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Department Publications

What is an "IRB" and Why Should You Care?

Did you know that Maricopa has an IRB - an Institutional Review Board?  You may ask why you should care.  In fact, you must care if you collect and analyze data about your fellow employees, Maricopa students or other human beings, whether through surveys, interviews, access to existing data sources or other gathering techniques.  You also must care whether you, the “collector,” are faculty or staff.  Not caring could subject Maricopa to costly lawsuits and the loss of federal grant funds.

The IRB is Maricopa’s regulating authority for data collection that qualifies as human subjects research.  What you need to know is that you should not undertake any of that type of data collection without first familiarizing yourself with Maricopa’s human subjects protocols including, if appropriate, completing the application review form available at: http://mcli.maricopa.edu/irb/docs/hsr_application.doc

To make this “head’s up” more understandable, here are some examples of what falls within those procedures.  They apply if you are a fitness coordinator at a campus, and want to track whether the wellness incentives at your location will result in reduced weight loss of and better health for campus employees.  They also cover a situation in which a staff person at the District Office decides to track certain dual enrollment students through college enrollment and graduation to measure whether dual enrollment provides a “jump start.”  Finally, they encompass the efforts of a faculty member who used student feedback concerning certain learning tools for her Faculty Evaluation Plan and now seeks to write an article in a scholarly journal using that data.

Why do the human subjects procedures apply?  It’s simple.  Maricopa, in keeping with the requirements of federal law and guidelines, has established precise steps aimed at protecting and ensuring the ethical treatment of human subjects without hindering laudable research, study and analysis.  The procedures apply, however, regardless of whether federal funding or federal agency oversight is involved in any particular research.

The “human” part of the process is probably pretty obvious to those not familiar with either the federal law or Maricopa’s procedures.  If you are gathering data from or about live people, it probably involves the type of interaction with humans that qualifies.

The scope of “research” is less obvious to the layperson.  The federal (as well as Maricopa’s) definition focuses on whether information or data is gathered in a systematic way to draw general conclusions, or to develop or add to a body of knowledge.

Don’t spend any time trying to decide whether what you want to do falls within the definition of “human subjects research.”  The procedures that Maricopa has in place permit you to describe what you want to do on the application form.  Experts at the campus or at the District-wide level will review it and provide you with further guidance.

Specifically, those experts serve on each campus’s College Research Review Committee (“CRRC”) or on the District-wide IRB.  Once you complete the application form, you will, in most cases, start the process by submitting it to the CRRC at your campus.  Each college has its own protocol for submission, but you generally will need to obtain institutional approval first.  In some cases, your application will need to go directly to the IRB.

There is an abundance of good information on the Maricopa website to help get you acquainted with this process.  It is available generally at:  http://mcli.maricopa.edu/irb/index.php

That information includes, for instance, a Quick Start Guide that is in narrative form describing the steps: http://mcli.maricopa.edu/irb/docs/irb_quickstart.pdf

An additional on-line tool outlining the steps in simple bullet form appears at: http://mcli.maricopa.edu/irb/apply-start.php

A list of names of each IRB member and the campus that they represent, along with the name of the District representative, is available at: http://mcli.maricopa.edu/irb/contacts.php

Finally, the members of the CRRC and that IRB recommend that Maricopa employees potentially involved in human subjects research take the following actions to ensure compliance with these important procedures:

  • Researchers should take the training available at: www.citiprogram.org.  You may register under “Maricopa Community Colleges.”  Students designing research should also undergo this training.
  • Researchers should not require students to either participate in or conduct human subject research without offering an alternative assignment.  Research should be strictly voluntary.
  • Researchers should not gather identifiable personal data without first obtaining and archiving an informed consent agreement from the subjects, and parental consent if minors are involved.  For a sample consent form, see: http://mcli.maricopa.edu/irb/docs/informed_consent.pdf

Published in the Winter 2008 Edition of In Brief



Questions or comments?
Contact Lee Combs @ 480.731.8878

Maricopa Community Colleges
Office of General Counsel
2411 West 14th Street
Tempe, AZ 85281-6942
480.731.8877 / 480.731.8890 fax

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