Welcome to the Colorado College IRB web page. The IRB, short for Institutional Review Board, exists to protect the well-being of participants in human subjects research (research that takes people as the objects of study rather than, say, Shakespeare plays, viruses, or artwork by Jackson Pollack). Most human subjects research is carried out with interviews, questionnaires, focus groups, experiments, and fieldwork. While it is commonly carried out in disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, psychology, business, and political science, human subjects research may also be carried in departments such as Education or Human Biology and Kinesiology, as well as in interdisciplinary programs such as Feminist and Gender Studies, Race, Ethnicity and Migration Studies, and Southwest Studies. Some Venture Grant projects also require interaction with the IRB; please see the subpage on this issue for more information.
1. Some General Information
IRBs largely focus on six issues:
- HARM: Is the risk of harm to research participants minimal? If there is some risk, is the harm itself not greater than that which would be encountered in everyday life? How is the risk of harm minimized? Do the benefits of the research outweigh potential harms? For a further discussion of harm, please see the IRB website page on the topic.
- CONSENT: Is there a consent process that includes sufficient information about the research, assures that potential participants comprehend the information, and guarantees that participants participate voluntarily and are not coerced? For a further discussion of consent, please see the IRB website page on the topic.
- VULNERABLE PARTICIPANTS: Members of some groups may not be completely free to refuse to participate in research or may struggle with comprehending information (children, developmentally delayed adults, prisoners, very poor people, members of politically oppressed groups, undocumented immigrants). Has the researcher gone to the necessary lengths to make sure that vulnerable participants are treated with extra care and sensitivity? For more discussion on this topic, see the page on vulnerable participants as well as the page on research with children.
- CONFIDENTIALITY/ANONYMITY: Can the researcher guarantee that the identity of the participants will not be revealed to anyone other than the people carrying out the research? For more information on this topic, see the page on confidentiality and privacy.
- PRIVACY: Can the researcher guarantee that the information provided by the participants will be maintained in privacy so that no one who should not see it will see it? For more information on this topic, see the page on confidentiality and privacy.
- DECEPTION: Does the researcher need to mislead the participants in any way about the goals of the study, the process of participation, or both? If so, what steps can be taken to minimize the risk of deception-related harm to participants? For a further discussion of deception, please see the page on the topic.
Research is defined by the federal government as "a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge." Some kinds of data collection do not count as research under this definition, examples of research that does not require IRB interaction can be found on a subpage about this topic.
Research that does require at least some degree of interaction with the IRB falls into three categories (discussed further on the relevant subpage):
- Exempt research, which requires minimal interaction with the IRB and only to determine whether the research meets the criteria for exemption (several exemption forms are below on this homepage)
- Expedited research, which requires a regular review but which can be carried out by a single member of the IRB (usually the Chair) on a rolling basis; and
- Full Board review research, in which some aspect of the research (such as the likelihood that it will cause more than minimal harm) requires all members of the IRB to meet and determine whether the research can be approved, needs to be modified first, or must be rejected on legal and/or ethical grounds.
What kinds of projects get approved most quickly and easily?
- Those that do not put participants at more than minimal risk of physical, legal, financial, employment, reputational, emotional/psychological, or any other kind of harm; projects with low risk levels of harm can be approved but the less potential for harm, the easier the approval
- Those that only involve adults (people 18 or over)
- Those that only involve people who are completely free and able to refuse participation in your research (so not people under 18, prisoners, undocumented immigrants, people with developmental disabilities, economically disadvantaged people, or members of politically disadvantaged groups)
- Those with well-designed processes to gain consent of participants
- Those that only use the following research methods: educational tests, questionnaires/surveys, interviews, focus groups, non-participant observation, or collection of data from voice, video, digital, or image recordings
- Those in which the research focuses on individual or group characteristics or behavior (e.g. perception, cognition, motivation, identity, language, communication, cultural beliefs/practices, or social behavior)
- Those that take place in educational settings and that focus on normal educational practices
- Those that involve the study of already collected data, documents, or records that are publicly available
- Those in which individual participants cannot be identified by name or, if they can, being identified does not put them at risk of harm
- Those that, if an organization is the topic of study, have already been approved by the organization in question
Please be aware that a number of IRB-related laws are expected to change in 2018. Please see the relevant subpage for more information; some additional information has been incorporated into other subpages already. The website will be updated once the laws go into effect.
For information on how the IRB is staffed, please see the relevant subpage.
2. Information Specific to the Colorado College IRB
Below are the forms that you will use to either apply for IRB approval (the first form) or request an exemption. Please be aware that researchers cannot exempt their own research from IRB review; only the IRB can do that.
Please be aware that there is specific language to be used by faculty members in their emails of approval for student projects. The language is on the first page of the application. Faculty members must use this language in order for students to have their proposals reviewed. Faculty members, please take note, and students, please remind your advisors about the language.
Please be aware that the IRB will not, under any circumstances, approve a project for which the research has already been carried out. Proposals must be approved before research can begin.
Please be aware that your proposal will NOT be reviewed if it is missing any of the following elements:
- Faculty sponsor's email of approval (unless it is a Venture Grant project that is NOT for a thesis; those are reviewed without faculty sponsor input. If your Venture Grant will be used to collect senior thesis data, your thesis advisor does need to approve the IRB proposal)
- A debriefing form or script if you will be using deception (most common in psychology and marketing studies)
- Your consent form or script, built using one of the templates on the consent forms page
- Your interview questions, survey instrument, experiment process, or other materials showing clearly what the participant will encounter and what they will do
- The start date of your research project; this question is asked toward the top of the second page of the application
- An answer to the question of how you would report an incident of harm of one occurred. Please be aware that you need to answer this question even if you are sure no harm will occur. A typical and good answer is that you would report an incident of harm to your advisor and to the chair of the IRB.
To submit your proposal, complete proposals including copies of all necessary attachments and a confirming email from your faculty sponsor are due VIA EMAIL to the Chair of the IRB when they are fully prepared, and will be reviewed on a rolling basis during the entire year (including the summer, though please note that summer review may take longer). You will usually be notified about the IRB decision regarding your proposal within several days of submitting your proposal. A turnaround of one to two days is not unusual but cannot be guaranteed.
The best way for researchers to make sure they have enough time to go through the application, receive approval, and still have time to do research is to do an exemplary job of filling out the application and to send the proposal in as early as possible.
Please treat initial contact with the IRB chair in a formal and professional manner, as you would the cover letter you sent along with a job application. Sending an extremely casual or informal email to the IRB chair signals that you may be equally casual about your obligations to the participants in your study. Unless you know the chair personally, please do not begin your email "Hey, Amanda" or in other equally informal ways.