Getting beyond form filling: The role of institutional governance in human research ethics [Book Review]

Journal of Academic Ethics 6 (2):105-116 (2008)
It has become almost a truism to describe the interaction between research ethics committees and researchers as being marred by distrust and conflict. The ethical conduct of researchers is increasingly a matter of institutional concern because of the degree to which non-compliance with national standards can expose the entire institution to risk. This has transformed research ethics into what some have described as a research ethics industry. In an operational sense, there is considerable focus on modifying research behaviour through a combination of education and sanctions. The assessment of whether a researcher is ethical is too often based on whether they submit their work for review by an ethics committee. However, is such an approach making a useful contribution to the actual ethical conduct of research and the protection of the interests of participants? Does a focus on ethical review minimise institutional risk? Instead it has been suggested that ethics committees may be distorting or frustrating useful research and are promoting a culture of either mindless rule following or frustrated resistance. An alternative governance approach is required. There is a need for a strong institutional focus on promoting and supporting the reflective practice of researchers through every stage of their work. By situating research ethics within the broader framework of institutional governance, this paper suggests it is possible to establish arrangements that actually facilitate excellent and ethical research
Keywords Ethics committee  Institutional governance  Research ethics  Research practice  Rules
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DOI 10.1007/s10805-008-9057-9
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