- Collecting an oral history – If you do this and present it without analysis, you can fully disclose your participant’s identity without IRB approval
- Working with any kind of public writings or behaviors (ahem… blogs, anyone?)
- Researching any kind of existing data or documents (again, blogs?)
- Find feminist bloggers willing to participate.
- E-mail them the consent forms.
- Have them sign, scan, and e-mail the consent forms back to me.
- Send the interview questions to the bloggers.
- Have them answer the questions and send them back to me.
- Analyze the results and publish them on my blog.
The IRB recently reviewed your research proposal and the committee had some concerns.
Modifications should be made to your proposal which address the following minor concerns. An explicit statement should be made in your informed consent document which informs the reader that minors are not eligible to participate. Within the first paragraph of the informed consent document the word literacy should be explained in more simple terms. In your application (12. Safeguarding Subject’s Identity) you need to explicitly state that you will safeguard all the physical and electronic data collected, and briefly describe how this will be accomplished (e.g., physical data sheets will be stored in a file cabinet in a locked office).
Besides these minor changes, the committee’s major concern was with respect to your planned means of dissemination. Most specifically, we were concerned with the option to eliminate investigator-participant confidentiality…an interview/survey conducted electronically, via email as suggested in this proposal, allows for misrepresentation. Authorship is essentially unverifiable. This can be a risk to the value of the data collected, but this risk is accepted by the investigator. However, in this instance, unverifiable authorship places the community at risk because interview answers can be displayed in the public domain and associated with a participant’s identity, an identity which cannot be confirmed…
There is also a concern as to the motives of participation if financial compensation is awarded due to internet traffic to a participant’s blog/website which would be linked from your own blog…
Given these concerns, the IRB did not feel we could grant approval of this project in its current form. We encourage you to modify your proposal and resubmit.
As I mentioned in a previous email, the project could be greatly simplified with risk minimized if you explored www.surveymonkey.com or other similar options for the administration of your interview/survey. This type of option can provide anonymity to the participants, and a simplified informed consent process could then be utilized. Your proposed process of obtaining informed consent is burdensome, and could deter participation. I did check and was happy to find that surveymonkey does allow respondents to answer questions in an essay format and no word/character limit is imposed on answers unless you create one. This is an option worth investigating…
Oh, and then there was that bit about deterring participation with my cumbersome method. I guess they missed the part where I said I already had 20 participants lined up and ready to go.
After the initial shock, I sat down and thought about (and had many conversations about) some of the things I was absolutely not willing to compromise. First, I did not want to complete a survey. The entire point of the interview process was to: A) simulate the relationship bloggers have with each other using the very literacy practices they would be discussing in their interview, and B) find out about the participants’ own definitions of feminism, and I believe one’s feminism is as much a part of one’s background and identity as anything else. So I decided that I would use pseudonyms if I must, as long as I could talk about the bloggers’ personal experiences to some extent. I thought that not disseminating the interview responses on my blog was a viable option, but the verification of identity had never stopped me from posting guest posts before. However, I figured I needed to compromise something in order to do the research I wanted to do.
This wasn’t in accordance with with the English department wanted me to do, though. They were behind my project 100%, and felt that what the IRB committee told me wasn’t right. They were, to use the words of my professor, “embarrassed” that the IRB felt the need to dictate my method, even though that is not their job, and that they knew so little about research methods outside of their own fields. (Did I mention that only one IRB member was from any humanities field – and he said my project should be exempt? The rest were from hard science backgrounds.) They were also very worried about what a decision like this about my project might mean for future projects in the humanities. So I gratefully let them take the lead. After several long e-mails and phone conversations between the English professors and the IRB chairperson, they struck a sort of compromise. Here is my revised method:
- Find feminist bloggers who are willing to participate.
- E-mail them the consent forms. They have two options: A) I may disclose their identity within my research (not on my blog!) and cite their blogs within my research (not on my blog!), but they must have their consent forms notarized. B) I may use a pseudonym or pen name (still not on my blog! See a theme here?), in which case they do not have to have their consent forms notarized, but I can also not cite their blogs in my research. So, if they want me to cite their blogs, but also use a pen name, they must have their consent forms notarized anyway.
- They will send those forms back to me, and I will e-mail them the questions upon receipt of their consent forms.
- They will respond to the interview questions in a Word document and e-mail the questions back to me. They must only use ONE e-mail address – the one they used when they started corresponding with me – for this project, too, just in case they really aren’t who they say they are.
- I can analyze their responses once I receive them, provided I have signed and notarized consent forms in my possession and they have only corresponded with me using one e-mail address.
And, are you ready for some irony? When I received IRB approval with my revisions, the IRB chairperson e-mailed it to me in an attached Word document. I was tempted to e-mail him back and ask how I could verify his identity, but I settled for this blog post, instead.