As a volunteer endeavor, I want to do online survey and education research. I am not being paid for the work, and the research participants are also not being paid. Do I need to obtain IRB approval to conduct the research? To publish? What might the consequences be for not obtaining approval? If I'm not associated with any IRB, how would I get approval?

Does it matter what my job is if I do the research in my personal time?

What about a collaborator at a university who is helping as a volunteer researcher in their personal time?

  • IRB approval has nothing to do with whether the researcher or the subjects are paid or are volunteers. It is to assure ethical standards of research with human subjects. – Buffy May 21 '19 at 10:47
  • Search for "Belmont Report" and give that a read in order to get started understanding what constitutes human subjects research and the ethical issues that accompany it. – Matt May 21 '19 at 19:50

Many journals have policies that require authors to have obtained IRB approval (or its equivalent in countries other than the US) as a condition of publication for any paper that involves human subjects. Here, the consequence of not obtaining IRB approval would be that your paper isn't published.

If you are employed by an institution that has a policy on human subjects research than you may be required to obtain IRB approval for any research project involving human subjects by your institution's policy, whether or not the research is sponsored by the institution or makes any use of the resources of the institution. Here, the consequences of not obtaining IRB approval could include being fired from your job.

There are Commercial Institutional Review Boards that provide review and oversight for research involving human subjects outside of an institution with its own review board. These are used, for example, by companies that do human subjects research as part of the development of new products.


If you can, it would probably help if you could find an academic partner interested in the study. This way you could apply with the ethics board at their institution, and it would probably strengthen the impact of your survey.

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