We believe that the management of research ethics should be simple, standardised and open. By re-engineering the School of Psychology’s current online ethics system, we are creating a system that makes the workflow of ethical approval efficient, intuitive and scalable.
Open Ethics is configurable, to fit the workflow of individual groups, whilst providing a standardised interface for ethical review data. This simplifies reporting both at the local and institutional level, as well as streamlining collaboration between groups. By releasing all of this as an open source project we will not only reduce the cost of ownership, but also encourage other institutions to adopt, and contribute towards the system. Core Design Principles
The system is currently in the early stages of development, but it is being developed with three core design principles:
We understand that whilst maintaining high ethical standards is important to researchers, their main focus is on their research. That is why Open Ethics is being designed to be as simple and unobtrusive to use as possible, providing a quick and efficient platform for managing the process of ethical review. For researchers, the system will guide them through the application process, optimizing the application questions based on the type of research that they are doing. This will ensure that the application will have all the necessary information before it reaches the review stage. For many researchers, the workflow will be simplified further by the use of pre-approved protocols, which will allow them to carry out certain frequently used research methods without having to undergo full ethical review. For reviewers, the use of pre-approved protocols will reduce the total number of applications submitted for full review. Furthermore those applications which are submitted for review will contain all the required information, presented in an easy to read format to allow the reviewer to make an informed and timely decision.
Open Ethics will be accessible online using any modern internet browser, and as an electronic process will simplify the administration of current paper based systems. There will no longer be any delays (and costs) associated with the physical distribution of applications to reviewers, and the workload can be automatically and fairly distributed amongst the review committee. The review process will be easily monitored, allowing applicants to find out the status of their applications, and the Committee Chair to ensure that the process is running smoothly. Review timelines can be automatically enforced with reminder emails, and the Chair can easily spot bottlenecks in the process, taking the appropriate action where necessary. Additionally as all applications will be stored in an electronic format, the process can be audited, and data retention policies can be applied to ensure that records are kept for the appropriate amount of time. This can all be achieved without requiring the archiving of physical records, with the associated costs that this brings. Lastly the whole process can be intelligently reported upon, allowing the Chair to generate end of year reports at the touch of the button, whilst carrying out more detailed reports which would not easily have been possible in a paper based system.
We understand that individual Schools have different needs when it comes to ethical review, and that standardisation between Schools can be easier said than done; however we believe that a compromise between standardisation and local configurability can be met. There are two types of standardisation to be considered with respect to ethical review: process and application standardisation. Process standardisation will be inherently achieved within the institution if all Schools use the Open Ethics system. This has the major benefit of making collaborations between Schools simple, allowing a single application to be reviewed individually or jointly by multiple committees. An additional benefit of this standardisation is the enhanced reporting that will be made possible, allowing reports to be generated at the institutional as well as the local School level. The second standardisation facet is the application. The system will come pre-configured to conform to the ESRC ethical review guidelines, allowing projects that must conform to these standards to do so. In addition individual schools can configure pre-application filters to the ESRC question set, tailoring their individual applications for their needs, so that researchers are not confused by questions that do not apply to them. Finally, we will be engaging with the Association of the Research Ethics Committees, with the view of implementing a standardised application template, which can be used to facilitate simplified inter-institutional collaborations with those institutions using the Open Ethics system.