Ethics committee responses

Minor changes

Committees can ask for minor changes to be made - for example, to consent forms or information sheets, or even to research materials (e.g. if they are concerned about the way a question has been phrased).

These changes can sometimes feel like the committee is over-stepping their remit.  After all, who are they to tell you - as a researcher - how to ask a question?  Our earlier advice about picking your battles holds particularly true in this case.

Sometimes, the ethics committee perspective can be very helpful. For example, the committee may suggest that the language on an information sheet is too complex.  You may disagree, but remember that ethics committees usually have lay members, and that they are looking at your work with a fresh eye, and without your in-depth understanding of the field.  So whilst you might not agree with them, if they have found something too complex or hard to understand, there is a good chance that your participants might feel the same. Is it worth taking the chance?  Or could you revise and simplify your materials?

However, there are times when you might be concerned that the requirements could have a significant negative impact on your research - even if the required changes seem relatively minor.  For example, the committee might be requesting a lot of additions to an information sheet or consent form, and you may feel that these amendments would make it off-putting or inaccessible to some of your potential participants.  If that is the case, look at how you can revise your materials to take account of what they ask for - take their request seriously - but if you feel you have a good ethics-based justification for not doing what they have asked, then this is a battle you should take on.  See our section on significant changes.