How Do Accredited Organizations Evaluate the Quality and Effectiveness of Their Human Research Protection Programs?

Holly Fernandez Lynch, Holly A. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Meaningfully evaluating the quality of institutional review boards (IRBs) and human research protection programs (HRPPs) is a long-recognized challenge. To be accredited by the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs (AAHRPP), organizations must demonstrate that they measure and improve HRPP “quality, effectiveness, and efficiency” (QEE). We sought to learn how AAHRPP-accredited organizations interpret and satisfy this standard, in order to assess strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in current approaches and to inform recommendations for improvement. Methods: We conducted 3 small-group interviews with a total of 19 participant representatives of accredited organizations at the 2019 AAHRPP annual meeting. Participants were eligible if they had familiarity with their organization’s approach to satisfying the relevant QEE standard. Results: Participants reported lacking clear definitions for HRPP quality or effectiveness but described various approaches to assessing QEE, typically focused on turnaround time, compliance, and researcher satisfaction. Evaluation of IRB members was described as relatively superficial and information regarding research subject experience was not reported as central to QEE assessment, although participants described several efforts to improve consideration of patient, subject, and community perspectives in IRB review. Participants also described efforts to educate and build relationships with key stakeholders as important features of a high-quality HRPP. While generally satisfied with their approaches, participants expressed concern about resource and time constraints that pushed them to be reactive and automatic about QEE, rather than proactive and critical. Conclusions: The relevant AAHRPP accreditation standard may obscure critical gaps in defining and measuring QEE elements. We recommend that AAHRPP: (1) offer a definition of QEE or require accredited organizations to provide their own, to help clarify the rationale and goals behind assessment and improvement efforts, and (2) require accredited organizations to establish QEE objectives and measures focused on participant outcomes and deliberative quality during protocol review.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-37
Number of pages15
JournalAJOB Empirical Bioethics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023


  • IRB
  • accreditation
  • human research protection program
  • quality
  • research ethics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


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