IRB stands for “Institutional Review Board.” Most institutions dedicated to research have a panel of researchers who review research proposals to ensure research does not harm human subjects. Design research projects often require testing outcomes with participants and sometimes this testing could cause mental or physical harm. The IRB approval process is an important step that will give you feedback from experienced researchers on your research design and how it could impact others.

In order to ensure your human subjects research is ethical, approval from an IRB or other body is necessary. Most journals will not allow your work to be published if it has not been IRB approved.

Robert Klitzman talks about the Institutional Review Board and its importance for human subjects research.

You may have already completed human subjects research training at Miami so you should be familiar with many of these concepts.

The IRB Application Process

The IRB application process can take weeks. Miami University’s Human Subjects Research office is pretty fast compared to many other institutions. Still—the best advice for obtaining IRB approval is to start early. Before you can apply for IRB approval, all research instruments must be developed including informed consent documents and recruiting materials.

The process for IRB includes the following steps:

  1. Visit Miami University’s Human Subjects Research site to download paperwork
  2. Complete the paperwork
  3. Submit paperwork to your Instructor for review
  4. Revise, if needed
  5. Submit the application to your Advisor/Instructor, who will submit the paperwork on your behalf

Application Levels

Miami University’s Human Subjects Research office accepts three different application levels, 1, 2, and 3.

Level 1

This will apply to most projects. As long as your participants are not in a vulnerable population, you are not collecting very sensitive information, and you are not going to publish participants’ names, your research will require a Level 1 application.

Level 2

Projects that involve people who are 18 or younger will require a Level 2 application. These projects will remain at a Level 2 application as long as the information you are collecting could not be harmful to their privacy or general wellbeing.

Level 3

Anything not covered by Level 1 or 2 is probably a Level 3.

IRB Example Paperwork (Level 2)

A lot of information goes into an IRB application. You must communicate your project—its goals, design, and benefits—concisely for a panel that reviews many of these applications every week. It can be hard to know what goes into a successful application unless you have gone through the process, yourself.

Below, I have shared a fully reviewed and approved IRB application for one of my research projects via Google Drive so you can see the level of detail that’s required for approval.

IRB Example: What’s Important at the End of Life?

Pay careful attention to a few things in this application. These are areas where design research applications often fall short.

  • Research Description: This is listed as “General Research Question/Objectives:” in the level 2 application form. The description gives some background about the project. It shares why the work is significant and how it will benefit participants and the “world” (aka, beneficence). Some statements are supported by citations and courses. Examples of outcomes (what will be designed) are shared.
  • Methods: Each step of the research process is shared in the application. Steps are listed in order and subheads are used for clarity. The worksheet that participants fill out during the research workshop activity is included. Show all of your methods, in-detail.
  • Recruiting Materials: Posters and scripts are included in the application.

Level 1 Application Advice

The Level 1 application is much briefer and condensed than the Level 2 application. As the Level 1 Application is a relatively new thing, it’s hard to tell what IRB is looking for in a successful application. I will post examples about what I learn as more students submit Level 1 Applications.

Recruiting Participants

Any posters, flyers, QR codes, email language, spoken announcements, and other recruiting material must be included in the packet. You must show these fully designed and completely written out. IRB will ask for this.

Informed Consent

Boilerplates for informed consent and participant information sheets are available on the Informed Consent Page.

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Dennis Cheatham

Associate Professor, Communication Design

Miami University

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