Hi! I’m Heather King, an Associate Project Director at Outlier Research & Evaluation at the University of Chicago. I’d like to share some tips for applying to conduct research in school districts.
Research review boards (RRBs) and institutional review boards (IRBs) are tasked with ensuring that research and evaluation projects meet the requirements for protecting human subjects. If you are collecting interview, questionnaire, focus group, or any other data directly from human subjects, you are required to earn IRB/RRB approval. You’ll need to apply separately for IRB/RRB approval at your own institution and for each school district you’ll collect data in.
I’ve completed successful IRB/RRB applications for some of the largest school districts in the United States and I’d like to share some tips for success.
Start early. Earning district IRB approval is a prerequisite for each of our research and evaluation projects, so we do everything we can do ensure that our IRB applications are well received. The first step is beginning applications early, at least 2 months before the deadline. This gives you time to collect or create the necessary documents, such as instruments and consent forms, and to ensure that your institutional IRB has been approved.
Know the deadlines. Many districts meet only a few times a year to read and approve IRB applications, so meeting the deadline is critical. You might not have another chance to submit your application for another 6 months! Knowing the deadlines can help you plan your evaluation too. For example, if your project begins after a district IRB application deadline has already passed, you can plan in advance to begin data collection around the next IRB deadline.
Read everything. After you’ve done a few IRB applications, it can start to feel like they’re all the same, and generally they are. But each district has its own nuances; don’t wait until you get a rejection letter to learn that! In particular, read details about consent, compensation/incentives, and data collection timing because policies vary widely from district to district. For example, the Chicago Public School RRB requires that your instruments be physically stamped with approval from your home institution IRB.
Make some friends in the IRB office. Navigating the IRB process for each district takes a lot of time, and you’ll undoubtedly have questions. It helps to have a contact in the IRB office that can help explain the process and answer any questions you might have. In my experience, IRB offices appreciate being asked detailed questions because they get so many applications that have not been carefully prepared.
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