Members of ethics committees often find themselves as the only member in their category on a committee[i]. This can lead to a sense of isolation in a member’s role on the committee and especially lay members sometimes question their abilities to contribute effectively and make informed decisions. Both the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2018) and the Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes (2013) express requirements for committee member support and training[ii].
In response to this, Perth based HRECs and Animal Ethics Committees (AECs) have each gathered for annual workshops over the past 12-15 years. This has been a valuable process for training input (as required by the respective codes), a resource for connecting committee members across committees, and has provided useful quality assurance mechanisms.
The HREC forums initially began both as an educational opportunity and as a mechanism to provide conversation concerning decision-making across institutions, especially given the growth in collaborative research being undertaken. Typically, some researchers had experienced differences in decision-making between institutions. However, when at one workshop HRECs blind reviewed ethics applications from other institutions they made the same decisions for mainly the same reasons as the original committee had made. This gave many members increased confidence in their participation on their HREC. These workshops have also offered direct opportunities for researchers to provide feedback on how the ethics review process is perceived and managed from their perspective, providing for open dialogue between researchers and committee members without directly influencing any particular committee and their decision making. In addition, speakers have been invited to provide specific input in more technical areas such as data requirements, privacy, emerging research, and legislative requirements, and explain these in lay language. Time is provided at the workshops for people in similar member categories on different committees to interact both formally in sessions and informally during coffee and lunch breaks.
The AEC workshops originally began as a forum to provide input and interaction for the lay members (Category C and D) of AECs. Category C members are lay people who represent the interests of animal welfare organisations while Category D members are lay people from the wider community[iii]. These members are often the only individuals in their category of membership on an AEC and some had expressed a sense of uncertainty in fulfilling their roles. The workshops were designed to provide relevant education and to assist these members in their committee roles. For instance, they had opportunity to review de-identified ethics applications from other institutions, received presentations from specialists including a workshop on trapping wildlife, veterinarians explaining specific animal procedures, interactions with researchers and discussions of ethical frameworks. These workshops became a way of providing strong training input, relevant to the lay members of AECs and have helped to promote good communicating and decision making based on current understanding of best animal welfare practices. Researchers who gave presentations also felt that they have been able to have an open discussion with AECs about their work outside the scope of an application being reviewed. The workshops were regarded as so valuable by all those who attended that in response to demand they were expanded to incorporate the Category A (veterinarian) and B (researcher) members of AECs.
Due to the impact of COVID-19, workshops were not run during 2020. The continuing impact of COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for AHRECS to contribute expertise and ensure these workshops continue into the future.
Wed 3 November 2021 – Animal Ethics workshop
The theme this year focuses on managing large groups of animals such as in laboratories, farms and in the wild. Researchers are adept at managing animals, but when the numbers become very large things can become ethically complex. For instance, how are the 3R principles being met?[iv] Further, when there is overlap between research and the management of a farm or when research is focused on the needs of wildlife the ethical complexities of managing animals as part of research can increase. What are the key issues an AEC needs to focus on and how is this best approached? Expert speakers will address these issues covering the ethical considerations of integrating research into large farm operations, the ethical issues of undertaking environmental research involving large numbers of animals, and a panel of experts will discuss the ethical issues encountered when managing large laboratory projects involving animals.
Wed 17 November – Human Ethics workshop
The theme this year focuses on “what I wish I knew before I started”. It is not uncommon for research to raise ethical questions that were not thought about during the research design or ethics application stages. Such questions may be related to participant experiences or to the conduct or outcomes of the research. Three speakers will address these issues. A former Head of discipline, HREC member and researcher will reflect on ‘lessons learned’, thinking about a holistic picture and what we should be equipping the next generation of HREC members with. A researcher will speak about their research and interactions with several HRECs over many years – What is the HREC process like for a researcher’s perspective and what eventuates when a relatively simple research project becomes contentious or generates substantial community reactions? A data specialist will consider emerging ethical issues in relation to creating, maintaining and curating data especially when researching ‘in the field’.
Both workshops are planned to take place on the Mt Lawley campus of Edith Cowan University. A key benefit of these workshops is in the opportunities for interaction amongst committee members, and meeting people with similar category appointments on other committees.
Both events are planned as face-to-face workshops to maximise the benefits for participants. Early enquiries have asked whether there would be opportunities for others outside Perth to join the workshops electronically; while this is not easily possible in the facility booked for 2021, it will be considered for future events.
Further information for these events or how to organise your own is available from
Erich.email@example.com. Bookings for the current events can be made at:
Animal Ethics workshop: https://www.trybooking.com/BTYPZ.
Human Research Ethics workshop: https://www.trybooking.com/BTYQE .
Ticket price includes morning tea, lunch and GST.
[i] This applies to both Human Research Ethics Committees and Animal Ethics Committees
[ii] See for instance 2.2.12 of the Australian Code for The Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes (2013) and 5.1.28 of the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2018).
[iii] See 2.2.4 of the Australian Code for The Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes 8th edition (2013)
[iv] See 1.1 of the Australian Code for The Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes 8th edition (2013)