2.2 Institutional Research

Usually ethics is addressed in institutional research by adhering to the ethical guidelines set out by one of the advisory bodies that exists for almost every public entity that might be doing some research at some point (e.g. the guidance published by BERA or NIH). Most of these run roughly the same way because they all take their lead from the model of medical research in the form of the Helsinki Declaration (composed in 1964, partly as a response to the unethical research practices that surfaced in the aftermath of World War II). Institutional Review Boards – the term used to describe institutional research ethics approval committees in the USA – are a direct descendent of this declaration.

Central to most institutional research ethics are guidelines relating to all stages of the research process and what can and can’t be done. The BERA guidelines, for instance, set out formal guidelines for:

  • Who/what you should respect (people, knowledge, democracy, freedom, quality research);
  • Your responsibilities to participants (generally, respect them and allow them the right to withdraw);
  • What informed consent is and how to achieve it;
  • Use of data (confidentiality, especially with sensitive information);
  • Working with vulnerable people;
  • Security of collected data;
  • Obligations to research sponsors;
  • Responsibilities to the wider research community.

Activity 6A: Institutional Approval of Research (1 hour)

Find a copy of your own institutions ethical review procedure (sometimes called IRB) and link to it in the Discourse forum. Include some of your own comments about anything that strikes you as noteworthy. Comment on at least one post by another person. Are your procedures similar or different?

If you're not at an institution then you could find one that might apply to you in the future or one from an institution that is near to you.

If you can't find one then you can use the information provided by The Open University:

OU Ethics Principles for Research Involving Human Subjects

Activity 6B – Protecting Human Subject Research Participants (Optional, 3 Hours)

One common expectation made of researchers in the USA is that they will have completed the online training module ‘Protecting Human Research Participants’ provided by NIH Office of Extramural Research.

The training module is a great overview of research ethics and completion also enables you to produce a certificate of completion which is often needed for institutional ethics review.

You can find the training here. It’s free and takes about three hours to complete.


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