Research Article: A Field Training Guide for Human Subjects Research Ethics

Date Published: October 5, 2010

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Maria W. Merritt, Alain B. Labrique, Joanne Katz, Mahbubur Rashid, Keith P. West, Joan Pettit

Abstract: Maria Merritt and colleagues report on a Field Training Guide for Human Subjects Research Ethics that they have developed to help train field workers in ethics for research.

Partial Text: Investigators who conduct research with human subjects are responsible for the protection of participants’ rights, safety, and welfare, and for scientific integrity [1]–[6]. Each investigator and research site must look to the local laws and ethical standards that apply to their role in a research project [7]. As a matter of routine practice, investigators often delegate to other study team members research activities involving direct contact with human participants. We propose the term data collector to designate a distinct role on the study team for field workers who seek informed consent or collect data through direct contact with individuals. When investigators delegate such activities to data collectors, the investigators’ ultimate responsibility for human subject protection and scientific integrity is in no way diminished and requires them to train these personnel in the principles and practice of research ethics. Due to a lack of standard training guidelines specific to field workers in low-resource settings, training may vary between sites and principal investigators. Consequently, the effective implementation of research ethics principles may also vary widely and arbitrarily across settings.

As a first step toward filling the training gap, we used input from a broadly representative group of experienced investigators at our institution to produce a Field Training Guide. In August 2009, we posted the current version of the Guide on our publicly accessible IRB web site ( [19]. Investigators working in various countries and situations were encouraged to adapt the delivery of content to their specific projects.

Our ongoing experiences in the field and in the IRB review process indicate needs for additional materials to support investigators’ delivery of ethical training to field workers.

Our Field Training Guide is a first step toward developing locally adaptable research ethics training tools for study teams working in a variety of settings around the world. To the best of our knowledge, following an extensive search, no other comparably simple field training guide is publicly available. We intend our Guide to be suitable for adaptation by investigators beyond our institution, assuming that they already have in place an organizational infrastructure through which they normally train and supervise field personnel in the activities necessary to conduct research. We encourage readers to examine the Guide, try it out, translate it, and identify potential improvements. A welcome step forward would be systematic evaluation of the Guide, or of users’ adaptations thereof, as compared with other training tools. We invite other investigators and institutions to join us in conversation about how to address field training needs so as to meet high standards of research ethics at every level of human subject interaction.



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