Centre for Media Studies-Institutional Review Board (CMS-IRB)
Aug 1, 2014 at IIC, New Delhi
The relevance of practicing ethical norms is increasing day by day in the field of social research, particularly in India, with more than 1.2 billion population; 70% of them living in 638,000 villages. To add to it, India is a religiously, culturally diverse multi-lingual society; more than 18 major languages combined with some 1652 languages and dialects are being spoken in India. At the same time, the literacy rate is low. As per Census 2011, literacy rate is around 74%; even lesser among female- 65% than male-82%. With such a socio-culturally diverse population, designing a uniformly acceptable ethically robust research with human subjects is a challenge in India.
The most common way of defining “ethics” is ‘norms for conduct that distinguishes between acceptable and unacceptable behavior’. In fast growing professional world of research, relevance and importance of practicing ethical norms is very critical as it ensures objectivity, promotes truth and knowledge and ensures lesser occurrence of error. In research, human subject, as defined by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), is a living individual about whom a research investigator (whether a professional or a student) obtains data through 1) intervention or interaction with the individual; or 2) identifiable private information. Thus, human beings irrespective of gender, age group, ethnic group and socio-economic status, individually or in group, is considered as a ‘subject’ for research and identified as human subjects for social science research.
While on one hand, research involving human participants must not violate any universally applicable ethical standards, on the other hand, a researcher needs to consider local cultural values when it comes to the application of the ethical principles to individual autonomy and informed consent. However, research involving human subjects categorized in special categories such as minors, juvenile, pregnant women, differently-abled, prisoners, etc become ethically more sensitive. Important ethical issues include voluntary participation and informed consent, anonymity and confidentiality, and accountability in terms of the accuracy of research design, analysis and reporting.
The main reason for considering ethical norms in social research is because it prohibits immoral approach towards information/data collection. Further, restricts misrepresentation of information/data and restricts researchers from being biased. Also, to an extent, emotional conflicts of surveyed population are addressed properly. On researchers’ part, accountability of researchers towards the community gets ensured and last but not the least, institutions/organizations more likely to fund research projects can trust the quality and integrity of research.
The basic demand of ethical norms is to respect human dignity and privacy; take special precautions with vulnerable population; and make efforts to ensure utilization of evaluation findings i.e. follow-up with donors/implementing agencies.
Institutional Review Board
An institutional review board (IRB) is primarily a committee that is formally designated to approve, monitor, and review biomedical and behavioral research involving humans. The purpose of an IRB review is to assure, both in advance and by periodic review, that appropriate steps are taken to protect the rights and welfare of humans participating as subjects in a research study. IRBs attempt to ensure protection of subjects by reviewing research protocols and related materials.
Initially, IRBs were committees at academic institutions and medical facilities to review research studies involving human participants, primarily to minimize or avoid ethical problems. Today, some IRB reviews are also conducted by for-profit and not-for-profit organizations known as ‘independent’ or ‘commercial’ IRBs. However, the expected responsibilities of such IRBs are identical to those based at academic or medical institutions.
CMS-IRB, a registered body since 2008, is one such review board, having representation of professionals working with CMS, other like-minded organizations and independent consultants.
In India, Institutional Review Board on ethics for non-clinical research is few, almost non-existent. Mostly universities in India have duly-constituted ethics committee but their review is limited to research by their faculty and students and not to research done outside the University purview. In 1999, Ethical Guidelines for Social Science Research in Health was framed by the National Committee for Ethics in Social Science Research in Health (NCESSRH). Non-clinical health research do follow some basics of ethical clearances but in most of the cases it is more of a voluntary choice and less as a pre-requisite for initiating a research study. Studies on juvenile, social groups, differently-abled, prisoners or on issues such as domestic violence, human trafficking among other sensitive issues are rarely reviewed to ensure ethical appropriateness of the research design and protocols.
In this context, CMS-IRB is organizing a half-day Consultation with professionals in development sector, which include those representing international/national donor agencies, social research organizations/institutions, independent consultants. Participation from government funded institutions and bodies will be invited to have a 360 degree sharing of views and opinion.
Agenda: The discussion will focus on two core aspects:
- One, how best can we sensitize, facilitate and help each other towards improving and ensuring practicing of ethical standards in social research, particularly in context of India
- Two, debate the importance of IRB in social research projects in our country.
Venue: India International Centre (IIC), Kamaladevi Complex, Seminar Hall III
Time: 2.30-5.00 pm Date: Friday, August 01, 2014
2.30–3.00 pm Registration & Tea
3.00 -3.15 pm Welcome Note and brief Introduction about CMS-IRB by Ms. P.N. Vasanti, Deputy Chairperson, CMS-IRB
3.15 – 4.15 pm Panel Discussion:
Best Practices to Address Ethical Issues in Social Research and Role of IRB
Dr Jyotsna Puri, Deputy Executive Director and Head of Evaluation, 3ie
*Dr M.E. Khan, Senior Associate, Population Council, India
Dr Sushanta K Banerjee, CMS-IRB member and Senior Advisor-R&E, Ipas India
Dr Subrato K Mondal, CMS-IRB member and Chief Technical Advisor-M&E, IHBP/FHI 360
*Prof S. K. Sarin, Chairperson, IERB, JNU
4.15 – 5.00 pm Open Discussion-How we can help each other towards improving and ensuring practicing of ethical standards in social research
(*To be confirmed)