AER19 Blog Squad: IRB and Exercise Science at Primarily SBER Institutions – The Value of Change

I was eager to attend the session “Reviewing Exercise Science Research at Primarily SBER Institutions” (speakers: Summer B. Cook, PhD; Michael Leary, PhD CIP; Meghan Felicia Pronovost, MS) during the 2019 Social, Behavioral, and Educational Research Conference (SBER19) specifically because of some of the research occurring at my institution. I was curious how our process stacked up with other institutions, and I had hopes of providing tips to improve research methods for our investigators/student researchers as well as the review and critical thinking practices of the IRB committee. I noticed a plethora of similarities and opportunities for advancement, as expected. As the session continued, I began to wonder how we as administrators balance the specificity of our application and approval process with the variation of protocols we review in our limited capacities. I thought to myself: what would it take to integrate a change in practice based on new education from SBER19? What is the added value of the change? How does it compare with the amount of work it would take to devise and implement the change?

I would likely require the support of my Chair to modify our program. Lucky for me, that’d be the easiest part of this endeavor. Modifying forms or creating appendices to capture exercise science-specific information would be one of the first hurdles—there are pros and cons to both. While it would be relatively easy to modify or create the forms themselves, one disadvantage is that this new improvement does not reach already-approved protocols. At our small institution, where barely a quarter of research involves exercise science, I would have to devise an additional plan to track and capture the new information during post-approval monitoring, increasing administrative burden in the short-term.

Regarding new studies, the question of how to determine which studies the change should apply to (and how to track/monitor) comes into view. Similar to most small institutions, University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point (UWSP) does not have an electronic submission or post-approval monitoring system, so I can expect an indefinite increase in administrative burden on my part at the cost of this improvement. I can also reasonably anticipate criticism from investigators for lengthening the forms or making yet another change, especially if it “does not affect them”.

The next hurdle: how do I communicate this new information to the campus research community and committee members? Depending on your campus communication structure and daily messaging systems, committee members should be educated prior to campus notification first. After all, IRB members are colleagues of our investigators and IRB advocates who can reasonably expect impromptu questions from their colleagues. Second, messaging to campus may be easy enough, but you can expect an increase in calls and emails with questions, thus increasing short-term administrative burden. However, by using committee members as campus advocates, administrative burden in the form of communication may be lessened.

it can be a hard choice whether or not to take on a moderately-sized project like this if you’re a single-person IRB office like me. Many IRB professionals at small institutions have multiple responsibilities across several programs, so the amount of time spent on IRB responsibilities may vary depending on the rest of the position’s needs. This requires small IRBs to balance capacity and change management. The value added to the program, faculty/student knowledge, and research as a whole should be worth the cost to improve. The drive to improve must be prevalent in the institution as well as the IRB. If you’re anything like me, it always is; just because something works does not mean it cannot be improved.

Sierra Verbockel, BS, MPA is the Grants and Research Associate at University of Wisconsin (UW)-Stevens Point. She has been working in research administration since 2017, beginning as a research compliance assistant at UW-Oshkosh. She also has experience in grants administration. As a former student of UW-Oshkosh, she developed an interest in research, eventually conducting her own research studies on differential association theory.

Sierra achieved her master’s degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Nonprofit Management and Leadership in addition to a Baccalaureate degree in Human Services Leadership and Criminal Justice. Her research interests include community organization and development, employment-education mismatch, generational differences in the workplace, and emotional intelligence. Those interests carried into her career, where she works to make a difference in the lives of her colleagues as UWSP moves toward a more inclusive environment. She enjoys learning from those around her and creating new, more efficient ways of being successful-both as an individual person and as a member of the UWSP collective.

Members of PRIM&R’s Blog Squad and other guest contributors are valued members of our community willing to share their insights. The views expressed in their posts do not necessarily reflect those of PRIM&R or its employees.