The federal guidelines define research as “a systematic investigation designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge." A systematic investigation is the opposite of a disorganized, random venture. In other words, researchers need to have constructed a research plan with ideas about what they want to learn and how best to do that. Both qualitative and quantitative researchers may use systematic investigation.
To generalize is to derive general conclusions from particulars. Therefore, the essential consideration is whether it is the researcher's intent to contribute to a body of knowledge or whether the results were replicable. Usually this means publication or presentation – but not necessarily. You might present on something and have no real agenda to generalize it – you simply are talking about your experience and what you learned from it.
Scholarly research activities, including pilot studies, which involve human participants and which are intended to develop, test, or advance the body of knowledge in your field require IRB review. If you are planning to conduct research with animal participants, then you should submit an application to the RIC IACUC, not the IRB.
The activities listed below are research activities, but are not governed by the federal law and do not require IRB review:
- Research activities that are categorized as journalism or oral history.
- Research on deceased persons, for example, conducting interviews to write a biography about a deceased person.
- Quality assurance research.
- Publicly available data. Examples: census data, labor statistics. Contact the IRB if you are uncertain as to whether the data qualifies as “publicly available.”
- Data collection or evaluation designed for purposes of improving services or teaching or for developing new services or programs.
- Research activities done in the context of a classroom and that are intended solely to teach the course material. For example, students in a social sciences research methods class may ask people to complete an interview or survey in order to fulfill a course assignment. This activity does not require IRB review because its intended purpose is to be educational, not generalizable. Independent or directed scholarly research that contributes to the discipline, such as honors projects, thesis, or dissertations, require IRB review
When in doubt, contact the IRB Chair to verify whether or not your research activity is governed by this policy.