While clinical studies typically require IRB review, it might not be as clear for a social- behavioral study. The following checklist of questions can assist a researcher in deciding whether or not an IRB review might be appropriate.
Is the ultimate goal to publish the study findings? If the answer to this question is ‘Yes’, the researcher should consider obtaining IRB approval prior to beginning the study. Most peer-reviewed journals require that the study complies with ethical research guidelines. Obtaining IRB approval ensures this requirement is met.
Does the funding source require IRB approval? Many grants and sponsor-based sources will require as a condition of funding that the study be approved by an IRB. Researchers should check the funding agreement to determine whether or not this is a requirement.
Does the research involve human subjects? If direct interaction will occur between the researchers and human subjects, it should be assumed IRB review and approval will be required. Federal guidelines dictate specific protocols that must be followed when research involves human subjects. An IRB is the body designated by Federal guidelines to review study protocols to ensure the ethical rights of human subjects are protected.
Does the study involve a program evaluation? The answer to this question is dependent upon various factors. If the program evaluation is being conducted solely for internal quality assurance, an IRB review is not required. However, if the program evaluation is a requirement of the funding source or needed to substantiate to external sources the on-going existence of the program, an IRB review is required.
Does research involving secondary data analysis require IRB approval? Again, the answer is dependent upon various factors. In situations where the secondary data has been completely de-identified prior to receipt by the researchers, IRB approval may not be required. However, the researcher(s) might want to obtain an Exempt or Expedited category approval if the findings will be published. If the researcher(s) will be deidentifying the data after it is received from the original source, the study should be reviewed by an IRB.
Author: Dr. Ron Wallace, PhD