A master list links participant identifiers, such as names, to the code or ID number used to identify participants’ data. It allows researchers to track which participant provided what data while keeping the data coded so that someone who gained access to the data, but not the master list, would not know who provided what data. Any data collected, whether paper (e.g., questionnaires, interview notes) or electronic (e.g., online surveys, electronic databases) should be identified by the participant ID only. Note that because consent forms include identifiers already, you may use them as your “master list” by noting the participant ID/code on the consent form, or you may wish to maintain a separate master list, in which case you should not include the ID/code on the consent form.
The master list is subject to the highest level of security when you have promised participants that their identity will be confidential, because anyone who gains access to the master list can link the participant directly to the responses/data they have provided. The master list must be stored according to the standards for Security Level-III or higher (S-III) in the University of Guelph’s Research Data Classification Guideline.
When completing your REB application, you should include the following information relevant to the master list:
- Indicate that you will have directly identifying information and coded information. The master list includes directly identifying information and the data collected is coded information. You may also have indirectly identifying information.
- Indicate what identifying information is included in the master list, how long it will be stored, and why it will be stored for that period of time.
- Indicate how you will store and secure the master list at each stage of the research project and ensure that the measures you plan to use are consistent with the Research Data Classification Guideline.
Wording for Consent Forms
Participants should be informed that their data will be linked to their identity only through a code stored in the master list. Tell them how you will store and secure the master list, and when it will be destroyed.