How does the IRB view open records?

The open records act adds a difficult twist to the protection of human data. FOIA data is technically public data but often contains much that could carry subject risk and may have been generated under conditions where there was a clear expectation of privacy. FOIA data collected prior to IRB approval could still be accessed for pre-study formation (like literature review material) but could not be used as research data (including pilot) prior to IRB review and approval.

The GS IRB would look at public data through the expectation of privacy filter and expect the researcher using such data to provide a method of mitigation for data that carries an inherent risk to the subject – (like a plan for data de-identification) to provide approval. The data would not be eligible for exemption under B4 unless obtained from the FOIA source as de-identified data.

Can I conduct research using my staff as research subjects?
In most cases, you should not use subjects over which you have a power relationship, to prevent unintentional coercion. Depending upon the nature of the data gathered, the relative size of the population, and your ability to gather the data without identifying the subject, it may be possible to eliminate the risk. However, a careful plan would need to be devised and approved.

Can I conduct research in my classroom if I am the teacher?

If the research you are proposing involves using your own students or students which you have some responsibility over, then there is an inherent conflict of interest. Special precautions need to be taken to ensure that this conflict is managed and there is no unintended coercion. Students may feel as if they will be punished, disappoint the teacher or receive a lower grade if they choose not to participate in the project.

Some options to remedy the situation are offered below:

  1. The study can be presented by a colleague or somebody not involved with the students to allow students to make a decision without feeling obligated to comply.
  2. The study can be completely anonymous. Data must be collected in a manner that does not allow the teacher to determine which students participated.
  3. The teacher can collect the data and hold it for research use until after the class has been completed and grading is complete. This method can only be used where the same teacher will not teach the same students in the following semester.
  4. If appropriate, the study may be conducted utilizing assignments that are part of the normal curriculum.

In addition to these precautions, the consent form or assent form needs to state that the students will not receive any penalty nor will the teacher get upset, if they choose not to participate.

Does my teaching require IRB approval?

The answer is yes if any of the following apply:

  1. Your project contains a methodology for systematic data collection that will provide a conclusion applicable to situations beyond the one examined with or without current intent to publish. (e.g., evaluations that determine an individual teacher’s effectiveness at delivery of a lesson are not generalizable; studies that determine the efficacy of a method of instruction to affect standardized test scores are generalizable.)
  2. You will be using the data in your honors project, dissertation or thesis.
  3. The data will be published (including at the Georgia Southern library, any website or available for review by individuals other than the researcher or course instructor).
  4. The data will be used to create a presentation, poster presentation, and capstone paper or similar and that product will be preserved as an independent work.

The answer is no if:

  1. You will be collecting the data only to improve your teaching skills, without sharing the data.
  2. You will present the data only to the principal.
  3. You will be presenting the data only to your teacher, class members, and other Georgia Southern students and faculty (not for honors project, capstone, thesis or dissertation) and project documentation will be treated as a normal class assignment and not retained by the institution or instructor or reused by the student for any purpose.

If you are teaching a research methods course in which students will conduct  independent practice research, you will need to apply for an instructor class exemption for the semester.

I already have access to data about my subjects because of my position. Can I use that data for research purposes without consent?

No. Data you access because of your position is entrusted to you for a specific use. Research use is not normally included in the intended use of the data. You may be able to access the same data but would need to gain access through the same process that an outside researcher would use.

  • e.g., a pharmacist may not access patient drug purchase data without permission from the patient and acknowledgement from the pharmacy owner, though the data is available to that researcher in the role of pharmacist.
  • e.g., a teacher will have access to student grades, free-lunch status, IEP data, etc. for the purpose of education facilitation but does not have access to the data for the purposes of generalizable research.

Can I collect data from campus buildings, pedestrians, or random people on campus?

Yes, with certain restrictions.

  • Collection of research data is not allowed inside of building hallways, or near classrooms doors.
  • Collection is not allowed inside of classroom spaces unless prior arrangements have been made with a specific faculty member for a specified class period.
  • No data collection may be conducted near building doorways.
  • Data collection in food service areas must be unobtrusive. You may not approach individuals more than once and may not block traffic patterns.
  • Data collection in the library, the RAC or in and outside of Russell Union must be registered with the facility office in advance.

Any data collection effort should not impede traffic on the sidewalk or Pedestrium. Each subject may only be approached once.

Do I need an informed consent for an anonymous survey?

Yes. The consent statement tells the participant why you are asking the questions and what you will do with the information they are providing.

