The ethics of Ethics

Having just spent 8 months getting through one ethics committee (one down one to go), I am now reflecting differently on my own five years on one. My 8 months wait consisted of two months delay over December and January when the committee didn’t sit, 2 resubmits, 6 weeks of a resubmit languishing in a pigeon hole and another month lost when the committee didn’t sit. This was exacerbated by the whole application going back to the committee and not to the Chair even when, on the second resubmit they only requested a correction to page numbers and a change to one sentence on a participant information statement.
I made a polite comment about this in feedback to both the Chair and the secretary. I was surprised that there was no response to this. I though I might have received an acknowledgement or a simple formal statement of regret for the inconvenience inadvertently caused, but no. I have to say I was mildly shocked by this, what I took to be, highhanded attitude.
Ethics committees consist of an interesting mix of people including members of the clergy who may have no research background. They can be picky about typos and spelling that are not actually ethical issues but simply details to be addressed. They are not regularly updated about what is going on in the development of research methodologies, in my experience, especially with qualitative and participatory methods.
I did have a novel methodology that I expected them to have trouble with and my first resubmit was about further information around this. I needed to give clear literature and explanations about the ethics of inclusive research with a vulnerable population. Ethics committees in general are still thinking of protecting people from research like the Stanford prison experiment where participants can be damaged by research processes. They are not familiar with the ethical need to include marginalised voices in knowledge production.
I think also it is a bit like marking is for academic. There is the danger of identifying problems over grasping the vision. The latter requires more experience and understanding of contemporary research processes.

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