Network research and IRBs

And another question on behalf of someone else. My IRB thinks it is not possible* for them to approve to network research using a methodology in which subjects are handed a list of names and asked which people on the list they know. The reason for this, per IRB, is that people have to sign a consent form before their names can be put on any such list. Thus the researchers are being told that everyone has to sign two consent forms, first for the compilation of the list, and second for doing the survey. This IRB regularly says that organizations cannot turn over lists of their employees or members to researchers for the purpose of initiating a request to be in a research project.  Is this a common objection? Does anyone have examples of research with a similar methodology getting approval from other IRBs? Would it make a difference if the list in question is public or semi-public, i.e. a paper neighborhood or school directory that is delivered to everyone in a neighborhood or school, or a web site that lists all of a group’s members? Please cross-post elsewhere if you know of another pool of people who might know the answer. (I’m thinking of orgtheory here, but there may be other groups.)

* edit for correction

Author: olderwoman

I'm a sociology professor but not only a sociology professor. It isn't hard to figure out my real name if you want to, but I keep it out of this blog because I don't want my name associated with it in a Google search. Although I never write anything in a public forum like a blog that I'd be ashamed to have associated with my name (and you shouldn't either!), it is illegal for me to use my position as a public employee to advance my religious or political views, and the pseudonym helps to preserve the distinction between my public and private identities. The pseudonym also helps to protect the people I may write about in describing public or semi-public events I've been involved with.

4 thoughts on “Network research and IRBs”

  1. For a survey we did a few years ago (cites here and here), UNC’s IRB allowed us to print the full list of residents of the neighborhood being studied, as received from the development’s homeowner’s association, without prior consent to appear on the list.

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