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By Melinda Young
At one time or another, IRBs have ignored some part of the website content, simply adding new information rather than revamping educational pages and instructions. This can lead to redundancy and waste. A better long-term solution is to replace older educational information for researchers with more engaging content.
“My main goal is trying to reach out to researchers in ways that show them what information we want them to have, including how to submit studies and IRB policies,” says Mercedes James, MPH, IRB analyst at the University of Texas at Austin.
Prior to focusing on improving its educational content, there was little evidence that investigators paid enough attention to the material. “There were no channels interesting enough that people would try to learn this information,” James says.
The IRB modernized its brand identity, created more interesting and visual IRB content, and minimized the volume of educational material. It also conducted a survey to assess attitudes toward the content.1
“I’m a visual learner, and I tried to figure out ways to reach out to researchers and provide them with deliverables that are informative, interesting, and contain all the information they need,” James explains.
The changes have been positive. “People are engaged with the new efforts we’re doing,” James says. “We’ve revamped our identity and have a new logo.”
Another tactic is to simply listen to researchers’ concerns, making the IRB office available whenever they might have questions, suggests Ximena Levy, MD, MPH, CIP, associate director of research integrity, division of research, at Florida Atlantic University.
“One of the main problems is a lack of understanding from both sides,” Levy says. “Usually, it takes time to clarify what the IRB wants.”
Here are some ways an IRB can improve its educational and informational content:
• Create a monthly newsletter. The UT Austin IRB began distributing a newsletter in January 2019. “We do a newsletter every month with three to nine pages,” James says. “Each newsletter issue had three or four topics, and it’s in PDF format, uploaded to UT-Box, containing links to click on for more information or to contact the IRB.”
For instance, a link might take someone to a page on the IRB’s website or to a government website, where the researcher could obtain more information on the topic.
“The newsletter has a lot of visuals,” notes James, who creates each month’s newsletter. “Each issue has a link that people can share with anyone; it’s open to the public.”
Increasingly, people are downloading the IRB’s newsletter and asking about IRB workshops. “We’ve gotten good feedback about the newsletter,” she adds.
• Run interactive workshops. Another method to engage researchers is through workshops. The UT Austin IRB held a series of workshops last year, focusing on the new Common Rule regulations. Typically, each workshop attracts 30 to 50 attendees, as well as 20 people who watch online, James says. “We recorded the workshops so we could have them posted to our website,” she explains.
The workshops were held in February and May in a conference room. “We try to make the workshops interactive, and have questions and answers sessions,” James says.
Using PowerPoint and the Poll Everywhere app, the workshop leader can ask people to indicate their choice of answers to several poll questions, she explains.
“There is a login link, and before the webinar, we have that information available on a whiteboard or the PowerPoint slide,” James says. “People can pull out their phones and click on their answer when there’s a poll question.”
An example of a poll question is “What does informed consent mean?” After people have completed the poll, the workshop leader goes over the answers to show how many people selected the correct answer and the incorrect answers, James says.
“It’s real-life education within the PowerPoint, and it’s more engaging because they learn something on their own, as opposed to just seeing it on a slide and having to retain it,” she explains.
For the Q&A, attendees can write their questions on paper. Eventually, the sessions might include a way to ask questions within the app. The workshop leader asks people to keep their questions general and of interest to everyone. If they have a question about a study, they can wait until after the workshop to discuss it.
“Right after the workshop, we make ourselves available within our offices to interact with researchers,” James says.
• Listen to researchers and educate them during the review process. “One of my recommendations is to limit the message to what they need to know,” Levy says. “Sometimes, we want to give them the whole education of IRB and ethics, but when they’re asking questions, just give researchers what they need to know.”
For example, it is unnecessary to recite an entire section of the federal regulations when all that is needed is a complete answer to what the investigator is asking, she says.
IRB staff should practice listening skills and communicate the criteria for good responses to their requests. They also should make education a chief goal in communication with researchers.
Levy says the take-home message is:
- Simplify by using easier-to-understand language;
- Justify by providing an understandable rationale;
- Emphasize that requests are directly related to the protection of human subjects;
- Be complete by providing thorough and detailed information of what investigators are missing;
- Maintain consistency of the information provided in each protocol and across the study.
“It is good practice to try to summarize what the IRB is requesting,” Levy says.
For instance, IRBs can ask investigators if they understand what the IRB wants, and what changes the IRB has suggested. “After the IRB has reviewed a proposal, instead of just sending a letter or making a phone call, offer to help the researcher clarify whether they understood what the IRB said,” Levy explains.
Researchers appreciate these educational or clarification moments, and it helps build rapport. “Since implementing these practices two years ago, we’ve only had two complaints,” Levy says. “We take time to talk with investigators, and that changes their whole perception of the IRB. They thank us for taking time to talk with them.”
• Collaborate with departments on webinars. The IRB works with different departments and institutions to create webinars on IRB topics that they would like, James says.
“They might provide the content, and I would do a flier and event,” she says. “With one of our last webinars, five people hosted it and planned it.”
The webinar was seen by about 70 people, linked to virtual attendees via a webinar platform. “The topic was on how to deal with HIPAA rules under the revised Common Rule,” James says. “We worked with a webinar production company that specifically does research-related topics.”
• Ask for feedback on engagement. After publishing two newsletters, James asked for feedback via survey. “I wanted to get a general understanding of how people are engaged with the IRB,” she explains.
This first survey attempt was a missed opportunity. Too few people took time to answer the survey questions, she says. “This let us know people need to be engaged, and didn’t take the bandwidth of time to do the 10-question survey,” James says. “We’re trying to improve that.”
Another way the IRB is asking for feedback is through reaching out to departments and letting people know the IRB is available to help researchers. The IRB has asked some researchers, who have worked with the IRB over time, to be ambassadors.
“If we can get researchers and departments on board, they can share information with their colleagues,” James explains. “This is how we can get more people interested in what we have to say.”
For instance, the IRB can ask the ambassadors to tell their colleagues about the IRB’s workshops and newsletter. “The more people who have access to IRB information, the more we’ll be able to learn about what they need,” James says. “We’re trying to improve on these efforts.”
Financial Disclosure: Author Melinda Young, Medical Writer Gary Evans, Editor Jill Drachenberg, Editor Jonathan Springston, Editorial Group Manager Leslie Coplin, and Physician Editor Lindsay McNair, MD, MPH, MSB, report no consultant, stockholder, speaker’s bureau, research, or other financial relationships with companies having ties to this field of study. Nurse Planner Kay Ball, PhD, RN, CNOR, CMLSO, FAAN, is a consultant for Ethicon USA and Mobile Instrument Service and Repair.