Dr Gary Allen
It doesn’t seem so long ago that all that HRECs in Australia needed to do was consider a project through the frame of four core principles (merit + integrity, beneficence, justice, and respect). Section 1 of the National Statement called upon us to judge whether a project was justified with respect to those core principles.
In 2018, the new Chapter 3.1 made it easier to pivot that discussion to the elements of a project’s design. It helped provide a common frame for talking about the ethical considerations of a project’s design.
For those of us that have been around a while (I just passed my 23rd anniversary in research ethics), it is fundamentally the same review task as it was in 1999. Arguably, it is just that the tools and language have been refined. This is especially true for qualitative designs, action research, research in the broad social sciences, humanities and the fine arts.
So, tweaked but still substantially the same job.
But, if you’ve been following the AHRECS newsroom and Resource Library these last few years you may have noticed some troubling questions being posed:
- Can individuals be identified, even without obvious identifiers (see this item, this item and this item).
- How successful will the strategies be to mask identity, mitigate risk and to protect the data?
These questions need to be answered in an environment where the processing power of consumer electronics, even in the ubiquitous smartphones most of us carry, far outperform what was available five years ago. Add to this big data, geo-tagging, facial recognition and social media and the landscape looks starkly different.
In addition, research ethics committees also need to consider the growing movement towards Indigenous data sovereignty.
So, even if the questions that we ask may be the same, the expertise that we need to answer them may have changed. As a result, our review process may no longer be fit for purpose.
I would like to put forward the idea that we need to extend the membership of research ethics committees:
- Data Scientist, computer security or big data specialist;
- Indigenous researcher.
What do you think? Are there other forms of expertise that need to be represented on particular kinds of committees? Have other social norms (such as attitudes to non-binary gender) changed to the point that other categories of membership in the National Statement now appear out of date?
We would be thrilled to hear from you so that we can extend this discussion in a later edition.
 This position isn’t to help the committee to review Indigenous research, but to help the committee to identify whether a project that describes itself as non-Indigenous really is in fact Indigenous research and so requires specialist review. We hope to do a longer discussion about First People membership on research ethics committees in a future edition.
This post may be cited as:
Allen, G. (23 September 2020) Is it time to extend the required membership of research ethics committees? Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/is-it-time-to-extend-the-required-membership-of-research-ethics-committees/