Ethics review board
Ethics review boards (also called institutional review boards (IRB), independent review boards, research ethics committees, ethics review committees) exist in many countries for medical and other clinical research. They are also mandatory in some countries, universities and other organisations for any research involving human participants (such as in Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, the USA and UK). Ethics committees review the proposed research design and methods of a study from an ethical perspective. The review is generally underpinned by the foundational ethical principles of beneficence, respect and justice, with the overall aim of minimising physical and psychological harm to participants, as well as protecting researchers and the reputation of the institution. Ethical review also considers issues around autonomy and dignity, privacy, informed consent, equality, inclusivity and diversity, and social responsibility. Review boards generally comprise members from different departments across the university or institution who can offer both expert and lay-person perspectives depending on their area of expertise, and may also include members external to the institution.
Ethics review varies considerably but typically involves established processes (some regulated by national standards or protocols) based on compliance, documentation and formalised templates. Based on feedback from the review process, aspects of the research may need to be amended. Final formal approval must be received (often with an ethics number where the documentation can be re-accessed) prior to the start of the research project. In some countries, ethics review for research beyond medical fields can be less formally organised and regulated. Proof of ethical research clearance is often required by many journals when publishing research.