REPORT: Guillemin, Marilys & Human Research Ethics Committee & University of Melbourne. Centre for Health and Society & Australian Research Council (2008). Investigating human research ethics in practice : project report. University of Melbourne, Melbourne School of Population Health, Centre for Health and Society, Melbourne
“Investigating Human Research Ethics in Practice aimed to investigate how health researchers and members of Human Research Ethics Committees (HRECs) understand research ethics, and how they make decisions about what constitutes ethical conduct in health research. A total of 83 participants were individually interviewed by the research team: 34 ethics committee members and 49 health researchers, from metropolitan and regional hospitals, universities, research institutes, government and non-government organisations across Victoria.
“The data from these interviews showed that HREC members overwhelmingly believe that they do an important job and generally are doing it well. HREC members put in many hours of effort and are committed to the task. Almost without exception, researchers interviewed supported the need for a system of formal ethical review of research. Most felt that ethics review provided them with institutional backing and validation for their research studies. Many researchers also felt that the process of ethics review improved the quality of their projects. However, a large number of researchers reported frustrations with the time taken to put in ethics applications and delays before receiving approval. Some researchers described particularly poor experiences with ethics committees which had soured their view of the whole process.
“Both researchers and HREC members described a number of different ways of thinking about ethics and making decisions about what counts as ethical practice in research. For each group, the different approaches were potentially complementary rather than competing. They ranged from use of the formal ethical principles set out in the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007) to everyday folk strategies of intuition and ‘putting oneself in another’s shoes’ (which we have termed ‘imaginative identification’). There was considerable commonality between researchers and HREC members in the strategies they described, though not total overlap.
“On the basis of the project fi ndings, a number of recommendations are made relating to: mechanisms to improve communication and mutual understanding between researchers and HRECs; expanded training for both researchers and HREC members; and a working party to address the excessive length of Plain Language Statement and Consent Forms, which both researchers and HREC members saw as a major problem in the current system”