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Frequently Asked Questions

Check the following FAQs.  If you have any questions, contact the IRB Office.

1. What is the University of Richmond's IRB?

The IRB is the acronym for the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research. The board members are appointed by the University President. Institutions like the University of Richmond are required to have an IRB if they conduct research that involves human subjects. The IRB is established to protect the rights and welfare of human research subjects. The responsibilities of the IRB are to protect human subjects of research and to ensure that research at the University of Richmond complies with federal and state regulations governing the conduct of human subjects research as spelled out in the HHS Regulations for the Protection of Human Subjects at title 45 Code of Federal Regulations Part 46, and in other applicable federal and state regulations.

2. My research only involves administering a survey to people, do IRB rules apply?

Yes. Surveys involve interaction with living human beings for research purposes. Some surveys can be minimal risk and might be "exempted" or "expedited."  Some surveys can collect sensitive information, however, that could be damaging to a subject if the results were linked to him or her. Often the principle risk is the disclosure of personally identifiable information. In some cases, the surveys themselves might touch on topics that can upset and therefore potentially harm subjects. IRB rules have been interpreted as having a very broad application. Any research involving intervention or interaction with persons and/or their personal records should be submitted to the University of Richmond IRB for review. Some research may be exempted, but this exemption must be granted by the IRB in writing. Also, an institution's IRB has the authority to adopt protections that exceed those of OHRP, whose regulations should be regarded as a "floor" and not a "ceiling." Some surveys may be determined to be "not reviewable research". For example, if the dining center surveys users and limits questions to favorite foods, the survey would not be reviewable. However, if the survey were to collect information about the respondents or ask questions about their weight and body image, then it would need to be reviewed by the IRB.

3. What training in the protection of human participants is required by the University of Richmond?

URIRB has determined that all individuals who conduct research with human participants complete training in the ethics of human research. Fortunately, the University subscribes to an online training service, CITI, where students and faculty can meet this requirement (see training requirements ).  Note, too, that this requirement also applies to faculty and staff who serve as supervisors for student researchers. Students at the University of Richmond can serve as the principle investigators (PIs) on research studies (e.g., thesis work, independent research studies), but the supervisors of their project must have completed training in the ethics of research with human participants. 

The principles of human subject research, briefly summarized, are respect for persons (informed consent, protecting privacy and maintaining confidentiality, safeguards to protect vulnerable populations), beneficence (an IRB assessment of risks and benefits of proposed research;minimization of risks to subjects, with risks justified by the benefits of the research), and justice (ensuring that selection of subjects is equitable). These principles are enumerated in the 1979 Belmont Report which is a concise statement of ethical principles and guidelines for research involving human subjects.

4. How can I follow IRB rules and conduct my research in a timely manner?
Becoming familiar with IRB rules in advance can promote the submission and approval of applications in a timely manner. In addition, the University of Richmond has an expedited review process that can either approve or exempt research in a timely manner. More information on the expedited process is available online at http://irb.richmond.edu. Be sure to check the IRB meeting schedule and ensure that your proposal is submitted in a timely manner. If you are concerned about getting your proposal reviewed in a timely manner, you may want to check with the IRB Chair about your project. You can contact the IRB Chair at irb@richmond.edu.
6. I'm doing an online survey. How do I get a signed consent form?

For studies that are conducted online, the consent form should require participants to perform some action, such as clicking “I agree,” to indicate their consent. Normally, an online survey would contain an introductory statement that describes the project and the role of the subject, provides information on the principal investigator, reviews the benefits and risks of the research, informs the subject that participation is voluntary, describes the uses of the data collected and the confidentiality/anonymity provided, provides IRB contact information, and informs the subject that he or she can stop at any time without penalty and skip any questions without penalty. The consent form would end with a statement similar to the following: "I understand my role as a research subject on this project and by continuing with the survey, I am providing my consent to participate. Further, I attest that I am 18 years of age or older. Online consent forms will be reviewed carefully by the IRB to assure that potential subjects are provided with needed information to provide informed consent. Online surveys will not be approved for subjects under 18 years of age. An example of an online consent form can be found HERE.

5. What is a consent form?

A consent form is the means by which a researcher documents the legally effective agreement of a person to participate in a research project. "Informed consent" refers to the voluntary choice of an individual to participate in research based on an accurate and complete understanding of, among other things, the research's purposes, procedures, risks, benefits, and any other factors that may affect a person's decision to participate in the research project. It is important to remember that "informed consent" is a process as well as a form. The researcher should not just hand someone a form and ask them to sign it. Rather, the researcher should explain the research activity and the material covered on the form, ensure that the person understands their proposed participation, and then acquire the signature of the person when the researcher is confident that the subject understands his or her role in the research‚ Consent for online surveys does not require a signature but can be effected by using a consent button or click‚ See an example of an online consent form HERE.

7. I have a classroom project that involves teaching through the use of a survey. Does this need to go through the IRB?

The IRB has determined that class projects that do not meet the federal standard of "research" are not to be reviewed, through either expedited or full-board review. They do require, however, "limited review."

Therefore, instructors conducting class projects are asked to contact the IRB and provide relevant details so that the IRB can make a determination regarding the projects’ status as “teaching activity” or "scientific research." The email should include a brief description of the project and address the following questions:

  1. Is the purpose of the project educational rather than research? Teaching activities may involve collecting data from other people, but teaching projects are designed to achieve educational outcomes, such as teaching students about research methods or to further their understanding of course material.
  2. Will the project contribute to "generalizable knowledge?" The Code of Federal Regulations (45 CFR 46) pertaining to human participant protections defines research to be “a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.” Activities such as journalistic interviewing, oral histories, program evaluations, consumer opinion sampling, data-based strategic planning, and studies with limited samples that will not yield information that generalizes to other contexts and populations are not considered to be research.
  3. Will the findings be made public in some way, such as presentation outside the classroom, a paper stored in the university library, or on the Internet?
  4. Will the data generated ever be used, by either you or your students, in a subsequent research project that is designed to yield generalizable knowledge?

