Friday, May 11, 2012

Community Researchers Flee the CITI

An article in the latest issue of the Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics finds that standard research ethics training programs--specifically the mortifyingly stupid CITI Program--are inappropriate for Community-Engaged Research (CEnR).

[Anderson, E., S. Solomon, E. Heitman, J. Dubois, C. Fisher, R. Kost, M. Lawless, et al. "Research Ethics Education for Community-Engaged Research: A Review and Research Agenda." Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics 7, no. 2 (April 2012): 3, DOI: 10.1525/jer.2012.7.2.3]

The authors note that

IRBs have been more apt to recognize consistent, one-size-fits-all training programs. While some may criticize these "packaged" educational products, they are effective at providing a low-cost, low-commitment, and highly efficient way to streamline and track the delivery of education to a large number of individuals, hence their popularity with academic institutions. The widespread use of the online Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) Program has created the impression for many institutions that CITI is the required training program. [emphasis in original]

But the mind-numbing and coercive CITI Program doesn't prepare researchers for community studies:

In many settings, modifying curricula initially designed for academic researchers or graduate students is not always a viable or appropriate solution. Current standardized programs contain much information that is not directly relevant to CEnR studies (especially those that do not involve medical intervention), and many do not include practical information that people involved in the day-to-day work of community-based studies need to know in order to do their jobs well . For example, research ethics education may deliver the message that protecting participant confidentiality is important but not necessarily explain how to accomplish this when working in the community—literally on the streets and out of cars—and interacting with research participants who are part of their regular social networks. There is often a disconnect between how recruitment, informed consent, and data collection tools are developed for institutional review board (IRB) submission and how they are implemented in the field. Written research protocols tend to focus on the language in the consent form but omit details of the recruitment and informed consent process that are essential for those who will actually be doing that work. Community research partners are not always provided with adequate guidance regarding what to do once they get in the field, the specific challenges they may face, or tools for resolving dilemmas—for example, how to handle if a potential participant slams a door in their face, insists that they want to participate but will not take the time to read the consent form (or have it read to them), or appears to lie to meet inclusion criteria. [citations omitted.]

The authors conclude that "Research ethics education should be evidence-based both in terms of the topics covered and instructional methods employed." While their article focuses on community-engaged research, I would suggest it is equally applicable to just about every form of research, "especially those that do not involve medical intervention." We need more programs like the ethnography training at Macquarie and the history training at Princeton. One-size-fits-all may fit none.

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