with BREB

Research Ethics staff continue to be available for consultations and can be reached by email at the addresses shown on our contact pages Vancouver Campus and Okanagan Campus.

If you are delayed in getting ethics approval and need access to grant funding for non-data collection activities, a request for release of funds before ethics approval will be considered. 

Limited resumption of In-Person research

Behavioural Research Ethics Board Guidance is provided for limited resumption of in-person research both on-campus and off-campus. This guidance does not apply when health authority sites are being used for research. Please contact your Health Authority or Health Institution for guidance.

For all other in-person research, including the following examples, please carefully review the guidance below. 

  • New ethics application for research that requires in-person contact with participants.
  • Existing ethics application involving in-person research and which did not receive full approval during the campus-wide research curtailment; the researcher is resubmitting for approval to start their research.
  • Amendment to an approved ethics application to add an in-person component.
  • Approved ethics application that includes in-person research that the researcher halted during the curtailment; the researcher is resubmitting to resume their research.
  • Student research being conducted outside Canada.

In each instance, departmental support to conduct the research must be received before the behavioural research ethics application can be reviewed. Review the steps below before submitting your ethics application.

In addition, any student whose research involves travel outside Canada must attach their approved "exemption to travel" form to their ethics application. Students should allow 6-8 weeks for securing the required signatures for the exemption, AND allow a minimum of 4 weeks for ethics review and approval. Where an exemption is received, the Safety Abroad Planning Record can be submitted (once approved) in lieu of the BREB’s Safe Research Plan. Please go to https://safetyabroad.ubc.ca/ for requirements.

For more information about UBC’s phased approach to resuming research, please see: https://research.ubc.ca/planning-phased-resumption-campus-research-schol....

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Resources and Forms

COVID-19 Form | Required for all research that is COVID-related, both on-campus and off-campus, using in-person and virtual means of conducting the research. Completed by the researcher to help them specify the risk and benefits of their proposed COVID-related research. The form will be used during BREB review to help in understanding the intentions and potential risks of the project. If the research is in-person, sign off from the researcher’s department/unit head will indicate that there is agreement about the level of urgency. 

Supplementary Research Form | Required for all non-COVID-related research that will be conducted in-person, both on-campus and off-campus. This form is designed to help researchers identify the risks and benefits of their research in the context of the COVID pandemic. It also helps the BREB understand why the research should not be delayed. Sign off from the researcher’s department/unit head will indicate that there is agreement about the level of urgency. 

Safe Research Guidelines | (updated September 4, 2020) A Safe Research Plan is required for all in-person/face-to-face engagement with research participants and must be attached to your ethics application.*NEW* You will also be required to attach the Notice of COVID-related Risks during Research (provided by the BREB to the package sent to invitees or participants.

Safe Research Plan Template | Optional template for developing your Safe Research Plan. Please review the guidelines before creating your plan. Submit your Plan to the department head with other BREB forms (their signature is not required).

Notice of COVID-related Risks during Research (July 31, 2020) | Attach this document to the information package sent to particpants or invitees. The information in this document explains contact tracing practices, including what information will be retained by the research team and how it may be used. 

Guide for Assessing Benefit and Urgency | Provided to Faculties to assist in determining which on-campus and off-campus/in-person studies should be able to commence or resume during this phase.

Zoom Conferencing in Research | BREB resource to assist researchers who are new to using conferencing platforms for research data collection. 

Glossary of Terms

Departmental Review of In-Person Research Projects

All IN-PERSON research (new | conditionally approved | previously approved by the BREB) and ON-CAMPUS research (using UBC facilities) is now required to go through a Faculty-led prioritization process.

On-Campus Research | Departmental prioritization will be granted only to research which is deemed to require on-campus resources. This process applies both to participant-involved research happening on campus and to research that requires the use of UBC facilities, whether or not participants are required to be on campus. See Departmental Process for On-Campus Research for instructions.

Off Campus/In-Person Research | Departmental review is required for any in-person research involving UBC faculty, employees and students that is being conducted within or outside Canada. See Departmental Process for Off-Campus Research for instructions.

