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Getting Community Input

Title: Getting Community Input

Author: Emily E. Anderson


A researcher’s study of the link between behavioral disorders and childhood deprivation of attention by the male parent in African-American males angers community members who feel they should have been consulted for their input prior to IRB approval.

Headings: Special Populations and Cultural Competence; Community or consumer representation; Racial and ethnic minorities

Case Type: Decision Making

Getting Community Input

Based on previous research experience and studies reported in the literature, a researcher proposes the theory that African-American males diagnosed with behavior disorders (BD) (oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder) suffer from early childhood deprivation of attention by the male parent. She proposes to interview African-American males diagnosed with BDs and compare them to a control group of males without any diagnosis of mental illness matched on SES, intact versus disrupted family, and presence versus absence of alternative male figures as well as age and race.

In response to recruitment materials, which were approved by the university IRB and posted throughout African-American neighborhoods near the university, representatives from a community-based organization file a complaint with the university claiming that the study is racist, harmful to the reputations of the families involved, and designed to discredit the African-American community. They also argue that the university’s IRB did not have the right to approve the research without first asking community members for input.

The original proposal was approved by the IRB without any questions or problems. The researcher had proposed appropriate measures for informed consent and human subjects protections. The issue of harm to the community was not addressed by the researcher or the IRB during the study approval process. If the data supports her hypothesis, the researcher plans to apply for funding to continue her work with the aim of developing a program to help develop male role models for African-American youth.


  • As a member of the IRB and representative to the University committee that deals with community complaints, what would you do?