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The ethics committee landscape

Overview of ethics committees in different disciplines and research institutions

Ethics committee landscape

Which ethics committees review research projects in Germany? Here you can find ethics committees from various scientific disciplines. Further, you can find recommendations of the RatSWD on how to set up and fund local ethics committees.

Ethics committees in different disciplines

  • Overview of local and cross-disciplinary ethics committees in the social and economic sciences on the RatSWD website:
    German Data Forum (RatSWD). (2021). Overview of ethics committees in the social and economic sciences. Link
  • Overview of ethics committees in communication and media studies: FeKoM project (Research ethics in communication and media studies):
    Filmuniversität Babelsberg, Technische Universität Dortmund & Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover. (2022). Ethics ommittees in communication and media sciences. Link
  • Overview of local ethics committees responsible for psychology:
    Deutsche Gesellschaft für Psychologie. (n.d.). Lokale Ethikkommissionen. Link
  • Overview of medical ethics committees: Association of Medical Ethics Committees. (n.d.). Ethik-Kommissionen. Link
  • Overview of contact persons and committees in Germany that are responsible for ethics in security-relevant research:
    Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft & Leopoldina – Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften. (n.d.). Link
  • Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft & Leopoldina – Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften. (n.d.). Gemeinsamer Ausschuss zum Umgang mit sicherheitsrelevanter Forschung [Joint committee on the handling of security-relevant research]. Link

Establishment and funding of local ethics committees

RatSWD recommendation (excerpt) “The establishment of an ethics committee should only be initiated if there is a reasonable occasion. It does not currently make sense to preemptively set up across-the-board ethics committees. Since the work of such committees lies in the self-interest of science and research, funding for local ethics committees should come from budget funds.
Medical ethics committees typically charge a processing fee. However, most hitherto established committees in the social and economic sciences do not. Whether to charge an advisory and application fee should be a pragmatic decision made by a research institution or the committee itself. It should be noted that, especially for studies that are not financed with third-party funding, processing fees can be a considerable obstacle to obtaining ethical review for research. The question of whether fees are appropriate should be answered “on the ground”. Another reason to do so is, on the one hand, to avoid the congestion of a committee and, on the other hand, to achieve an expected minimum number of review cases, which facilitates quality assurance and the efficiency of reviews. An ethics committee can only be set up by the university or department board or the management of research institutes (or by the respective, democratically elected self-governing bodies of those institutions). Staffing a board can be done by appointing members or by holding a ballot.

Structure and procedures of local ethics committee

When setting up an ethics committee, care should be taken to have the members’ expertise reflect the methodological diversity of the respective research institution. Therefore, as a rule, the board should include both researchers with qualitative and quantitative methodology competencies. However, since individuals can never be experts on all methodological approaches in their field, outside expertise should be brought in where needed. At least one member of the committee should have relevant legal expertise (this can be a lawyer or a person with proven expertise in data protection). Ideally, this is the facility’s data protection officer. Furthermore, ethics committee may consider other status groups or diversity characteristics when staffing the committee. Proceeding in this way can ensure that the relevant expertise regarding the protection of (dependent) researchers is represented or, at least, a certain diversity of perspectives is ensured. Internationally, and in medicine, is common for ethics committees to not only include members of the institution or the research community but also external third parties, e.g., persons with relevant ethics expertise, laypersons, or patient representatives.
According to the RatSWD, external members and laypersons are not imperative for local ethics committees in the social and economic sciences. External expertise should, however, be sought if research facilities (universities, institutes, non-university research facilities) do not have ethics-related, legal, or data protection-related expertise at their disposal .
The number of sessions, review processes, and decision-making modes is contingent on the requirements at hand and will be designed accordingly by each respective committee.”

Excerpt taken from: Rat für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsdaten. (2017). Forschungsethische Grundsätze und Prüfverfahren in den Sozial- und Wirtschaftswissenschaften (Output Series, 5. Berufungsperiode Nr. 9). Berlin. doi: 10.17620/02671.1 , p. 33 f. Link