What is the ERRB? 

Members of the ERRB in 2015-2016 are Heath Cabot (Chair), Nancy Andrews, and Netta Van Vliet.

The ERRB is COA’s Institutional Review Board, or Human Subjects Research Board. We have two primary roles. 

First, we ensure that research on “human subjects” (or people) at COA complies with federal law by upholding the following two standards:

  • Human subjects should not be placed at undue risk.
  • Subjects should give uncoerced, informed consent to their participation in the project.

Second, we help to advise and train students, faculty, and others at COA regarding the range of ethical dilemmas entailed in work with human subjects in an interdisciplinary context. We  have a strongly educational component, which extends to questions and concerns beyond the mere purview of the law to consider the complexities, gray areas, and situational aspects of working and interacting with people.

Thus, we provide co-curricular ethics training for students through workshops and mentoring; and we work with students through the review process so as to maximize its educational potential. 

Ethics of Research in Human Ecology

In the U.S. context, Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), such as the ERRB, emerged as part of federal attempts to respond to urgent concerns about bio-medical and scientific testing on people during the 20th century, such as Nazi experiments on race, eugenics, and euthanasia (addressed in the Nuremburg Trials); and the U.S. Public Health Service’s intentional infection of African American men with syphilis in Tuskegee, Alabama, in order to track the spread of the disease (1932-1972). Such violent, deceptive uses of “research” exposed the dangers that research with people may entail, as well as the need for regulation and oversight at federal and institutional levels to ameliorate such risks. 

The federal legal framework for regulating research with human subjects defines research as a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge [Code of Federal Regulations 46.102(d)].

But ethics entail much more than laws and institutional policies.

As many have argued, relevant federal legislation is built largely on a more bio-medical model of “research” and may not capture the complexity of qualitative research, for example, which most often does not involve significant risk of bodily harm. Rather, in ethnography or oral history, for instance, harm may involve issues of reputation, dignity, and privacy, which are deeply relevant but may not be as clearly identified or quantified as in a more bio-medical context. Further, this law does not address the multidisciplinary ethical frameworks and approaches that shape Human Ecology, and the range of methods with which students conduct and represent their work. Human ecologists may link, for instance, science with art; or ethnography with advocacy. Finally, federal law does not explicitly invite practitioners to deal with questions of power, representation, and inequality, which often shape projects with people in Human Ecology in ways that demand reflection and critique. 

For this reason, the ERRB asks ALL students doing projects involving people that will circulate publicly to undergo an ethical review, in order to reflect carefully and critically on ethical practice and issues of risk and consent in the context of their projects. 

The Ethical Research Board Review Process

An application to the ERRB is required of all students doing projects with human beings that will circulate in a public or semi-public sphere: for instance, senior projects, exhibitions, or conference presentations. Your work or research cannot proceed until the ERRB has approved what is known as your ethics “protocol:” your proposal for how you will negotiate ethics regarding human subjects in your project.  The process is as follows. 

Before beginning the review you need a project proposal and a project director!! 

1) Submission of protocol: Application form (approved and signed by project director) by FRIDAY OF 6th WEEK, along with your project proposal and consent forms if required. (6th Week)

2) Review: Meeting with the committee and project director, in which we will discuss your ethical concerns and any others that we may identify. (7th and 8th Weeks)

3) Decision: In most cases, we will recommend changes, and students will have the chance to resubmit their applications. In rare cases, the project as framed may be deemed too risky to approve, or the student may be found unprepared to manage the risks of the project. (8th and 9th weeks) 

ERRB Application Forms

For students whose work falls clearly into the category of research as defined by federal law, or for students working with historically marginalized populations (indigenous groups, for instance) or vulnerable groups (I.E. children, prisoners, people without legal status, people with disabilities, victims of sexual assault), use this form: Conventional Application Form

All others should use this form: The General Application Form

If you need help deciding which one, ask your project director!

The flow chart below might help, as well.

The key aspects of the application form are: 

1) Your project proposal and research questions.

2) A statement of the methods that you will use in your project. 

3 )A statement regarding potential risk or harm to people, and ideas for how you will mitigate this risk.

2) A statement regarding informed consent 

See accompanying pages on risk and informed consent for specific details. 

Flow chart: Is my study “research?” 
  1. Will the results of your study be made public through a publication, a senior project (which will be publicly available on file in the library), public performance, public website, presentation at a public conference or other means?
    If your answer is NO to this question, your study is probably not considered “research” in the technical sense because it is not designed to “develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge” that would be available to the public.
  2. Does your study involve a systematic investigation that includes research development, testing or evaluation of the kind that employs methods of study drawing on principles of natural science or psychology, sociology or one of the disciplines aiming to be a social science or study producing similar, generalizable knowledge?
    If your answer is NO, then your study is probably not considered “research” in the technical sense. For example, it may be an expressive activity like a dance performance, a personal reflective essay in philosophy or an advocacy activity like the filing of a legal brief, none of which is considered “research” in the technical sense at issue here.