By Gary Allen
Many of us will recall the unease of approaching a fun ride and being measured to judge if we were tall enough to get onto the ride. If we don’t remember ourselves, we may remember our child/grandchild/family member being tested for height.
Such a measure is a quick assessment to judge whether an individual will be safe on the ride or is old enough to deal with the psychological challenges.
However, this is not a critique of using height to judge capacity or the limitations of one-size-fits-all safety equipment and risk mitigation strategies. This is a reflection on whether we need something similar for our human research ethics arrangements.
Hopefully, we are all using proportional review arrangements for our ethics review of new projects, variations, ethical conduct reports and responses to review feedback. If you are not, you should be.
We have written about the value of creating and operating proportional research ethics review arrangements and supporting arrangements (the processing of variation requests and the consideration of ethical conduct reports) (Allen and Israel, 2017).
The question here is whether we should allow all researchers to access these special arrangements, or if we should be excluding some people. Such an approach would create an incentive to ‘play by the rules’ and create a consequence for not doing the right thing.
While such arrangements are likely to be contentious, and may lead to a small increase in HREC workload, there is merit in excluding some people from access to proportional review arrangements.
Such exclusions might include individuals who have:
- been found to have committed a serious ethical breach.
- failed, despite numerous reminders, to provide a response to review feedback or an ethical conduct report.
- not participated in institutional professional development (where available) relating to human research ethics in the last 12 months.
Such an approach would create a ‘real world’ consequence for a researcher failing to do the right thing. However, we see this as an assessment of the risk associated with the researcher having work fast-tracked and not as punishment for non-compliance.
Of course, to be able to establish such an arrangement we will need to ensure that we have in place:
- A policy setting in our misconduct procedures that a person found to have committed a serious breach will be excluded from access to the proportional arrangements.
- A tracking system to identify if a person is currently excluded and the operative dates of that exclusion.
- Proportional review arrangements that use different forms, review processes and timeframes for work that is deemed low risk and low ethical sensitivity.
- An automated reminder system that flags if an individual has failed to respond to a request, reveals how long has passed and escalates matters in terms of the consequences of them failing to respond.
- Regular professional development opportunities and a system that tracks those who have attended a session and combines this with attendance details from other offerings.
- Review processes to recognise appropriate corrective action that allow for rescission of the exclusion.
As a consultancy team, we tend to urge institutions away from a focus on compliance and enforcement, instead highlighting the value of a focus on resourcing reflective practice. Nevertheless, in this case, we believe the possible withholding of access to proportional review arrangements can be a useful way to encourage researchers to adhere to an institution’s policies, procedures and arrangements.
Allen, G and Israel, M (2017) Moving beyond Regulatory Compliance: Building Institutional Support for Ethical Reflection in Research. In Iphofen, R and Tolich, M (eds) The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research Ethics. London: Sage.
This post may be cited as:
Allen, G. (18 March 2022) You must be this ethical…. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/you-must-be-this-ethical/