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HREC Self Evaluation Guide

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Before you begin

When considering a self-evaluation process, it can be useful to first address some initial questions about the risks and benefits of undertaking – or not undertaking – the process.  This will assist your committee with its choice of methods and tools.

What are the benefits and risks of undertaking a self-evaluation?

In general, any process undertaken to review and assess performance is likely to lead to greater cohesiveness of the committee and a renewed sense of purpose. However, in keeping with the core focus of HRECs, it is useful to consider both the risks and benefits of undertaking a self-evaluation process for your committee and planning accordingly.

There are some obvious benefits for an HREC to reflect on its performance.

There are also some risks in embarking on the process. Acknowledging this possibility can assist with the choice of evaluation tools to ensure that the process does minimal or no harm.

A well-planned evaluation process is likely to:

  • Affirm a committee’s current strengths
  • Identify areas for improvement in its processes
  • Define strategies to enhance the quality and effectiveness of its work
  • Provide a renewed or refreshed sense of collective purpose among its members
  • Update or refresh committee members’ knowledge of relevant guidelines and policies
  • Strengthen relationships with other stakeholders
  • Increase the committee’s transparency and accountability within its host Institution

Risks of conducting a self-evaluation might include:

  • Exposure of existing (hidden or overt) tensions or conflicts within a HREC, or between an HREC and its stakeholders
  • Development of new tensions during the evaluation process
  • Outcomes that challenge an HREC’s belief that it does good quality work
  • Identification of cultural biases that might require changes to committee composition e.g. lack of gender balance or specific kinds of expertise; lack of representation of populations regularly involved in research conducted by the host organisation e.g. patients, carers

Risks of not undertaking regular Self-Evaluation might include:

  • Lost opportunities to identify areas for quality improvements and hence optimize the effectiveness of HREC work
  • Failure to perform adequate ethics reviews that can undermine the safety of research participants
  • Failure to address issues that may be affecting quality of the HREC’s work such as: poorly chaired meetings, overwhelming workloads, under-resourcing of the committee, and conflicts between members
  • High turn-over of membership, or alternatively, entrenched tenure of –membership
  • Reputational risks eg. an HREC fails to address any its poor relationships with internal or external stakeholders

Let’s Start

It is important that each HREC considers the purpose and scope of its initiative and identify a method of a self-evaluation process best suited to its characteristics and resources. Poor planning, or ineffective implementation, can undermine the benefits of self-evaluation.

Preparation for an evaluation requires clarification about the following:

  1. Purpose and scope
  2. Methods
  3. Who is to be involved?
  4. Outcomes
  5. Resources
  6. Authorisation (if relevant)