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IRB Part II: Stephen Meyer on Contracting with Commercial Providers

My name is Stephen Meyer and I am a Senior Research Associate with RMC Research Corporation in Denver, Colorado. RMC Research conducts research and evaluation related to a wide range of education topics.

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.

Most of RMC’s research and evaluation projects require that we seek Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. We typically work with a university IRB when one is a partner on a particular project, but have found it rare that a university is willing to conduct an external review unless it is in such a partnership role.

Lessons Learned: Recently, for a study involving prison inmates, I approached several IRBs at universities that conduct related research and found that they either were unwilling to conduct reviews for outside organizations or that they lacked the capacity to address the additional requirements related to reviewing studies involving prisoners. While a handful of commercial IRBs also lacked the capacity to review studies involving prisoners, most were able to do so. The costs were substantially higher than what we had been charged by university IRBs–initial review costs ranged from about $1400 to nearly $3000, with additional costs for (annual) continuing reviews, protocol amendments, reviews of Principal Investigator credentials, and reviews of advertisements used for subject recruitment. Although we have had a negative experience with one commercial IRB (related to inconsistent turnaround times and billing practices), our overall experience have been positive. Relative to my experience with university IRBs, I have found that commercial IRBs tend to: have shorter review turnaround times (as little as one week), be more responsive to questions, and have clearer procedures for communication and documentation of project protocols.

Rad Resources: Some options for locating a commercial IRB are below:

  • Citizens for Responsible Care and Research (CIRCARE), a human rights organization dedicated to the protection of human subjects in research and medical treatment, maintains a list of commercial IRBs.
  • The Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) maintains a searchable database of registered IRBs. OHRP-registered IRBs have provided assurances that they will abide by federal regulations related to protection of human subjects.
  • The Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs (AAHRPP) maintains a list, by state, of the organizations that have met their accreditation standards.

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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