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Factors influencing the effectiveness of research ethics committees

Abstract

Research ethics committees—animal ethics committees (AECs) for animal-based research and institutional research boards (IRBs) for human subjects—have a key role in research governance, but there has been little study of the factors influencing their effectiveness. The objectives of this study were to examine how the effectiveness of a research ethics committee is influenced by committee composition and dynamics, recruitment of members, workload, participation level and member turnover. As a model, 28 members of AECs at four universities in western Canada were interviewed. Committees were selected to represent variation in the number and type of protocols reviewed, and participants were selected to include different types of committee members. We found that a bias towards institutional or scientific interests may result from (1) a preponderance of institutional and scientist members, (2) an intimidating atmosphere for community members and other minority members, (3) recruitment of community members who are affiliated with the institution and (4) members joining for reasons other than to fulfil the committee mandate. Thoroughness of protocol review may be influenced by heavy workloads, type of review process and lack of full committee participation. These results, together with results from the literature on research ethics committees, suggested potential ways to improve the effectiveness of research ethics committees.

  • AEC, animal ethics committee
  • IRB, institutional research board

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