If you intend to conduct research involving human subjects, before you can begin, you must obtain the approval of your institution’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). Most academic or governmental research entities have their own IRBs; there are also independent or commercial IRBs. Regardless, the IRB (sometimes known as an Independent Ethics Committee, or IEC) is the body charged with ensuring that all research conducted at the institution involving human subjects follows regulations and guidelines established by the federal government. The IRB provides the appropriate governmental agencies with written documentation called federalwide assurance (FWA) that commits the institution to follow federal mandates scrupulously in exchange for what is basically a license to conduct human subjects research. On the rare occasion that assurance is breached through research mismanagement or misconduct, the government may impose sanctions or even suspend all research at the offending institution.
This guide provides insight from several experts as well as a general introduction to what an IRB does and the importance of understanding how it operates. At present, this guide is only available electronically but if you are interested in receiving a printed version, please send a request to news [at] bwfund.org.