What is the ERRB? 

Members of the ERRB in 2015-2016 are Heath Cabot (Chair), Nancy Andrews, and Netta Van Vleet.

The ERRB is COA’s Institutional Review Board, or Human Subjects Research Board. We have two primary roles. 

First, we ensure that research on human subjects at COA conforms with federal law by upholding the following two standards:

  • Human subjects should not be placed at undue risk.
  • Subjects should give uncoerced, informed consent to their participation in the research.

Second, we help to advise and train students, faculty, and others at COA regarding the range of ethical dilemmas entailed in work with human subjects in an interdisciplinary context. We  thus have a strongly educational component, which extends to questions and concerns beyond the mere purview of the law to consider the complexities, gray areas, and situational aspects of working and interacting with people. Thus, we provide co-curricular ethics training for students through workshops and mentoring; and we work with students through the review process so as to maximize its educational potential. 

Ethics of Research in Human Ecology

Institutional Review Boards, such as the ERRB, emerged from very urgent concerns about bio-medical and scientific testing on people during the 20th century, such as Nazi experiments on race, eugenics, and euthanasia (addressed in the Nuremburg Trials) and the infamous experiments at Tuskegee. The federal legal framework for regulating research with human subjects defines research as a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge [Code of Federal Regulations 46.102(d)].

But ethics entail much more than the law.

As many have argued, relevant federal legislation is built largely on a more bio-medical model of “research” and may not capture the complexity of qualitative research, for example, which most often does not involve significant risk of bodily harm. Rather, in ethnography or oral history, for instance, harm may involve issues of reputation, dignity, and privacy. Further, this law does not address the diverse multidisciplinary ethical frameworks that are at work in Human Ecology, and the range of methods with which students conduct and represent their work, which may link, for instance, science with art; or ethnography with advocacy. Finally, federal law does not explicitly invite practitioners to deal with questions of power, representation, and inequality, which often shape projects with people in Human Ecology. 

For this reason, the ERRB asks ALL students doing projects engaging people in reflecting on ethical practice and issues of risk and consent.

The Ethical Research Board Review Process

An application to the ERRB is required of all students doing projects with human beings that will circulate in a public or semi-public sphere: for instance, senior projects, exhibitions, or conference presentations. Your work or research cannot proceed until the ERRB has approved what is known as your ethics “protocol:” your proposal for how you will negotiate ethics regarding human subjects in your project.   

1) Submission of protocol: Application form (approved and signed by project director) by FRIDAY OF 6th WEEK, along with your project proposal and consent forms if required.

2) Review: Meeting with the committee and project director, in which we will discuss your ethical concerns and any other that we may identify.

3) Decision: In most cases, we will recommend changes, and students will have the chance to resubmit their applications. In rare cases, the project as framed may be deemed too risky to approve, or the student may be found unprepared to manage the risks of the project.

ERRB Application Forms

For students whose work falls clearly into the category of research as defined by federal law, or for students working with historically marginalized populations (indigenous groups, for instance) or vulnerable groups (I.E. children, prisoners, people without legal status, people with disabilities, victims of sexual assault), use this form: Conventional Application Form

All others should use this form: The General Application Form

If you need help deciding which one, ask your project director!

The flow chart below might help, as well.

The key aspects of the application are: 

1) Risk or harm to people

2) Informed consent 

*Is my study “research?” 
  1. Will the results of your study be made public through a publication, a senior project (which will be publicly available on file in the library), public performance, public website, presentation at a public conference or other means?
    If your answer is NO to this question, your study is probably not considered “research” in the technical sense because it is not designed to “develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge” that would be available to the public.
  2. Does your study involve a systematic investigation that includes research development, testing or evaluation of the kind that employs methods of study drawing on principles of natural science or psychology, sociology or one of the disciplines aiming to be a social science or study producing similar, generalizable knowledge?
    If your answer is NO, then your study is probably not considered “research” in the technical sense. For example, it may be an expressive activity like a dance performance, a personal reflective essay in philosophy or an advocacy activity like the filing of a legal brief, none of which is considered “research” in the technical sense at issue here.