In 2018, Brian Bell, a professor in the Faculty of Business at Seneca College, Toronto, was a member of Seneca’s REB, where he observed the REB administrators keeping track of hundreds of research applications from both faculty and students interested in starting research projects that involved human participants.
The process usually started by applicants filling out a Word doc, with attachments, and sending it to the REB. If there was missing information or it was filled out incorrectly (which was often the case), then the application was sent back for rework. There was a lot of backing and forth until the application was complete and ready to be approved. And, by the time the application was ready, there were often many documents, spreadsheets and PDFs for each application.
There were so many delays between the researcher and the REB and many pieces to the process, that Brian and his Seneca College colleague Professor Cristina Italia thought there had to be a better, more streamlined way to facilitate the process. They reviewed the REB processes from many different higher education institutions across Canada and came up with an optimized process flow that was easier and simpler for both researchers and the REB and then created a research administrative software called RAExpert.
When researchers want to conduct a research study that involves human participants, they need prior approval from their institution’s Research Ethics Board. RAExpert is a cloud-based software that allows for an online application and review process using an optimized application form and process flow. It helps the research community by digitizing, simplifying and optimizing the creation, submission, revision and storage of REB applications and helps users reduce application errors. It tracks the progress of the application and provides transparency for the submitter and reviewer regarding the status of every application and the institutions research history.
RAExpert provides the service as a software (SaaS), which an institution subscribes to, allowing applicants to login, and fill out the fields of information required by that institution’s REB. Items include general information, rationale, conflict, methodology, recruitment, risks, consent, data, findings and additional information.
RAExpert researcher application. Note one section drops at a time. Users cannot move on until the information is completed correctly.
The simple and clean design allow the applicant to pull down one section at a time to fill in the required information to make the process less overwhelming. The online tool has an extensive help feature, where users can chat with the REB team for help or questions with their application. It also has error detection, meaning the user cannot move onto the next section until all the required information is completed successfully. Once one of the sections is complete, it turns green and the user can proceed to the next section to complete. The tool also allows users to upload documents with supporting materials for their application and supports multiple users on one project for those working in teams.
RAExpert chat function
Once the application is completed and ready to submit, the tool automatically does one more internal review before it can be submitted. The tool’s dashboard shows the user where they are in the process, and the status gets updated as the application is received by the REB, allocated to an REB reviewer and gets reviewed, approved or denied.
Users know at all times what is going on with their application.
According to Bell, the main benefits of RAExpert are that it is easy, fast, and safe; the users save time and effort, thereby saving their school time and money.
The tool simplifies the work for the REB administrator as it stores, tracks and manages a phenomenal amount of data and provides a robust reporting functionality. Not only does it make life easier for administrators, but also for the researcher. RAExpert is simple to use, provides instant feedback and keeps track of every step. The tool also sends out reminders to close projects once the research is complete, and it allows for any adverse event reporting.
Using a research administrative software is much more efficient and faster than most current paper-based processes that are slow and require much rework. According to Bell, initial applications, on average, are sent back for extra information more than 50% of the time.
Bell states that the majority of REB's data are not safe due to all the handling and transition of data via e-mail, documents, spreadsheets and PDFs among various computers at the institutions. The benefit of having a cloud-based platform based in Canada means the data is stored in one place, encrypted, backed up and secured with bank level security. If an institution’s REB gets audited, all the data is in one place and reports are easily generated.
The development team at RAExpert is looking at the possibility of adding new features such as a survey tool. This would allow the users to conduct simple research projects out of the tool as well.
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