If you are planning to conduct a human research project, you have to seek ethics approval. Almost any research activity that involves human participation (including completion of questionnaires, interviews and focus groups, access to human tissue which is not on the public record etc.) is considered human research.
However, in cases where data are collected for the purpose other than research, you might not need to submit an ethics application. This might be the case if your project falls into one of the following categories of data collection or use:
Archival data, if it is from a public domain
Please note, you will have to apply for ethics approval if the information you intend to use is identified personal information (states or implies identity), not in a public domain or if you will collect data in addition to the archival research.
Administrative data collection
Collection of data from staff or other stakeholders for the purposes of informing or improving a process within your organisation is not considered research. Still, if you later decide to use this data for research purposes, you will need to apply for ethics approval. In addition, the use of identified data always requires ethics approval.
Teaching and learning
If you collect human data solely for teaching or learning purposes and do not expect to publish or present any data, no ethics application is necessary. However, if you think the project may be published, it is recommended that you apply for ethics approval before running the project, as this is easier than getting approval subsequently.
Quality assurance or clinical audit
Usually data collected for quality assurance purposes or an audit, does not require ethical review, if it is for your organisation's own information. However, if information is to be taken outside the organisation and used for a published paper, research project etc, this is considered research and requires ethical review.\
Negligible risk research involving collections of non-identifiable data
Your research involves negligible risk if you use existing non-identifiable data or records or if it does not involve any foreseeable risk of harm or discomfort, which means there must not be the possibility of anything more than inconvenience. Although in this case you are not required to apply for ethics approval, you will probably need to complete a form to confirm that the project is of negligible risk, and provide a letter (or similar evidence of approval) from the person in charge of the data.
Please consider that even if your project does not require ethical approval, this does not mean that it is free of ethical considerations. As a researcher you should act responsibly and always apply the highest standards of research integrity and ethical behaviour, no matter if a formal ethics approval process is involved or not.
For further information please refer to the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research.