Quick tips on starting your own IRB network

First step: find peers

IRB directors seeking to start their own local IRB network can make this happen with just a little up-front effort, experts say.

They should simplify their networking plan by seeking out IRBs of similar sizes, suggests Erica Tauriello, CIP, manager, human research program at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, NH.

"I don't typically contact people from larger institutions because small institutions have specific issues and limited resources, and that drives what you can and cannot get done and what you can expect to get done," she adds.

IRB directors also should decide what types of IRB offices would fit in their network. For instance, IRB directors might gain the most from a network where other members have similar types of research and institutional pressures, says Eric Allen, CIP, director of research compliance at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

One good strategy is to keep the networking group fairly small with meetings on a schedule that works well for busy IRB directors. For instance, an IRB network in New Hampshire meets once a quarter, says Bonnie Frisard, MBA, director of the human research protection program at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, NH.

Here are some other networking suggestions by Tauriello, Allen, and Frisard:

• Find other networkers: Frisard decided to start a network in New Hampshire and spent some time looking for other small IRB offices. She began by looking at a list of organizations that held Federalwide Assurances (FWA) in New Hampshire, and she looked at a list of research organizations that had received accreditation from the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs (AAHRPP) of Washington, DC.

Then Frisard called the organizations on her list and tried to find the person in charge of the IRB or human subjects protection office.

"It took a couple of tries to identify who the people were," she recalls. "When you call hospitals, especially if they're small community hospitals, they might not know what the IRB is."

• Share sources, tools: Network members can bring their resource information and tools to these networking meetings to share with other members of the group. For instance, network members can discuss their privacy rule strategies, sharing information that each member can use and take back to his or her own institution, Allen says.

Also, members could share online resources — including articles and journals — as well as policies and procedures and IRB forms, Frisard says.

"Our goal is to discuss current practices and share information to improve our human research program," she adds. "We've brought our periodicals like IRB Advisor to the meetings."

Members honor copyright laws, but sometimes share resources at meetings, she says.

At one meeting, members shared their flow charts for serious adverse events, she says.

Someone might find a chart that is an improvement over their own. Then they could take the sample, modify it and fit it to their own needs, Frisard explains.

The networking group can share strategies and tools that they might be unwilling to make public online, Tauriello suggests.

"Not everyone has their standard operating procedures (SOPs) on every topic available online," she adds. "If you're trying to tackle an issue and see how it will apply at a small research institution, then this could be discussed in a networking group."

• Set agenda, meeting schedule: The New Hampshire IRB networking group has a fairly casual organizational structure with participants meeting each quarter. Each member volunteers to host a meeting, and the host is the person who will send out email reminders, Frisard says.

At the first meeting, networking members introduced themselves and discussed their hospital, including how many studies they do and whether they have a specific research focus, Frisard says.

Networking meetings can have a single topic focus, such as education for IRB members, she notes.

The key to keeping a networking group active is to select a meeting agenda that works well with members' schedules, Tauriello notes.

"Our group will continue to meet, and it may expand, but some people haven't come to meetings because their schedules won't allow it," she says.