Redefining what's possible.
We set very high standards for the protection of people who participate in our research projects at the University of Washington School of Social Work. Researchers submit their research protocols to the Human Subjects Division so that an expert committee can examine how potential subjects are approached to participate; what measures are used to protect their privacy; and what psycho-social risks, stresses, and discomforts subjects will be asked to endure. The Human Subjects Division delegates the review of research protocols to Institutional Review Board (IRB) committees, comprised of researchers and other University community and public representatives. Reviewers of the IRBs have a great deal of experience in addressing thorny issues in balancing the need for data collection with maximum protection of human subjects, and can recognize potential pitfalls and often suggest better solutions.
Throughout the years, a number of School faculty, staff and students, have served on one of the behavioral IRB committees that meet regularly to review SSW research projects. Participation provides an intensive "course" on ethical research practice. Social welfare scholars and researchers, already renowned for a strong ethical practice code, can learn to apply these principles to research through serving on an IRB committee. Because they share their expertise with others in the school and thereby enrich our collective expertise, having a member of the school community participating on an IRB committee helps to keep all of us abreast of rapidly changing human subjects protection issues, trends, and policies. Informally, we serve as mentors to each other, sharing experiences around human subjects protection reviews and advising each other, and cultivating a climate of reciprocity to ensure that we maintain the highest standards when conducting research on human beings.