Off Campus Online-Only Research | The additional forms described below are not required and departmental sign-off of ethics applications will occur through RISe as usual.

Departmental Process for On-Campus Research

Step 1 | Complete your Faculty's/Department’s process for allowing on-campus research 

a. Follow your Faculty’s direction for accessing campus facilities and resources.

b. If your research involves in-person contact, also complete the COVID-19 Form OR the Supplementary Research Form. Submit the form to your Department Head or Unit Lead for signature.

c. Have a signed scanned copy of the form ready to attach to your ethics application.

Step 2 | Complete the Ethics application

Determine which of the scenarios applies to your research. 

If your research is COVID-related (applies to new applications and amendments)

a. Review the Detailed Documentation Guidelines for COVID-related research.

b. Review supporting documents such as consent forms, letters of invitation and recruitment ads to ensure they align with current guidelines for physical distancing. Clearly describe to participants that there will be COVID-19 related content in the study. See detailed guidance for including COVID content in your research.

c. Include “COVID-19” in the study nickname (Box 1.8).

d. Ensure your ethics application includes details pertinent to the COVID focus of your research (Box 5.1) and specifies what research activities will be conducted on campus (Box 5.6).

e. Attach to Box 9.7 as appropriate:

  • COVID-19 Form (required for all COVID-related research)
  • Safe Research Plan (required if your research involves in-person contact between researchers and participants or if research materials are shared with research participants)
If your research is not COVID-related (applies to new applications and amendments)

a. Review supporting documents such as consent forms, letters of invitation and recruitment ads to ensure they have been updated to current guidelines for physical distancing.

b. Ensure your ethics application specifies what research activities will be conducted on campus (Box 5.6)

c. Attach to Box 9.7 as appropriate:

  • Supplementary Research Form (Required for all research that will be conducted in-person)
  • Safe Research Plan (required if your research involves in-person contact between researchers and participants or if research materials are shared with research participants)
If you wish to begin conditionally approved research or resume research that has been on hold

If your study has been conditionally approved OR if you temporarily halted your in-person research OR if you temporarily switched to online interactions with participants and want to begin or resume in-person interactions additional documentation will be required before research can start.

a. Ensure your ethics application specifies which research activities will occur on campus (Box 5.6).

b. Review supporting documents such as consent forms, letters of invitation and recruitment ads to ensure they have been updated to current guidelines for physical distancing.

c. Attach to Box 9.7, as appropriate:

  • Supplementary Research Form (Required for all research that will be conducted in-person)
  • Safe Research Plan (required if your research involves in-person contact between researchers and participants or if research materials are shared with research participants)
Departmental Process for Off-Campus Research

Step 1 | Faculty-Department’s process for reviewing in-person research

If your research involves in-person contact but you will not require access to on-campus facilities, your Department Head or Unit Head will need to sign off on your research. This will confirm for the BREB that:

  • the research cannot be conducted remotely or online
  • the research is considered beneficial to participants, and/or
  • there is some urgency in conducting the research due to anticipated outcomes or researcher factors (e.g. external deadlines that cannot be extended)

The BREB has developed a Guide for Assessing Benefit and Urgency to assist departments in considering whether off-campus research should proceed at this time.

a. Complete the COVID-19 Form OR the Supplementary Research Form. Submit the form to your Department Head or Unit Lead for signature. 

b. Have signed/scanned copies of the form ready to attach to your ethics application.

Step 2 | Complete the Ethics application

Determine which of the scenarios applies to your research

If your research is COVID-related (applies to new applications and amendments)

Although research restrictions have been reduced, you will still need to complete additional documentation before proceeding.

a. Ensure your ethics application includes details of how you will manage researcher-participant interactions within the current guidelines for physical distancing (Box 5.6) and address any safety considerations (Box 6.2)

b. Review supporting documents such as consent forms, letters of invitation and recruitment ads; update to current guidelines for physical distancing.

c. Submit your study for review or, if your research was previously approved, submit an amendment with the additional documentation.

d. Attach to Box 9.7 as appropriate:

