AKEN Affiliate Week: Is This More Than an Evaluation? Ask Your IRB by Cassie Pinkel

Hello, I’m Cassie Pinkel, Research Integrity Administrator in the Office of Research Integrity at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. AKEN webmaster Alda Norris is an evaluator who has sought advice from our office, and she invited me to share some resources about the advantages of connecting with your local Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Is there a chance that you might want to publish the results or outcomes you hope to document? If so, you may be doing more than just an “evaluation.”  Before handing out that instrument, reach out to an IRB administrator like me! Quite a few organizations and universities offer some great tools and flow charts that can help you identify if what you are looking to do meets the requirements of human subject research, or even the definition of “research” for that matter. These tools can help you understand when an IRB review is needed and why. That said, it is a best practice to always reach out to an IRB and get a determination in writing.

Hot Tip:

If you are conducting human subjects research, I offer you a piece of advice- Give thoughtful consideration to reporting the results to your research or evaluation participants. Those participants most likely want to know what the data revealed. In Alaska, many of the IRB research requests we see target our rural communities and Indigenous peoples. Understand that some communities get multiple requests for their time and feedback. Gaining permission from targeted groups is not just good practice, but is often required to conduct your project. Have a plan in place to report back findings to the group you worked with. Listen to what they have to say and take time to answer any questions they may have about the results. Do this before publishing in that journal or releasing results publicly.

Rad Resources:

You can prepare for a conversation with your local IRB by consulting a tool like this from the National Institute of Health (NIH): Decision Tool: Am I Doing Human Subjects Research? Or check out the Human Subject Regulations Decision Charts found on the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) website.

Lessons Learned:

  • IRB approval, if relevant, must be sought before a project starts. Have a discussion with your team and your client(s) about how they see the results being used and shared.
  • In Alaska, we definitely see the effects of bandwidth limitations. If you’re working with remote participants, don’t assume they have the connectivity to provide informed consent online or be part of a two hour long Zoom interview. Build in flexibility to your data collection plans.
  • Have you built a relationship with the group you are targeting for data collection? For example, if you intend to collaborate with Indigenous groups, some IRBs will ask if you have a letter of support from the community. Practice cultural humility and work to build a positive relationship with the entity or group you plan to work with.

Rad Resource:

Use the AEA365 search tool for related past blog entries on protecting human subjects, what to do when IRBs disagree, Indigenous data sovereignty and more!


The American Evaluation Association is hosting Alaska Evaluation Network (AKEN) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from AKEN members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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