Ryan asks a good question: “Are youth serving programs required to have an IRB for applications, beginning and end-of-year surveys, and program evaluations?”  His question leads me to today’s topic.

The IRB is concerned with “research on human subjects”.  So you ask, When is evaluation a form research?

It all depends.

Although evaluation methods have evolved from  social science research, there are important distinctions between the two.

Fitzpatrick, Sanders, and Worthen list five differences between the two and it is in those differences that one must consider IRB assurances.

These five differences are:

  1. purpose,
  2. who sets the agenda,
  3. generalizability of results,
  4. criteria, and
  5. preparation.

Although these criteria differ for evaluation and research, there are times when evaluation and research overlap.    If the evaluation study adds to knowledge in a discipline or research informs our judgments about a program, then the distinctions are blurred and a broader view of the inquiry is needed and possibly an IRB approval.

IRB considers children a vulnerable population.  Vulnerable populations require IRB protection.  Evaluations with vulnerable populations may need IRB assurances.  IF you have a program that involves children AND you plan to use the program activities as the basis of an effectiveness evaluation (ass opposed to program improvement) AND use that evaluation as scholarship you will need IRB.

Ryan asks “what does publish mean”.  That question takes us to what is scholarship.  One definition of scholarship is that scholarship is creative work, that is validated by peers and communicated.  Published means communicating to peers in a peer reviewed journal or professional meeting not, for example, in a press release.

How do you decide if your evaluation needs IRB?  How do you decide if your evaluation is research or not?   Start with the purpose of your inquiry.  Do you want to add knowledge in the field?   Do you want to see if what you are doing is applicable in other settings?  Do you want others to know what you’ve done and why?  They you want to communicate this.  In academics, that means publishing it in a peer reviewed journal or presenting it at a professional meeting.  And to do that and use the information provided you by your participants who are human subjects, you will need IRB assurance that they are protected.

Every IRB is different.  Check with your institution.  Most work done by Extension professionals falls under the category of “exempt from full board review”.  It is the shortest review and the least restrictive.  Vulnerable populations, audio and/or video taping, or asking sensitive questions typically is categorized as expedited, a more stringent review than the “exempt” category, which takes a little longer.  IF you are working with vulnerable populations and asking for sensitive information,  doing an invasive procedure, or involving participants in something that could be viewed as coercive, then the inquiry will probably need full board review (which takes the longest turn around time.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

One thought on “Research, evaluation, scholarship

  1. Molly-thanks! I would add that as a research institution getting public dollars we are obligated to share what we learn, at least on some level. And this gets back to publish–if we put something on the web, unless it’s protected, it’s public dissemination. I assume this counts. This seems to be part of the gray area–published in a peer reviewed journal as generalizable–then you must have IRB. If you share with the public your outcomes, and not really saying much about the specific practices, just sharing good work…?

Comments are closed.