Research Continuity

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IRB approval for online research

  • 1.  IRB approval for online research

    Posted 03-30-2020 09:09
    Hello everyone,

    I hope that you all are doing fine under the current circumstances. I'm based in the Netherlands and facing week 3 of our lockdown.

    I'm happy to have found this website and have been enjoying the resources for conducting online studies! I am hoping one of you might be able to help...

    I'm a PhD student at the University of Birmingham (UK), and was planning to conduct a study in Ohio over the coming months with Deaf and Hard of hearing adolescents in mainstreamed education programs. My study involved contact with students and their parents and their schools. During a previous visit to the US (I'm based in the Netherlands), I had applied for a background check in Ohio so that I could conduct research in schools with students. (I already have ethical approval from my university). However, given the current situation, my supervisor and I agreed to move everything online. This changes things, as it means I can recruit from a much larger pool (not just Ohio). I'm trying to find out the procedure for obtaining IRB in the US, especially since I will not be limiting myself to specific states. I'm not affiliated with any US institution, so I'm hoping someone on this forum would be able to share some information on whether or not I need to get US IRB or if my UK ethical approval is enough?

    If anyone needs more information, please feel free to contact me at the email address in my signature below.

    Looking forward to hearing from you,
    Kate

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    Katherine Groves
    PhD Student
    University of Birmingham
    Edgbaston
    Birmingham
    UK
    kmg703@student.bham.ac.uk
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  • 2.  RE: IRB approval for online research

    Posted 03-31-2020 15:22
    We've been running online studies for several years with participants all over the world (*mostly* in the US, where we are, but not guaranteed to be). Essentially, we just need to stay on top of whether we're affected by and in compliance with any laws that affect the rights of our participants--e.g. GDPR, COPPA, CCPA. (GDPR is the big one that actually applies in our case, so far.)

    You don't, in general, need IRB approval local to the population you're working with. The IRB is not a legal body, and they are associated with a research institution, not with a participant population. Their job is largely to make sure that research conducted under the auspices of their institution meets certain ethical standards, which is in turn required for publication, funding, etc.

    (That said, if there are major cultural or legal differences, perhaps a reasonable IRB would ask that you work with a local institution - I'm not sure. You might also need approval by a specific group you want to work with to recruit - e.g., if there's an American database of DHH kids you want to contact, perhaps the organization maintaining it would want a chance to review what you're doing.)

    We have researchers from a variety of institutions in the US using Lookit, and their studies only need to be approved by their own institution - that arrangement is supported by MIT's legal team :) We also have one group in the UK (Caspar Addyman at Goldsmith's London, study baby laughter!), again with approval just at his own institution.

    So the short version is I think your UK approval is enough from an IRB standpoint. But I am very far from a legal expert, let alone in international law, so take this with some salt. Anyone who's done in-person research in other countries might have more insight into at what point there's local oversight/guidance on research.

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    Kimberly Scott
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