Research Ethics Policy

Fact box

  • Policy owner: Director of Research
  • Policy category: Academic: Research
  • Policy status: Approved
  • Approval body: Academic Board
  • Endorsement body: Research Committee
  • Related policies:
  • Last amended: 1st Dec. 2016

Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to provide guidelines for the Alphacrucis College (AC) Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC).

Scope

All faculty and students

Policy

The HREC is an ad-hoc committee of Academic Board that is convened to evaluate research proposals that are classified as “High Risk.” The initial assessment of risk level of a proposed project will be made by the faculty supervisor (for student projects) or Dean of Faculty or equivalent (for faculty projects). Projects classified as “Minimal Risk” will be viewed and approved by the Director of Research or equivalent. Projects classified as exceeding “Minimal Risk” will require the approval of the HREC.

Risk Categories

The bulk of primary research conducted under AC’s auspices is expected to rely on documentary sources. Research involving human as subjects is usually from general adult populations. Thus, research proposals requiring intensive scrutiny, evaluation and formal ethics clearance from a risk management perspective is rare.

2. Categories and Criteria of Risk:

AC recognises two categories of risk, “High Risk” and “Minimal Risk”.

 a) High-Risk: A project is deemed “high-risk” if the research methodology or an investigative protocol proposed for the project entails one or more of the following features:

i) high-risk for one or more participants; and/or

ii) one or more high-risk activities or topics; and/or

iii) one or more high-risk procedures.

The scope of high-risk research participants, research topics or activities, and research procedures is outlined as follows:

 i) Research Participants: This category includes one or more of the following:

  • children and young people (i.e. minors under the age of 18, State wards or inmates of juvenile detention facilities); 
  • people requiring consent of guardians, parents, leaders or community elders;
  • members of indigenous populations and communities (e.g. Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Maori), as well as other socially disadvantaged groups;
  • prisoners in custody;
  • people with an intellectual disability or mental impairment;
  • people having a high dependence on medical care;
  • hospital in-patients;
  • people whose first language is not English;
  • people in dependent or subordinated relationships;
  • refugees, temporary protection visa-holders, or others in similarly sensitive situations;
  • people belonging to other social groups having special needs (such as the homeless, members of single parent families, people living in rural isolation, refugees, or
  • detainees); and or
  • any other class or group of persons that the HREC may deem as “high risk”.

ii) Research Topics or Activities: This category includes one or more of the following:

  • illegal activities;

projects affecting indigenous populations and communities;

  • mental health (such as risk of suicide, depression or bipolarity);
  • research funded by an overseas source;
  • research in either overseas locations or in remote or dangerous locations within Australia or New Zealand;
  • using survey data previously collected for another purpose;
  • collection of data concerning individuals’ health, personal, or other sensitive information;
  • collection or use of bio-specimens;
  • DNA collection or testing;
  • use of ionising radiation or other hazardous substances;
  • forms of clinical trial using a control comparison group;
  • any other topic or activity, or class of topics or activities, that the HREC may deem as “high risk”.

iii) Research Procedures: These include, but are not limited to:

  • covert observation;
  • subterfuge or deception of participants;
  • examination of medical, educational, employment or other confidential records;
  • other potentially sensitive or contentious observational methods or techniques;
  • disclosure of information which is or may be prejudicial to one or more participants; and /or
  • any other procedure or class of procedures that the HREC may deem as “high risk”.

b) Minimal-Risk: Depending on the circumstances in which the particular research methodology or protocol is proposed for application, any research project that is proposed to be conducted under the auspices, or with the support, of the College is deemed to be of “minimal-risk” if:

i) the participants fall within the scope of the corresponding following category; and

ii) the procedure(s) proposed to be employed likewise fall(s) within the corresponding following category.

The respective descriptors are:

i) Research Participants: These include, but are not limited to:

  • healthy adult members of the community;
  • college, university and other tertiary-level students;
  • the employees of a specific company or other organisation;
  • public sector employees where these are at or above the level of the researcher (or interviewer);
  • adult members of a specific community group, club or association;
  • adult people not in a dependent relationship or in a psychologically vulnerable situation where coercion is possible; and/or
  • any other group or class of persons that the HREC may deem as “minimal risk”.

ii) Research Procedures: These include but are not limited to:

  • anonymous questionnaires (i.e. where identities cannot be traced in any way)
  • coded (potentially identifiable) questionnaires/surveys;
  • identifiable surveys or questionnaires;
  • examination of student work, assignments, journals, etc.
  • overt observation;
  • interviews (structured or unstructured), whether in person or by telephone;
  • questions by email;
  • online surveys; and/or
  • any other procedure, or class of procedures, that the HREC may deem as “minimal risk”.

Typical minimal risk projects could encompass College curriculum evaluations that are undertaken in the normal course of educational planning and review (e.g. student feedback surveys, academic audits and quality reviews). Projects in this category may also involve investigations that use only publicly available records. Other minimal risk projects could typically include evaluation activities involving specific data-collection or storage activities outside the quality assurance regime for the College’s academic programs (i.e. activities such as specifically designed surveys, interviews or questionnaires, or photographic or video records involving identifiable individuals).

Responsible for implementation

Director of Research

Key stakeholders

Faculty and students


Procedures

Ethics Clearance Procedure

High Risk Research Projects

Any proposed research project for which the College has responsibility and the proponent’s supervisor, lecturer or other adviser has endorsed as “high risk” is submitted to the HREC for scrutiny and approval of “ethics clearance” before the project may commence.

Minimal Risk Research Projects

Any proposed research project for which the College has responsibility and the proponent’s supervisor, lecturer or other adviser has endorsed as “minimal risk” receives the scrutiny and approval of the Director of Research or equivalent before the project may commence. The Director of Research may consult the HREC, as needed, in the process of approval.