The Harraseeket Conference – Revisiting systems for ethics oversight of research with human participants

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 3-23-2023

Publication Title

Research Ethics


Research, Ethics, IRBs


The current system of ethical oversight in the United States is based on Institutional Review Board (IRB) review. The system was established in response to well-known and egregious mistreatment of subjects in both biomedical and social and behavioral research. In the decades since the research regulations were enacted, reaction to the burden of IRB oversight has led the system to focus on compliance and limit its active oversight disproportionately to studies that could present the risk of physical harm. At the same time, the characteristics of the research enterprise have changed and methodologies now present novel risks that were not envisioned in the regulations. We convened a group of IRB professionals, academic leaders, and others to discuss limitations of the current system, how that system could be changed to recognize evolving risks and an increasing focus on participant and community voice, and how it could better serve the needs of researchers and support the societal project of science as a public good. Recommendations included a call to reexamine the academic incentive structure, to develop a system to support consideration of ethical principles from the time of study design, and to explicitly provide different ethical support and oversight for high-risk interventional trials and lower risk biomedical and social behavioral research.

Funding Organization

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation