AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators



IRB Part I: Benjamin Cohen on Partnering With a University

My name is Benjamin Cohen and I am Director of Evaluation at the Center for Schools and Communities, a division of the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit. We currently coordinate several interventions and initiatives for school-age youth that are funded by federal, state and private funders. My current focus is the evaluation of a state-wide bullying prevention program operating in over 100 schools and 20+ counties.

My colleagues and I recently noted on AEA’s LinkedIn group that there are at least three ways to address the issue of Institutional Review for nonprofit organizations:

  1. Partner with a university and use their IRB process;
  2. Contract with a commercial IRB;
  3. Develop the capacity in-house, establishing your own IRB.

Over the course of three days on the aea365 blog, three of us are going to share a few lessons learned about pursuing one of these approaches. I’ll be talking about partnering with a university.

Lessons Learned: In some cases we need to utilize an IRB to document the ethical conduct of our work and to be compliant with related regulations. Since our organization is a smaller human services provider and not a research organization, we do not have the capacity to build our own IRB, and thus seek university partners to fulfill that role.

University IRBs have offered us the convenience of a packaged review process for our research and evaluation projects. And because we use university IRBs in concert with a faculty partner, we can often rely on those faculty to navigate our project proposals through the IRB’s waypoints, without having to directly respond to IRB members. Having a faculty member on our evaluation teams permits us to focus on issues directly related to project operations, data collection, logistics and other administrative issues. Furthermore, the training that university IRB members typically have lets us have confidence in their expertise in informed consent issues and procedures, and gives us an assurance that we are conducting our work according to high standards of peer review.

Nonetheless working with a university IRB has some disadvantages. A practical one is covering universities’ overhead costs on a project budget. Universities, in short, can be expensive to include as project partners. Among universities in our region, none appear to offer their IRBs on a fee-for-service basis, therefore university faculty must be included as contracted project staff. Furthermore, university schedules for IRB review do not always correspond to project deadlines, nor do project stakeholders always understand the nature of university IRB protocols or how informed consent issues can manifest in the conduct of a project. For these reasons we are also looking into private IRB services that exist outside universities.

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to

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