Dr Gary Allen, AHRECS senior consultant
For more than a decade, we have been conducting desktop audits of human research ethics arrangements of institutions, observing review body meetings, coaching committees and mentoring Chairs and Executive Officers.
We would like to share a few general observations:
- Any large complex system that settles into a routine can be resistant to change.
- Responding to questions about the value of a process or the usefulness of an alternative with something along the lines of “but we’ve always done things this way”, should be the start of, not the end of probing conversation. Yes, you have been doing things a certain way for a while, but is it the best way?
- A committee that feels under-resourced and is just coping with high workloads can suspend professional development for members and researchers, because it may be perceived as a luxury. This suspension can become the new normal, particularly given the tightening financial constraints being felt by the sector.
At a time where you might be fighting to keeping your head above water during staff cuts, budget austerity and increased workload, it may sound odd to ask:
Can anything constructive come out of COVID-19 and social distancing?
We suggest it can. The lockdowns associated with COVID-19 have changed the ways in which many people have become used to communicating. This has been reflected by modifying the review process to conduct meetings via videoconferencing. As a result, there is a unique opportunity within meetings to have live discussion online with applicants to clear up any matters that might be settled quickly or to explain the committee’s views in a manner that opens up conversation and avoids the generation of duelling emails.
It is vital that this interaction be approached with a view to facilitating the project not policing compliance.
- Applicants – and, if a student, their primary supervisor – nominate a video-link or phone number so they can be contacted during the meeting if the review body has any questions. Alternatively, applicants can be sent an invitation to join a meeting (e.g. via Zoom) at a specified time.
- In most cases, the call wouldn’t go through all the review feedback (especially if it will be refined later by the Chair and Executive Officer).
- The review body should
- agree on one thing the applicants can be congratulated on.
- explore what additional guidance material or other resources the applicant would find helpful before the applicant responds to the review feedback.
This approach can lead to a shared understanding of the project, and collaboration between the review body and applicants in order to ensure that the project is ethically acceptable. It can also result in a more efficient review process!
Also see our earlier posts about:
- review feedback;
- Research Ethics Advisers;
- proportional review;
- A checklist for supervisors; and
- Worried your researchers might not be treating human research ethics as a core component of good research practice? Concerned they are not seeing it as their responsibility?
- Watch our 7 minute whiteboard about resourcing reflective practice.
- Read Allen, G & Israel, M (2018) Moving beyond Regulatory Compliance: Building Institutional Support for Ethical Reflection in Research. In Iphofen, R & Tolich, M (eds) The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research Ethics. London: Sage. pp276-288; and
- Read Israel, M, Allen, G & Thomson, C (2016) Australian Research Ethics Governance: Plotting the Demise of the Adversarial Culture. In van den Hoonaard, W & Hamilton, A (eds) The Ethics Rupture: Exploring Alternatives to Formal Research-Ethics Review. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp 285-316. http://www.utppublishing.com/The-Ethics-Rupture-Exploring-Alternatives-to-Formal-Research-Ethics-Review.html
 Such as the University Research Ethics Manual (UREM) and the network of collegiate Research Ethics Advisers.
This post may be cited as:
Allen, G. (10 November 2020) Going video: A chance to change review practice? Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/going-video-a-chance-to-change-review-practice/