Ethics reviews – a ‘two-way street’

A letter from our April edition.

Although I enjoyed reading ‘Entangled in an ethical maze’ (Della Sala & Cubelli, December 2016), I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed far more reading the letters about this piece. The letters about the letters have also been great. As researchers, it is quite evident that we tend to have a suspicion and distrust of ethical review. To us, there is little viewed as more laborious than having to pass through an ethics review, whether at our own institution or an NHS Research Ethics Committee. And, sure, after it’s all said and done, we all can’t wait to proclaim ‘You like me, you really like me’, just like Sally Field did after she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the 1984 drama Places of the Heart.

Well, how do we get people to like, or more accurately ethically approve of, our research? When I think of research ethics committees, I often recall the wise words of Dolly Parton: ‘…it’s a two-way street. They’re good to me, and I’m good to them.’ Put differently, what are ethics committees doing to make the process of ethical review accessible and transparent and how can researchers make their research accessible and transparent to ethics committees?

Over the last eight years, I’ve been a reviewer for a number of ethics committees in Canada and the UK (University of Toronto Health Sciences Research Ethics Board, University of Portsmouth Science Faculty Ethics Committee, and National Research Ethics Service Committee London – Bloomsbury) and have learned much about how ethics committees promote ethical review literacy among researchers. From information seminars to workshops to individual application consultations to detailed websites that explain the ethical review process, many ethics committees work hard to make their processes transparent. The committees I’ve been a member of continually review the manner in which they engage with researchers and make their processes accessible and transparent.

As psychological researchers, we can also ensure our work is presented in a way that is straightforward, readable and free of jargon. For example, I have found that seeking the input of researchers and non-researchers on applications is essential – seeking particular input on whether the application is easy to understand.

Those of us who sit on ethics committees and those of us who submit applications to those committees have a role to play in ensuring the ethical review process remains accessible and transparent. In a sense, we all need to reflect on how we can bring about greater clarity to the ethical review process.  

Paul F. Gorczynski
Department of Sport and Exercise Science, University of Portsmouth

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