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Q&A: Michael Smith Foundation supports continued growth of the B.C. Ethics Harmonization Initiative

December 08, 2016
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Two awards from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) will support the ongoing management and continuous improvement of the BC Ethics Harmonization Initiative (BCEHI).

BCEHI is a collaboration among the provincial health authorities and B.C.'s four major research universities, which collectively conduct more than 80 per cent of the province's human participant ethical reviews.

The initiative supports Simon Fraser University’s vision to be the leading engaged university, committed to enhancing the well-being of current and future generations.

One award went to SFU for the project coordination of the BCEHI for one year. The second award went to the University of British Columbia (UBC) to develop a common technology platform for harmonized ethics review over a period of 15 months.

This platform will allow UBC to develop a common workspace within the UBC RISe system, an online research administration tool that will direct the workflow for all studies that meet the definition of multi-jurisdictional research within British Columbia.

Sarah Bennett, SFU’s manager of research ethics, is the project lead for this initiative.

She manages the ethics review process at the University and serves as a principal point of guidance and consultation to faculty members, staff and students on the interpretation and implementation of human research policy, and provides advice and training to researchers with respect to the ethics application and review process.

Sarah Bennett

Bennett discussed the importance of the MSFHR’s funding, what the initiative means to her and how it will benefit the province:

Q1: What impact(s) will the award have on SFU? What does receiving this award mean to you?

The award truly is a recognition of the work that our office and I have done in terms of participating in the initiative funded by MSFHR for almost five years. To me, the award is about maintaining and sustaining the work to date so that we can accomplish our goal of improving the ethics review process. Really, ‘we’ refers to the work of everyone involved in the BCEHI – my research ethics colleagues around the province as well as those in our office here at SFU. We have developed the models and toolkits needed for researchers to have more efficient research ethics reviews and need to continue to grow this work through improvements, outreach and education. 

Q2: How will this initiative benefit researchers in our province?

BCEHI ensures that the research ethics process is consistent and transparent in terms of research with human participants, data and samples. Further to that, it also makes the research ethics process efficient and coordinated, enhancing services provided by ethics offices, in terms of recognizing the need to address ‘administrivia’, and focus on substantive ethical issues that some research may raise when involving human participation.

This initiative is meant to increase protection through ethics review, so that participants feel confident participating in research within BC. My hope this next year is to make participants feel as close to 100% comfortable as possible, because if participants feel this way, then they are confident moving forward as an important part of that research project.

Ethics reviews are about protection, but we recognize that it can be burdensome – BCEHI helps make the process appropriate and address those substantive ethical issues.

Q3: As project coordinator, what are you responsible for and what do you aim to achieve?

I will continue to work with colleagues and partners around the province. We aim to sustain, but take the initiative to the next level and operationalize a common online workspace that will allow the initiative to live in real-time, accessible to all involved in the endeavor, and make the process more efficient while addressing significant ethical issues and provide solutions. My goal is to take the platform to the next level and raise the profile for it.

I want to introduce it to prospective partners, and expand the knowledge across the province about this initiative – i.e. education outreach.

Q4: Please share about the collaboration with UBC and how it will strengthen the initiative.

It is important to collaborate with other institutions to bring together those inspirational relationships and build on them. If you come together, typically you can achieve more.

My colleague from UBC, Jean Ruiz, senior behavioural research ethics analyst, and I are on the BCEHI Advisory Committee together, and we saw that we needed a real space to do this work. Our committee is located all around the province, so we needed an online system. By working with Jean, I knew that UBC’s RISe system already worked very well and then, others learned as well. All of us agreed, if we had the financial support, we could expand on it so that all of our partners could use it.  

Each and every one of us on the committee was excited as administrators and chairs because this would address efficiencies and provide more opportunities for true collaboration around the province, and we could focus on ethics with research.

We had great support through MSFHR – they truly believed in the initiative and went to bat for us to keep it going. MSFHR recognized our talent and how much work we had already accomplished.

Q4: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

This is all super exciting and I know that other institutions are interested in how the initiative works – this could truly make research in this province even stronger, and offer better protection for participants so they can be confident in any research endeavor they are participating in.

I believe in what we are doing. I’m so proud and enthusiastic. Now, we just need to start talking more about it.