How do you take care of confidential research material?
As an office manager for an organisation that’s been helping a university collect questionnaires for their research, it’s been my job to keep hold of the questionnaires and every few weeks a researcher comes and takes them away.
There are several questionnaires completed by each person in the study plus a signed consent form with their name, signature, date etc on it. Because I don’t want to lose or muddle these items I clip them all together (putting each person’s questionnaires, consent form etc together). There are several researchers involved in the project and I don’t always know when they’re coming to get the questionnaires. I keep all the questionnaires on my desk in a labelled box file. That way all the researcher has to do is open the file, take the questionnaires, and leave if I’m not around to help.
This week a new researcher came. She asked for the questionnaires. I showed her where they were kept in case I wasn’t available on her next visit. She was really angry and told me I had broken the law by having the file on my desk and that it was illegal to put consent forms with questionnaires. She said I had to keep the forms and questionnaires separately and also lock them in a cabinet otherwise the study could be ruined.
I was really upset afterwards and I asked my manager who said we could have a cabinet that locked but now neither of us know if we need a cabinet for the questionnaires and one for the consent forms. There is more than one questionnaire per person so do we also need separate space for the different questionnaires? What happens if we’re not here when the researcher comes to collect the questionnaires? I am worried if we ask the university they will know we did something wrong and we could be in trouble.
Nobody has mentioned this before. I don’t understand what I have done wrong.
[Image for this post is by artist Stuart Whipps, more information here]