The IRB will review the educational activitie to determine if the project is one that falls under the regulatory standards of the 45 CFR 46. Please note that if your project is determined to be research, then a complete IRB submission will be required. Because regulations and policies pertaining to the ethics of humans in research change over time, you are asked to renew the approval of teaching projects involving human participants each academic year.

8. I prepared a proposal that was reviewed by the full board, while a fellow student prepared a similar proposal that was reviewed using the expedited process? Why were different processes used?

Sometimes a slight change to a proposal can alter its review status. For example, a minimal risk survey involving only adults (those 18 and above) could likely be reviewed using the expedited process. The exact same survey involving minors (those under 18) would have to be reviewed by the convened IRB. The inclusion of detailed demographic questions (e.g. age, sex, major, etc.) could also change the review procedure because a combination of demographics might result in a confidential survey being potentially non-confidential. For example, there may only be one "female, Hispanic, second year, marketing major" at the University of Richmond. Consequently, a survey thought to be confidential might actually include personally identifiable information.

9. Do I need to submit a protocol to the Richmond IRB if the study has been approved by another University?

Faculty, staff, and students who conduct research with human participants in their academic and professional work are required by 45 CFR 46 to have their studies reviewed by the University of Richmond IRB. This requirement applies to all research activities involving human participants—including collaborations with researchers located at other universities. If, for example, you conduct behavioral research with an extramural collaborator who has had the study reviewed by his or her IRB, you must still submit the project to the URIRB for review. In some cases the IRB will determine UR is not “engaged in research” and waive the requirement, but only the IRB can make that determination. 

10. Are staff assessment surveys generally exempt?

An internal staff assessment survey is generally "exempt research" or "not reviewable research". For example, a survey only collecting data for an internal administrative matter, such as a user feedback survey, is usually exempt. However, if the collector intends to use the data for research purposes or conference presentations, then the survey is no longer simply for internal assessment and may not be exempt from IRB review. Only the IRB can determine if an assessment survey is exempt, but this can usually be done on an expedited basis. Administrators should remember that informed consent cannot be achieved retroactively. Thus, if there is a possibility that a survey might be used in a presentation or posted on the web, the administrator should submit a proposal for IRB review. If an administrator is unsure of whether or not an assessment activity is not reviewable, he or she should send the IRB Chair a brief summary of the activity via email. The IRB Chair will provide a written determination by email. No IRB determinations are provided except in written form.

11. Do consent forms and surveys need to be translated if research is conducted with non-English speakers?

Yes. If a research subject is going to be interviewed or surveyed in a language other than English, the researcher needs to submit information on how the interviews will be conducted and copies of interviews and consent forms in the language(s) to be used. Generally, it is a good idea for the researcher to get an "approval with conditions" of the materials in English, then submit the translations. It is the responsibility of the researcher to certify to the IRB that the translation is a true representation of the content and spirit of the English versions of the proposal and consent forms submitted to the IRB. Investigators doing research abroad may need to acquire both UR IRB approval and a local IRB approval. The most common example of this is when students do research overseas as part of an SIT project. Both the SIT and UR IRBs need to approve the project.

12. What is the difference in "engagement" in research and "involvement" in research?

"Engagement" in research requires UR IRB review and oversight. "Involvement" in research may not involve UR IRB review and oversight. This matter was clarified somewhat in an OHRP guidance document in October, 2008 when OHRP provided new guidance on the engagement of persons or institutions in research. Using this guidance, the UR IRB determined that simply forwarding emails that informed potential subjects about a study did not constitute "engagement" and therefore did not have to be reviewed by the UR IRB. However, were the person forwarding the emails to provide other assistance, such as the consenting of subjects, then the University would be engaged and IRB review would be required. Persons with questions about whether their "involvement" in a research project constitutes reviewable "engagement" should contact the IRB Chair.

13. What is the difference in an "expedited" proposal and a "regular" or "full review" proposal?

Usually the risk level will be lower (no more than "minimal risk") for a proposal that can be reviewed using the expedited process. An expeditable proposal can be acted on by the IRB Chair and does not have to go before the convened IRB for approval. The information requested and the rigor of the reviews are almost identical. However, a proposal eligible for expedited review can often be reviewed on a more timely basis. As noted on the IRB website, the Chair is only authorized to review proposals that fall into certain categories specified by OHRP. The IRB chair can approve a proposal, return a proposal for more information, or approve with conditions using the expedited process. The Chair cannot disapprove a proposal using the expedited process.

14. Does the IRB set policy for the care and use of animals in research?

No. Policies regarding the care and use of animals in research are set by the University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee or IACUC. However, the Chair of the IRB does administer the University's CITI training program, which also supplies online training regarding the care and use of animals in research. Registration information for CITI animal care and use training can be obtained under the "Researcher Training Requirements" section of this website.

15. What is the definition of "minimal risk" as it pertains to human subjects' research?
According to federal regulation, "Minimal risk means that the probability and magnitude of harm or discomfort anticipated in the research are not greater in and of themselves than those ordinarily encountered in daily life or during the performance of routine physical or psychological examinations or tests."  The IRB and not the researcher should determine whether or not a research proposal involves more than minimal risk.
16. How can I suggest a FAQ for this website?
Email your suggestion to the Chair of the IRB at irb@richmond.edu .