If you conduct research at the university level or at a research institution such as a hospital or laboratory, you probably need Institutional Review Board approval to begin. All research involving human and animal subjects must gain IRB approval. Generally, IRB members are university and community officials. Their goal is to ensure that researchers do not place human and animal subjects at unnecessary risk during research projects. While procedures vary by institution, following a few basic steps can increase your chances of gaining IRB approval.
Complete an IRB training course. Often universities, such as Columbia University in New York, provide online IRB training courses. Some require you to complete these modules before submitting a research protocol to the IRB. If your institution does not have this requirement, familiarize yourself with your IRB's purpose and procedures before moving forward.
Review key portions of your proposed research. Double check all parts of the research that involve human and animal subjects. IRBs are concerned with the potential risks faced by those taking part in your study and how you intend to mitigate these risks. They also want to ensure you receive consent for participation from your human subjects, which includes alerting them to the risks and benefits associated with their involvement. If you are working with animal subjects, the IRB wants to ensure you are following protocol regarding ethics and other issues.
Consult an IRB staff member in charge of reviewing protocols before they reach the board for review. Ask questions and receive clarification on any issues before submitting your protocol. Most IRBs welcome this approach, because it reduces errors and increases the likelihood your protocol will be accepted in timely fashion with minimal revisions.
Obtain and complete an IRB protocol and related forms and applications. The required information varies among entities. Most organizations make this information available online. Standard IRB protocols require a summary of your research, similar to what you would provide on a grant proposal. Your information focuses on human and animal subjects' concerns, rather than on the impact of your work within academia or another area.
Submit your application. Wait. Some IRBs are notorious for slow turnaround times. Submit your protocol as far ahead of your desired start date as possible. You cannot begin research activities until your receive IRB approval.
Receive either an immediate approval or a request for clarifications, changes or more information. What an IRB requests from you on a second iteration varies significantly depending on the nature of your research and the quality of your proposal. In some cases, you simply need to change wording. Other times you might be asked to justify certain risks further or make wholesale changes to your project. In some cases, the IRB rejects your proposal.
Begin your work after receiving IRB approval. Usually you must report to the IRB, typically after a year, to have your approval renewed and extended. If your protocol is denied, regroup and reconfigure your study to earn IRB approval.
As a writer since 2002, Rocco Pendola has published numerous academic and popular articles in addition to working as a freelance grant writer and researcher. His work has appeared on SFGate and Planetizen and in the journals "Environment & Behavior" and "Health and Place." Pendola has a Bachelor of Arts in urban studies from San Francisco State University.