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Keywords:

  • research ethics committee;
  • research ethics;
  • The Netherlands;
  • ethnography;
  • ethical review

Abstract

Evaluating the practice of ethical review by Research Ethics Committees (REC) could help protect the interests of human participants and promote scientific progress. To facilitate such evaluations, we conducted an ethnographic study of how an REC reviews research proposals during its meetings. We observed 13 meetings of a Dutch REC and studied REC documents. We coded this material inductively and categorised these codes in two repertoires of evaluation: a repertoire of rules and a repertoire of production. In the repertoire of rules the REC applies rules, weighs scientific value and burdens to the participants and makes a final judgment on a research proposal in a meeting. In the repertoire of production, REC members check documents and forms and advise researchers on how to improve their proposals and can use informal communication. Based on these findings, we think that evaluations of the practice of ethical review should take into account the fact that RECs can use a repertoire of rules and a repertoire of production to evaluate research proposals. Combining these two repertoires can be a viable option so that the REC gives researchers advice on how to improve their proposals to prevent rejection of valuable research.