Under federal law, institutions like Plymouth State University must create a group called the Institutional Review Board (IRB) to review and approve (or not) research that involves humans in order to ensure that no one is harmed by the research activities. Some of the projects that students want to undertake in Tackling a Wicked Problem may need to be reviewed by the IRB. PSU’s IRB answers the following question:
Do I need IRB approval for my class project?
Generally speaking, if the data are staying in the classroom (assignment being done for grading only) and data/results won’t be shared outside the classroom, IRB approval is not needed. If data may be used for an honors thesis, or presented at the Showcase of Student Research and Engagement (for example), then the project will need IRB approval as dissemination at those public events as research data is considered to be contributing to generalizable knowledge.
Individuals who wish to gather data from human subjects as part of evaluations, assessments, service, reporting, classroom assignments, educational inquiry, or practice AND intend to use the data as research data for the purpose of publishing or sharing with a research community or the public at large, must obtain IRB approval PRIOR to conducting the activity.
The PSU IRB recognizes that human subjects may be harmed by unethical or careless activities resulting from evaluations, assessments, service, reporting, classroom assignments, educational inquiry, or practice. As a board that values the protection of human subjects and the conduct of ethical behavior, the board strongly disapproves of such unethical behavior. However, the IRB recognizes the limits of its mandate and authority. The actions of individuals conducting classroom activities are also governed by the ethical standards of their discipline (e.g., American Psychological Association or American Anthropological Association).
From the PSU IRB Handbook:
What qualifies as research requiring an IRB review?
Research means a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalize knowledge. Activities which meet this definition constitute research for purposes of this policy, whether or not they are conducted or supported under a program which is considered research for other purposes. For example, some demonstration and service programs may include research activities.
For example, if you are doing a survey to inform your further work on your wicked problem but do not plan to disseminate the results of the survey in any way, you do not have to seek IRB approval. But if you plan to publicize the results of your survey on a poster or in a presentation outside of your class, you will need to go through the approval process before you administer the survey.