Institutional Review Board (IRBs) (a.k.a., Human Subjects Review Boards, Committees for Protecting Human Subjects, etc.) are institutional committees that oversee research involving human subjects in a given institution. IRBs exist for two important reasons:
1. To protect the rights and welfare of people who participate in research studies, and
2. To balance potential risks to participants with potential benefits for society.
Typically, one or two members of an IRB will review each research proposal depending on the characteristics of the proposed research and the IRBs review procedures. While the process of an IRB review may feel time consuming to the researcher, such peer-review processes protect the integrity of the social sciences and the safety of participants as a whole. PsychData was specifically designed to satisfy the standards of social science IRBs regarding online data collection and we are continuously evolving to meet these standards, especially for psychological research.
IRBs and Web Based Research
Because web-based psychological research is relatively recent and IRBs are still in the process of developing policies and procedures to manage these new tools, it is the researcher's job to help inform IRB members about online research. We provide the following information to help you inform your research application as it relates to your IRB about online research. The information provided below has resolved nearly all of the problems reported by our users in regards to IRB approval for web-based research.
Informed Consent- IRBs want to be sure that participants demonstrate informed consent prior to participating in survey research. For web-based surveys, consent can be obtained using several methods. The most common method is to request that the participant perform a specific action in order to participate in a survey. Using the PsychData survey system, we recommend the following method that will ask your participants to click on a button if they consent to participate:
1. Ask for a specific piece of information - You can request that participant's enter a valid email address (or other specific information) prior to participating in lieu of their signature. Simply insert a required question immediately after your informed consent text and prior to your page break.
If your IRB requires a signed paper informed consent statement from each participant, then we recommend the following: Immediately after your informed consent statement enter as many questions as are required of you. Enter your instructions to the participant (e.g., please enter your information, print this page using the link below, sign on the line below, and mail to the following address). Next, enter the unique Respondent ID field into your survey followed by text that says, "I, ______, consent to participate in this survey." The participant will enter their information, print out the page, sign it, and mail it to you. Because you can include the Respondent ID in your dataset, you will be able to track who sent in the form and who did not.
A variety of other options can be developed to meet your needs. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Waiver of Documentation - If you will not be asking for a signed paper, some IRB's may require a waiver of documentation (i.e., signature) of informed consent from your IRB. This is NOT a waiver of consent, but rather a waiver of obtaining a signature on the consent form and exact procedures will vary by IRB.
Survey Completion Risks - Risks during the actual completion of survey questions are only slightly different with PsychData than with traditional methods.
Data Security During Transmission - All surveys hosted with PsychData are encrypted using 128-bit SSL Technology (Secure Socket Layer) that is equivalent to the industry standard for securely transmitting credit card information over the Internet. This technology encrypts BOTH the questions displayed to the participants and their responses. Thus, all responses are instantly encrypted and remain so until they are received at the PsychData database. Interception of data when it is being transmitted between the Internet browser (i.e., Internet Explorer, FireFox, Safari, Chrome) and the PsychData database is HIGHLY unlikely (consider the motivations of a person attempting to intercept research data over the internet vs. papers stored in an office vs. credit card information). However, should interception of encrypted data occur, that data could not be decoded without the unique encryption key that is held only by PsychData.
Identifying Information - For a variety of reasons, many researchers need to collect identifying information about their participants. IRBs are rightfully concerned that such information should be handled separately from research data. Here's how such information can be handled using PsychData.
IP Addresses - An IP address is a unique identifying number used to identify computers connected to the Internet. An IP address might be static (i.e., always refer to one institution's server), dynamic (assigned upon connection), or pooled (a group of servers share one or more IP addresses). IP addresses may also change multiple times during the same connection - for example, the IP address of AOL users may change multiple times per minute. An IP address generally will represent either an institution (i.e. a university or large company) or an Internet Service Provider (i.e. AOL or an ISP serving one or more communities).
Unique Respondent ID Number - Every participant who completes a survey at PsychData is automatically assigned an internal number called the Respondent ID Number. Researchers can use this data to create a confirmation page for participants by displaying the Respondent ID Number within their survey or at its conclusion. Similarly, researchers can also elect to download this data or to exclude it. One important use of this feature is to provide participants with a unique number representing a record of their participation that is disconnected from their identity.
In our experience this information has resolved the large majority of IRBs' concerns regarding online data collection. Most IRBs approve of online research conducted with PsychData because of our commitment to security, confidentiality, and privacy for web-based social science research. We welcome questions, concerns, suggestions, and feedback at email@example.com or 1-877-277-7319.