The Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) and how it operates
The CRA seeks to uphold and support the highest standards of ethical practice in research. As such, we have a Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) that provides ethical oversight to a variety of institutions and organisations.
Institutions and organisations can engage with the HREC in two ways. First, a single ethics application can be submitted for the cost of a 12 month organisational membership which helps the CRA to cover its administrative costs. Second, if multiple ethics applications are to be submitted within a 12 month period we ask the submitting institution/organisation to take-out a Senior Membership or enter into a memorandum of understanding. To discuss your needs further please contact the HREC’s Executive Officer Rev Prof Philip Hughes via secretary_HREC@cra.org.au.
Advantages of our HREC. It is:
- Fully accredited. We are regulated through the National Health & Medical Research Council.
- Efficient. Unlike larger institutions our processes are simpler and timelines quicker.
- Educative. We work with researchers and organisations to achieve excellent applications, and therefore project design. We take the stress out of the ethics process.
The CRA Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) has been operating since about 2000. It is registered with, and reports annually to, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NH&MRC). It therefore complies with all obligations in law and upholds best-practice.
The aim of the HREC is to assist researchers to do their research ethically, in ways which minimise any harm to participants and researchers.
Getting started on your ethics application
Writing an ethics application can be daunting. To help we suggest the following steps:
- For an introduction to Human Related Ethics and the CRA HREC, see: Ethics in Research https://youtu.be/KUD5VyFQFhw
2. Now consider the basic principles of ethical research. These are that the research is respectful of all involved, that participation is voluntary and confidences are maintained, that it is just and adds to human wellbeing.
3. The HREC follows the national guidelines set-out by the NH&MRC. Do read them. They are available at: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/national-statement-ethical-conduct-human-research-2007-updated-2018
4. Before completing an application, please read the document Completing a CRA Ethics Application. This document includes information and templates for materials that need to accompany the application such as Information Sheets and Consent Forms.
5. Now you are ready to write your application. Applications for ethical approval should be completed on the CRA Ethics Form (below) and sent to the HREC’s Executive Officer, Rev Prof Philip Hughes at secretary_HREC@cra.org.au.
Once an application is submitted the Executive Officer of the HREC will determine the level of ethical risk and whether the application needs to go to the full Committee.
Important definitions useful when completing your application
In addition, key definitions of risk can be found below. These definitions are useful when preparing your application as they suggest what sorts of research require extra care in design so as to minimise the potential for harm.
Research of ‘negligible risk’ is where there is no foreseeable risk of harm or discomfort any more than inconvenience. Research involving the use of existing collections of data or records that contain only non-identifiable data about human beings is of negligible risk. Such research may be exempted from ethical review. Research which is internal to an organisation and only used within an organisation in the course of educational planning and review, such as student feedback surveys and reviews, are considered to be of negligible risk and do not require ethical review.
Research is of ‘low risk’ where the only foreseeable risk is one of discomfort. If there is any possibility of harm, either physical, psychological, social, economic or legal, or where there could be a devaluation of personal wealth could occur through the research, research is not low risk. Human research is likely to be of ‘low risk’ where the following descriptors are all true:
a) Participants are healthy, adult (aged 18 years or older) members of an Australian community, tertiary institution, employees, or adult members of a specific community group, club or association who are not in an unequal power relationship with the researcher (such as being students of teacher or members of a congregation in which the research is a pastor) and have not been invited to participate as people who are vulnerable for ethnic, cultural or social reasons.
b) People are invited to participate in the research through some publicly visible way, such as a public advertisement, or because they have a public position, which does not violate privacy legislation or compromise the voluntary choice of the person in involvement.
c) The researchers use procedures which involve the collection of non-identifiable data such as through anonymous questionnaires or interviews in which no personal data is gathered.
d) The research deals with non-sensitive issues that are unlikely to cause distress and which do not involve the gathering of personal information.
Procedures for research projects which are not of negligible or low risk
Projects which are not of negligible or low risk will go for consideration to the full HREC. Usually, the HREC meets with the researcher(s) and supervisor(s) to discuss the project. Sometimes the HREC makes recommendations for how the research may be done ethically. When it is satisfied with the protocols for the research, the HREC can approve the research project.
Obligations on researchers
Ethical research places a number of obligations on researchers. The first of which is to work within the approved parameters of the project as set-out in your application. The second is to not commence research, or continue research, outside the start and end dates of the approved project. Finally, annual reports on the progress of the research are required from researchers.
Researchers can make complaints about the conduct of the HREC. If complaints cannot be resolved, complaints are passed to the board of the Christian Research Association. To make a complaint a researcher should contact the HREC Executive Officer (secretary_HREC@cra.org.au) in the first instance. If the complaint remains unresolved then they are to contact the CRA’s Secretary.
Complaints may also be made by any participant in a project to which the HREC has given approval. Complaints should be made to the HREC’s Executive Officer at secretary_HREC@cra.org.au. They will be considered firstly by the Executive Officer who will be in contact with the complainant. Unresolved complaints will be passed on to the HREC.