Getting site permission before beginning research involving human subjects is a critical aspect of ethical requirements. The process for obtaining site permission begins for faculty, students, and many practitioners with the internal review board (IRB) of their institution, at the proposal stage. The IRB will, however, require proof of site permission from any organized stakeholders that are implicated in the study. Essentially, all entities providing the site or sample, including commercial organization, public groups, non-profit organization and community groups, must provide informed consent in the same way that individuals do. Site permission therefore includes the process whereby the informed consent of the entity involved is obtained. This process can be framed as informed consent by the collective body. While this may be an IRB at a university or hospital, it could be any structure of authority, such as a board, council, or community representatives.
Site permission provides organizations with the opportunity to provide their informed consent. This facilitates adherence to the ethical principles of conducting research. Still, the system is not perfect. In developed organizations, there can be issues in relation to institutionalization of site permission standardization. The requirements for the site permission by the IRB for the researcher’s institution may be rigid and rule based, but it still might not align with the needs of the entity. The entity from whom site permission is sought may not be organized enough to legitimately consult with, and this means that they cannot provide the standard required in relation to informed consent. That determination of legitimacy of the authority who provides permission can be a very important one, when dealing with unstructured or vulnerable organizations. Even when it is not impossible, it can be difficult for some organizations or communities to assess risk and provide informed consent. It should be assumed in the first place that obtaining site permission will be challenging, but it will be less challenging if you can identify what roles or structures actually have the authority to provide informed consent. Providing necessary supports for the request, including a plain language summary and presentation, is one approach to mitigation. The easiest approach to site permissions when conducting research is to practice good communications, and to spend the time creating the goodwill and foundation for trust that is needed to provide informed consent before it is needed. This is easier said than done, but it can be done with specific attention to the justification of legitimacy, the provision of required materials for informed approval of the study, and the documentation that must inevitably be provided to the IRB in relation to the site permission.
Resources for more information
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Babb, S., Birk, L., & Carfagna, L. (2017). Standard bearers: qualitative sociologists’ experiences with IRB regulation. The American Sociologist, 48(1), 86-102. doi: 10.1007/s12108-016-9331-z https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12108-016-9331-z#citeas
Benton, D. C., & Cormack, D. F. (2000). Gaining access to the research site. The Research Process in Nursing. 4th ed. Blackwell Science.