4.0 Where can I get advice on human research ethics?

This section explains the main sources of advice on ethics matters at Deakin, and how to get feedback and advice about your application.

4.1 National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research

Your first resource for ethical issues is the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, (National Statement). The National Statement is Australia's primary reference on ethical conduct in human research.

Deakin requires you to ensure your human research proposal meets the requirements of the National Statement and is ethically acceptable before you begin research and before full funding for the proposal is released.

Various other guidelines, regulations and legislation relate to different aspects of the conduct of human research. Specific guidelines are referred to in the relevant sections of these guidelines.

Deakin University also recognises that some aspects of these rules and guidelines may require interpretation in the light of particular situations or methodologies.

When confronted with an ethical issue (whether during the planning of a human research project, or during the conduct of a project), the relevant sections of the guidelines should be the next reference point for a researcher after consulting the National Statement.

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4.2 Deakin University Human Research Ethics Guidelines

The Deakin University Human Research Ethics Guidelines (the guidelines) provide up-to-date information on the ethical review process, and Deakin's policy positions adopted through the Deakin HREC and the Deakin Research Integrity.

Specifically the guidelines provide:

  • A summary of the regulatory and ethical requirements that relate to particular research areas,
  • An up-to-date outline of the ethics review process and procedures,
  • Options for Deakin HREC endorsed research design and strategies,
  • Indications of what issues must be addressed if your project requires a non-standard approach.

While the guideliens are designed for researchers (staff or student), they are also an important reference tool for Deakin HREC and HEAG members, Deakin Research Integrity staff and other members of the university community.

The guidelines are intended to enhance the transparency, consistency and predictability of the research ethics review process, so researchers can be more confident of the operation of Deakin's research ethics review process.

When confronted with an ethical issue (whether during the planning of a human research project, or during the conduct of a project), the relevant sections of the guidelines should be the next reference point for a researcher after consulting the National Statement.

The guidelines are frequently updated, so they should always be accessed online rather than printed out and stored.

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4.3 ORI website

The Deakin Research Integrity website provides the following information:

  • Deakin University Human Research Ethics Guidelines
  • Submission deadlines and meeting dates for Deakin HREC
  • Forms and guidelines for submission of a project for approval
  • Links to legislation, guidelines, and other information relating to research ethics
  • Links to the Faculty HEAG sites
  • Up-to-date contact information for human ethics, animal ethics, biosafety and radiation advice.

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4.4 Human ethics advisers and support staff

4.4.1 Human Research Ethics Advisers

The Human Research Ethics Unit within the Deakin Research Integrity includes two specialist Human Research Ethics Advisers.

The Senior Human Ethics Adviser (sally.fornaro@deakin.edu.au) is based at the Melbourne Burwood Campus.

The Human Ethics Adviser (carly.harrison@deakin.edu.au) is based at the Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus campus.

The role of the human ethics advisers includes:

  • providing advice on issues relating to human ethics issues and processes
  • providing advice on ethical aspects of projects in development
  • conducting seminars and workshops on issues in relation to human research ethics
  • conducting pre-submission meetings with researchers to discuss projects which are about to be submitted for review

4.4.2 Human Research Ethics Officer

There are two Human Research Ethics Administrators (christine.warne@deakin.edu.au and lisa.hurley@deakin.edu.au) based at Burwood and Waurn Ponds, who provide information and support in relation to all aspects of ethics processes and referral to other staff as required.

4.4.3 HEAG staff

Human Ethics Advisory Groups (HEAGs) are based in the faculties and provide expedited review of those projectsconsidered to be low risk. Each HEAG has its own internal process, which may differ from the Deakin HREC's.

For advice about HEAG application, refer to your faculty website or the secretary of the HEAG you will apply to. Contact details for the Faculty ethics staff members are available on the Human Ethics contacts page .

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4.5 Seminars, workshops and guest lecturers

Deakin Research Integrity provides a variety of seminars and workshops throughout the year. Courses regularly offered include:

  • introduction to ethics,
  • the National Ethics Application Form (NEAF),
  • the Low Risk Research Ethics Form

Other topics are covered on request.

Details of these and other courses are available on the Research Services Division Event Registration System. All Deakin staff and students are eligible to attend.

Deakin Research Integrity can provide guest lecturers to courses relating to research ethics. To arrange a seminar or workshop, please contact an Ethics Advisor or the Manager, Research Integrity.

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4.6 Pre-submission meeting

A pre-submission clinic is a chance to discuss your project in detail with an Ethics Advisor, before you submit it.

Pre-submission meetings are available for all levels of ethical review, including submission to a HEAG.

Simply contact an Ethics Advisor to arrange a time to meet to discuss your project.

