Ethics committee responses

Do you understand the committee’s response?

The first step in dealing with the response is to make sure that you understand the reasons for the committee’s decision, and you know what you are being asked to do.

Read it carefully and discuss with colleagues – start with others on the research team, but can also be useful to get a fresh perspective, from someone who is not involved in the study. If you have applied to an external ethics committee, it can sometimes be helpful to seek advice from someone involved in your institution’s ethics committee – especially if you have significant concerns about what you are being asked to change. If the rejection has come from your institution’s ethics committee, you can usually approach the committee chair for more explanation of the decision.

Ethics committee requirements often fall into one of three categories:

  1. Asking for more information – e.g. to clarify something in your application, or to address something the committee feels you have missed out;
  2. Minor changes – e.g. to the wording of a consent form, information sheet, or even an interview schedule or questionnaire; or
  3. Significant changes to your research design – e.g. a change in your sampling strategy.

It’s worth going through the comments/recommendations you receive and seeing which of these categories different elements of the responses fall into. Work through each of the points in turn, and ask yourself:

  • Do they have a point?
  • Have they picked up on something you haven’t thought of?
  • Is it simply that something needs more explanation?
  • Are they asking you to change the way you do something? What would that mean?

Use the answers to those questions to help you to plan your response.