  • COVID-19 Form (Required for all COVID-related research)
  • Safe Research Plan (required if your research involves in-person contact between researchers and participants or if research materials are shared with research participants)
If your research is not COVID-related (applies to new applications and amendments)

a. Ensure your ethics application includes details of how you will manage researcher-participant interactions within the current guidelines for physical distancing (Box 5.6) and address any safety considerations (Box 6.2)

b. Review supporting documents such as consent forms, letters of invitation and recruitment ads to ensure they have been updated to current guidelines for physical distancing.

c. Submit your study for review or, if your research was previously approved, submit an amendment with the additional documentation.

d. Attach to Box 9.7 as appropriate:

  • Supplementary Research Form (Required for all research that will be conducted in-person)
  • Safe Research Plan (required if your research involves in-person contact between researchers and participants or if research materials are shared with research participants)
If you wish to commence conditionally approved research or resume research that has been on hold

Although research restrictions have been reduced, you will still need to complete additional documentation before proceeding.

a. Ensure your ethics application includes details of how you will manage researcher-participant interactions within the current guidelines for physical distancing (Box 5.6) and address any safety considerations (Box 6.2)

b. Review supporting documents such as consent forms, letters of invitation and recruitment ads to ensure they have been updated to current guidelines for physical distancing.

c. Re-submit your study for final approval, or, if your research was previously approved but has been on hold, please submit an amendment with the additional documentation.

d. Attach to Box 9.7 as appropriate:

  • Supplementary Research Form (Required for all research that will be conducted in-person)
  • Safe Research Plan (required if your research involves in-person contact between researchers and participants or if research materials are shared with research participants)
Submitting an Amendment to Remove In-Person Contact with Participants

As long as the change will not compromise research validity, the BREB encourages researchers to replace in-person with online data collection methods. If you are conducting your research without the use of UBC facilities and it is not in-person, the additional departmental review will not be required. COVID-related research conducted solely online does require the COVID-19 Form but does not require departmental signature. 

a. Open an amendment and briefly explain the change.

b. List the new/modified supporting documents (consent form, letter of invitation, etc.) in the PAA Coversheet.

c. Review the ethics application to identify where additional detail is needed, including changes to recruitment (Box 5.4), procedures (Box 5.4), consent (Box 6.6), data storage and confidentiality (page 8).

d. At the bottom of each box, include a sub-heading and describe the changes. (Do not overwrite existing approved content.)  E.g. Box 5.6. “June 2020 amendment | In-person interviews will be replaced with online interviews using Zoom (UBC account). Audio only will be recorded and transcribed by the PI.”

e. Ensure that the supporting documents (letters of introduction, consent forms, etc.) are revised to reflect the change in participant interaction; upload to page 9.

Detailed Documentation Guidelines for COVID-Related Research

The following applies both to new studies and amendments to previously approved ethics applications. In order to mitigate risks associated with the inclusion of COVID-related topics, please follow this guidance.

Recruitment materials (including ads, posters, letters of invitation, information sheets)

  • Clearly state that the research involves discussion/consideration of topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic. If questions about the pandemic are not optional, make this clear in recruitment materials so invitees can choose to opt out.

Consent forms/scripts

  • Clearly disclose that the researcher will be asking COVID-related questions and provide the research justification in lay terms for including the topic.
  • Provide examples of COVID-related questions you will be asking. 
  • Indicate whether COVID-related questions can be skipped. If answering the COVID-related questions is a condition of eligibility, (i.e. if not answering would disqualify a participant), make this clear so invitees don't waste their time.
  • If COVID-related questions are being added to a study in progress, all participants still active in the study will need to be reconsented. This could be done either through a supplementary script or email explaining the nature of the additions and options available to them (i.e. withdraw from further participation without penalty, skip the COVID-related questions, proceed to answer all questions). Attach the consent renewal materials to Box 9.2.

Questionnaires/surveys

  • Provide a warning at the point where COVID-related questions begin, e.g. “The next 5 questions are asking about your experience with the COVID-19 pandemic. You can skip these questions if you prefer not to answer them. “
  • Ensure that the survey tool allows participants to skip questions, either by providing a “prefer not to answer” response or by allowing users to bypass the question set. E.g. “I would like to skip this section.” The BREB prefers that both options are provided, since some people may not even want to read the questions or may change their mind partway through.