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4.7 Hints, tips and avoiding common problems

Most delays in awarding ethical clearance, and/or authorisation to commence a protocol relate to easily avoidable problems.

Please check these points before submitting an application for ethical review. These points apply to every level of ethical review at Deakin.

4.7.1 Applying for ethical clearance

Are you applying for the right level of review?
If you under-apply, your project will be delayed while it is referred to a higher level of review.

If you over-apply, you miss out on shorter turnaround of an expedited review, and your project may be delayed while you gather unnecessary documentation.

Is your application complete?
Write "N/A" in sections that don't apply to your project. Leaving questions blank can raise the question, "Was this supposed to be N/A, or does the applicant want to avoid answering?"

Have you answered every question fully?
Read the full question and instructions before you answering a question on the form. Reading just the key word or the header can lead to incomplete or inappropriate answers!

Have you used appropriate, non-technical language?
Review bodies include lay people and members from a range of different disciplines. Please write your ethics application in non-technical language whenever possible. Where you have no alternative to technical language, explain the term in lay language (practical examples are a great way to do this).

Instead of answering, have you referred to an attached research proposal, research plan or grant application?
Specific questions on an Ethics form are there for a reason. While another document may support your ethics application, avoid answers along the lines of "please see the attached document [x], Section [y]".

Ethics Committee Members review many applications at any one time. Your application will be delayed if a reviewer has to wade through documents to locate the answer to a specific question.

Carefully consider before copying and pasting
Ethical review differs from other University processes, not least because Committee members are drawn from outside Deakin (including lay people). Where you copy and paste from other documents - eg. confirmation of candidature or peer review - edit carefully! A request for clarification will slow down your application.

Have you double-checked your N/A responses?
Consider carefully before answering any question non-applicable, especially if the question relates to key ethical issues like risk.

Have you used the current policies and guidelines?
Like many areas of public policy, human research ethics experiences rapid change and development. Consequently, a project or protocol that was approved last year, may not be accepted now.

Before you recycle elements of a previous application, check whether relevant policies have changed.

Is the principal investigator a staff member?
Deakin's policy requires a staff member to be listed as the Principal Investigator of a proposed human research project, even if the project is a student's research.

If you are a research student, list yourself in the project's ethical clearance application and the informed consent nmaterial as the student researcher.

Are your forms all signed and authorised?
It is always best to submit a complete application. 

If you must submit an application before all signatures have been obtained, note this in the application with the date the remaining signatures will be made available. It is your responsibility to make sure Human Research Ethics receives any missing signatures for applications.

Is your authorising officer a member of your research or supervisory team?
The authorising officer is usually the Head of School, but must not be a member of the research or supervisory team for a proposed project.

If the Head of School (or similar) is also a member of the research or supervisory team, a more senior member of University staff eg Dean or Associate Dean (Research) must sign the project as authorising officer.

It is your responsibility to ensure Human Research Ethics receives copies of all attachments (including third party approvals) to the application.

If you must submit an application with outstanding attachments, note this in the application with the date the remaining documents will be made available.

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4.7.2 Responding to an amendment notification or conditional clearance

Respond promptly
The sooner you respond to an amendment notification or conditional clearance, the sooner you will be issued with authorisation to commence your research.

Respond directly and fully to each element
Make a specific and individual response to each element of a conditional or provisional clearance.

Respond to the full text of each condition or provision.

If you disagree
Sometimes, you may feel the review body is mistaken, or its position on a matter is inappropriate.

It is perfectly reasonable for you to dispute a provision, condition or element of a re-submission instruction. You must base your argument on the provisions of the National Statement or the relevant section of these guidelines.

Referenced response
If the condition or provision refers to a section of these guidelines, please do consult that section before responding.

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4.8 Advice during the submission process (full Deakin HREC review only)

Deakin strives for a rigorous but also transparent, consistent and predictable Research Ethics Review Process. We want your application to succeed!

Even after submission, you will have opportunities to receive feedback on your application

These opportunities are relevant to projects submitted for full Deakin HREC review. If your project is in expedited review, this level of feedback is not normally required.

4.8.1 Pre-review process

Prior to each submission deadline, there is a pre-review period. If you would like an ethics advisor to perform a pre-review of your application during this time, you should email a draft of your application to research-ethics@deakin.edu.au by the pre-review deadline.

You will receive a written response from the ethics advisor identifying changes you may wish to make prior to submitting your application.

These guidelines produced by Deakin Research Integrity in consultation with the Deakin University Human Research Ethics Committee and Human Ethics Advisory Groups

© Deakin University 2010. This material incorporates or is based upon part or all of Griffith University's research ethics arrangements.

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