IRB Corner: Understanding Permissions in Research

IRB Corner: Understanding Permissions in Research

This month in the IRB Corner we want to share information about permissions. We’ll explain why we ask for various permissions and how you can go about getting the permissions you need to move forward with your IRB review and research activities.

Why might you need permissions?

Researchers require cooperation to conduct a solid, ethical study. We have talked in the IRB Corner about cooperation from research participants; another important part of an ethical research study is the informed consent process used to communicate information about the research to potential research subjects. Research participants can choose to cooperate with researchers by volunteering to participate in a study and share data.

Many times, getting access to people or data for research can require soliciting cooperation from other individuals, associations, organizations, and/or government agencies before the researcher ever asks for consent from the human subjects. Permissions and approvals are used to communicate and verify the cooperation between an organization and the researcher. It is important for researchers to understand that obtaining the necessary permissions to conduct a study can be a time-consuming process. Also, it is important to recognize that organizations are not required to grant you access to their members or their data. Furthermore, at times organizational changes may occur, and prior permissions may be rescinded if a new administrator or leader determines that the organization will no longer cooperate with you on your study.

What permissions might be needed?

Individuals, publishers, or organizations who own the copyright to an instrument you intend to use for data collection must provide you permission to use the existing survey or data collection tool. The permissions process also extends to any graphs, charts, models, figures, photos, or other supporting materials for your literature review, data support, data results, or discussion sections. An organization that owns data you would like to access for your research must also grant you permission to use their data. Even if you work for the organization, when conducting research, you are not acting as a member of the organization; therefore, you need to request permission to use data outside of your daily activities as an employee.

If the human subjects you want to gather data from are members of an organization, you are required to get permission from the organization before you can contact the potential subjects. If you want to use a site to conduct your interviews, you may need permission to use the site for research purposes. Sometimes those who fund research have a unique set of approvals and permissions. Many organizations, like government agencies, corrections facilities, social service agencies, and schools, have specific policies or committees that outline what research can be done within the organization and how to obtain permissions. Please check with those agencies, facilities, or organizations in advance to see if you need to clear your research with those committees or policies. And if you plan to conduct your research at an institution that has its own IRB, you will need to determine if that other IRB and the UOPX IRB can cooperate using a reliance agreement. Ultimately, it is the researcher’s responsibility to determine what permissions and approvals are required to conduct the research they are proposing. The UOPX IRB looks for verification that the researcher has obtained the necessary permissions to conduct research during the review process.

How do you verify you have the necessary permissions?

After the researcher has determined what permissions are required, the researcher must approach the organization and ask for permission. If the organization has a policy about research activities, then the researcher must read the policy and determine the appropriate process to gain access to the people or data. The IRB Office has compiled templates to facilitate the process of obtaining verification of permissions. The following documents are available in the IRBNet Forms and Templates library, located on the left menu when you login to IRBNet

  • Data Access and Use Permission Template
  • Existing Survey Permissions Template
  • FORMS – Informed Consent Template  
  • IRB Reliance Agreement              
  • Letter of Collaboration Template
  • PRN Permissions Template 

Researchers can download the appropriate template, complete the required information about their study, and then ask someone within the organization to document approval or provide permissions. Researchers need to build time into their timeframe to obtain verification of necessary permissions. Some organizations require proposed research be reviewed by a committee. For example, if you want to do research at the University of Phoenix with faculty, staff, students, or university data, you must get permissions from the Committee on Research (COR). Other organizations may allow an individual with authority to provide permissions. Still other organizations may suggest verification of permission, or approval, on their own forms. Other forms of verification should include information about the study, a description of what permissions are being granted, and should provide contact information for the person signing and dating the verification.

Again, it is the researcher’s responsibility to understand what permissions are required and to provide verification of these permissions to the UOPX IRB as part of their IRB application submission. The researcher must obtain permissions before submitting his or her application to the UOPX IRB for review. Researchers are also required to verify to the UOPX IRB those cases where the organization does not require permissions. 

It is important to realize that cooperation from an organization may be ended at any time; the UOPX IRB cannot intervene or require an organization, institution, or facility to allow you to conduct your research. Should an organization pull the permissions for you to conduct your study, you will have to find a new location where you will conduct your research. Simply notify the UOPX IRB using a Change of Study form and supply the new permissions before changing the research site for your study. 

For more information about particular types of permissions, please see the UOPX IRBFAQs, located in the IRBNet Forms and Templates library. Additional questions about necessary permissions and approvals can be directed to the IRB Office at