Interview script

  • During the interview introductions, explain how you will handle the COVID-19 related questions and what options are available to participants.
  • If answering questions about COVID are essential to participating in the research, we recommend that you seek verbal confirmation from the participant at the beginning of the interview to ensure that they understand, but also remind them that they can decide at any point to discontinue the interview. E.g. “I am asking for your agreement to answer questions about the COVID-19 pandemic during this interview. But even if you say “yes” now, you can still change your mind later.”
  • If the questions are optional, explain how participants can signal to you that they do not want to answer COVID-related questions.

Focus-group script

Because individual participants will have less control over a focus group discussion than in a one-to-one interview scenario, special care should be taken. Before the discussion begins:

  • Remind participants that COVID-19 will be discussed.
  • Include a warning that participants may find the topic upsetting and they should feel free to leave at any time. 
  • Advise participants that information disclosed in the session should not be shared outside the group, but remind participants that the researcher cannot guarantee confidentiality.

List of support services & resources

  • Attach a list of resources to your application and ensure the services are continuing to function during the pandemic restrictions.
  • Provide the list of resources to participants at the outset of their engagement.  
Course-Based Research Projects

Applies to initial applications and renewals/amendments:

  • Course-based research projects that are ongoing and are exclusively using online methods can continue.
  • Course-based research projects that involve in-person contact will need to be amended before the projects can begin. Please update the ethics application sections where appropriate, and attach the modified supporting templates/documents (consent forms and introductory emails), to reflect that no in-person methods will be used.
Registries of COVID-Related Research in BC

In order to have an accurate listing of COVID-19 related research in BC, UBC has joined with other research institutions and agencies in compiling these studies in a publicly available registry. The collaborators include BC Academic Health Sciences Network (including Clinical Trials BC and Research Ethics BC), the Ministry of Health, Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and the BC Centre for Disease Control. In support of this initiative, the BREB will be providing information about your study for publication in the inventory, including: Principal Investigator, study title and description.

For more information please go to: https://bcahsn.ca/covid-19-response/inventory/

A separate registry of COVID-related studies is also being compiled by UBC and is meant to assist researchers in connecting with other researchers working in similar areas. for more information, please go to: https://COVID19.research.ubc.ca/research-projects.  

If you have any objections to your research information being listed, please let us know during the ethics application review process. The BREB encourages researchers to review both registries for potential collaborations.

Glossary of Terms

COVID-Related Research: Any research about how the COVID pandemic has affected populations, whether physically, socially, or in terms of mental health. It also refers to research that includes COVID questions, even if the overarching purpose of the research is not about COVID. Note that if you have altered your research methods or participant involvement to accommodate COVID restrictions on research, but have not added any COVID topics, your research will not be considered “COVID-related.”

In-person: Any research that happens where the researchers and research participants are physically in the same space, whether or not they are practicing social distancing, and regardless of whether the activity takes place in-doors or outdoors.

Off-Campus Research: Includes the use of any locations that are off UBC property or facilities at UBC Point Grey, Robson Square, and Okanagan.

On-Campus Research: Includes the use of UBC facilities or properties by researchers with or without research participants. This applies to Point Grey campus, Robson Square, and Okanagan. Examples of on-campus research include the use of laboratories and other UBC facilities for conducting data analysis, interviews, focus groups, exercise studies, behavioural experimentation, and support group meetings.

Physical (Social) Distancing: The BC Centre for Disease Control defines physical distancing as limiting close contact with others when outside the home, by keeping two meters (six feet) away from one another.

Using ZOOM for Data Collection in Research

UBC faculty and staff have access to Zoom via UBC IT. For best practices on using Zoom in research, please go to the BREB Zoom guidance

Graduate students who would like to use UBC's Zoom license (this is strongly recommended) can email av.helpdesk@ubc.ca to request access. To facilitate the request, students must identify themselves as a graduate student and cc their academic supervisor. Graduate students will need to agree to have their name and email address visible to all users of the UBC Zoom license.