Issues in getting IRB Approval for Ethnographic Discourse Analysis studies

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    Has anyone else been frustrated by their IRB in trying to get approval to conduct an ethnographic or discourse analytic study approved? My list of frustrations is a very long one; but here I’d like to focus on just one frustration: time. Even with expedited studies, our IRB struggles to turn around reviews of studies in a timely manner. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. In part, this appears to be a function of who on the IRB review board is assigned to review your proposal. Who you get can also determine how much or little revision you will have to do for the same study. I find the time issue of particular frustration because so much of my research occurs in classrooms. I must get IRB approval of my study from both my university and from the school district (and in school districts with tight budgets – which is all of them – the review of research proposals is not a priority and is often managed by someone with many other important responsibilities). Then, there are the last minute changes that always occur in a public school district. Two years ago we wanted to conduct a study in an elementary classroom taught by a former doctoral student. She was very interested and we had all planned for her to be a member of the research team. However, to do so she needed to take the approved training and to do that she needed to register and pay for a university course. Further, apparently, we could not recruit her to be in the study until after our IRB approved the study since the recruitment process itself needs to be approved before the study can begin. They would not do so until they got an approval letter from the school district (and the school district would not approve the study until our IRB had approved it). Meanwhile the school districts office for approving studies closes for most of the Summer, the principal of the school changed over the Summer, and the grade level and classroom of the teacher changed. In my experience in working in public schools, such changes are not unusual. Meanwhile, our study of how children get socialized to school and classroom life (which needed to begin on the first day of school or very close to it) was held up until October. Hopefully, somewhere people have figured out how to do better with IRB approval in ways that does insure the protection of human subjects but also facilitates the timely conduct of research.

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