Back in 2020, in the height of the pandemic, I had just started working as a Research Governance Manager with Brisbane Diamantina Health Partners (BDHP) (now known as Health Translation Queensland (HTQ)), which is one of 10 accredited NHMRC Advanced Health Research Translational Centres (AHRTC). My role is to facilitate making the business of translational research easier across ethics and governance. HTQ has a Human Research Ethics and Governance Advisory Group to provide expert guidance in this space.
The idea for an online conference
At a group meeting, Dr Gordon McGurk, Chair of the RBWH HREC at the time, had an inspirational idea to host an online conference to ensure HREC members could access relevant training to assist them in their role. I thought this would be a great opportunity for HTQ to be involved in. A number of conferences such as the Australasian Ethics Network (AEN) conference and the Australasian Association of Bioethics and Health Law (AABHL), had been cancelled due to the pandemic and there was a real need and opportunity to support staff in this space.
I also felt some resonance with the idea. On arriving in Australia back in 2013, my first role was working as an ethics coordinator at a private hospital. Whilst I had experience of university research ethics from my previous role in the UK, I had very little knowledge of the Australian system, processes and policies. Some formal training, direction to key information or a network of administrators would have been of huge benefit.
I’d also had previous experience of organising the University of Sheffield’s Medical School Annual Research meeting for the past 9 years. But, like most people, my experience of organising online meetings had only started a few months previous using Zoom.
Time zones and technology challenges
When planning the conference initially, Gordon and I were considering only Queensland HRECs, but as we went through the planning process, we decided to open up the meeting nationally; after all it didn’t matter how many were in attendance. In our promotion of the event, we clearly hadn’t communicated the time zone we were working to because when we logged on to the Zoom webinar there were already a number of people on the call who were querying the start time.
Using Zoom webinar was also new to me. With just 10 minutes of training the day before the conference, I was unaware of all of its functionality and was picking it up as I went along. Given this, I didn’t have the time or foresight to set up a practice session with speakers to check their slides or utilise a webinar practice session.
On the first day of the conference, we initially had a number of emails as some delegates weren’t able to login in or did not receive the registration links. In hindsight, more reminders in the week before the conference should have been circulated.
What we learnt from the first conference
The feedback from the 2020 conference showed there is definitely want and need for training in research ethics, and this conference was able to provide the community with an opportunity to learn and develop their knowledge.
In 2021, we really took into consideration the feedback and learnings from the 2020 event, including suggestions to topic areas, and ensuring there was more publicity around the conference, the time zone was clearly articulated and a number of emails were sent to registrants in the week prior to the conference on how to access the webinar.
In 2021, we started our promotion of the event much earlier than the previous year. Our communications plan included promoting the event, the plenary speakers and other sessions. We found our registrations significantly increased from 841 in 2020 to 1528 in 2021.
AHRECS, HTQ, MNHHS, Queensland Health and Salinger Privacy were our founding sponsors, however, word had spread about the conference and, in 2021, Praxis Australia came on board as a sponsor and provided a free training event on the evaluation of HRECs.
So how do we build on two successful conferences? While there are benefits in face-to-face events, feedback from the 2020 conference strongly supported (84.5%) the online format. Hosting online also enabled us to expand our reach to those in rural and remote communities.
Delegate feedback will most certainly be taken into consideration again in 2022, particularly regarding forming more networking opportunities and suggested topics. Delivery of the conference will also be more polished, moving on from a ‘dodgy Spotify play list’ played through a phone to utilising computer-based music apps.
I am looking forward to hosting this event again later this year! For your information, Gordon McGurk summarised the 2020 conference program in a previous AHREC article and the conference presentations can be found as a resource on the HTQ website. This is evolving into a great resource of talks on topical ethical subjects of contemporary information HREC members consider in every application.
How do I find out more?
You might want to consider including a link to the resources in your HREC induction pack for new HREC members and keep checking back to our website for information on the 2022 conference.
If you have any suggestions for future conferences, we would be more than happy to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org
McGurk, G. (29 November 2020) If you build it, they will come- 2020 Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) Training Conference (online) 18-20 Nov. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/if-you-build-it-they-will-come-2020-human-research-ethics-committee-hrec-training-conference-online-18-20-nov/
This post may be cited as:
Gottliebsen, S. (16 April 2022) National Human Research Ethics Conference – an administrator’s perspective. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/national-human-research-ethics-conference-an-administrators-perspective/