Sample consent statement:

You are being asked to participate in a survey research project entitled “Project Title” which is being conducted by “Researcher Name”, a “faculty member/staff member/student” at Georgia Southern University for the purpose of scholarly presentation.  This survey is anonymous.  No one, including the researcher, will be able to associate your responses with your identity.  Your participation is voluntary.  You may choose not to take the survey, to stop responding at any time, or to skip any questions that you do not want to answer.  You must be at least 18 years of age to participate in this study.  Your completion of the survey serves as your voluntary agreement to allow the anonymous data gathered to be used in this study and in future research.

Questions regarding the purpose or procedures of the research should be directed to “Researcher Name” at “phone number” or “email address”.  This study has been reviewed by the GSU Institutional Review Board (IRB) under tracking number “Insert tracking number here” in accordance with Federal regulations.  The IRB, a university committee established by Federal law, is responsible for protecting the rights and welfare of research participants.  If you have concerns or questions about your rights as a research participant, you may contact the IRB Administrator at 912-478-5465 or

Do I need IRB approval for my pilot study?

Yes and no. Read this entire answer before you proceed.

Generally, a pilot study is defined as a preliminary investigation to determine the feasibility of a study. It is usually done on a small scale (usually fewer than 10 subjects) and exploratory in nature. Its purpose is to refine data collection procedures, instruments, or research design.

Pilot studies answer questions such as “in what order should the survey instruments be distributed”. These questions do not qualify as questions that will contribute to generalizable knowledge and thus pilot studies do not qualify as research and do not need IRB review and approval. Nonetheless, it is assumed that the proper steps will be taken to protect human subjects (e.g., use of informed consent, confidentiality, etc.).

NOTE: If sensitive data, vulnerable populations, or methods with more than minimal risk are to be used, a consultation with the IRB Chair or Administrator must occur before data is collected without IRB review and approval. The IRB retains the right to require review of a project characterized by the faculty member as exploratory (pilot) in nature.

If it is possible that the data collected in your pilot study will be used solely or in combination with other data for generalizable or publication purposes, IRB review and approval is required BEFORE data collection begins.   Pilot data collected for the purpose of research process refinement without inclusion in an IRB approved protocol may not be repurposed as study data. The IRB cannot provide retroactive review. Researchers are cautioned not to confuse pilot data with preliminary data. Preliminary data requires normal review processes.

How does the University Survey Policy affect email distribution of survey research on GS campus?

The GS survey distribution policy requires an approval beyond the IRB approval for research that specifically distributes survey research via the Georgia Southern email system.  Where the GSU email system will be used to distribute survey requests, a condition of your IRB approval will to obtain the required approval to use the GS email system to distribute your survey research.

If you are faculty or staff and plan to distribute your survey via the GS email system, your request must be approved through the Provost’s office.  If you are an external user or a student, your request must be approved through the Office of Strategic Research & Analysis.  You will need to supply a copy of your IRB conditional approval letter with your request.

If you are distributing a recruitment advertisement by email that does not contain the survey or a direct link to the survey, the survey distribution policy does not apply.

Marketing surveys still require compliance with the survey policy even though IRB approval is not required for surveys where the data will only be used internally to evaluate the effectiveness of your service.

Find the Survey Distribution Policy on Digital Commons – (

What platforms are considered anonymous for surveys?

To be considered an anonymous survey, the platform used can not collect any identifying information from the user (including email address and IP addresses). Currently, Qualtrics (which is available to Georgia Southern faculty, staff, and students through their My.GeorgiaSouthern account) and SurveyMonkey offer an anonymous option that does not collect IP addresses. At this time, Google forms is not considered anonymous as Google does collect IP addresses.

If you would like to use a survey platform not mentioned here, please contact our office to verify if it meets the criteria for anonymous research.

What does a researcher safety plan require?

Safety of the researcher is a component of the safe and ethical conduct of research.  Students who are collecting data in the field in a private or secluded locations should have a safety plan prior to contact with subjects in the field.  The content of the plan and detail in the plan is dependent on the risk level of the study and the locations where data will be collected but must account for the safety of the researchers.  At a minimum, the plan should include a buddy system, a positive notification (someone you call before you go to the home of the subject to collect data and call again upon leaving the subject home, who will send help if you do not check back in within the expected time-frame) and a plan for how to handle the emotional content of the intended interview vetted through your faculty adviser/mentor.  The faculty adviser should be fully aware of the time and place of all interviews that take place in secluded or private locations.  If the content of the data collected is likely to cause significant emotional upset or a strong emotional response, students should not conduct the study without appropriate faculty support.

Last updated: 4/26/2017

Office of Research Integrity • PO Box 8005, Statesboro, GA 30460 • (912) 478-5465 •