Before you start any sort of qualitative research, you must first consult your college or university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). Each institution will have their own process and own expectations of the researcher and research project. If you will be studying vulnerable populations like children or prisoners, you may need to go through a more rigorous process. The IRB will need to review your research plan and grant approval before you start the fieldwork. It is imperative that you begin this process as soon as possible because it could take weeks to get approval.
The IRB approval process is not fun, but is necessary. In the past social science researchers have placed the participants in their studies into dangerous, harmful situations. The point of the process is to protect participants from potential harm and to protect both you and the university from litigation.
Nalika Gajaweera was a senior research analyst with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture through 2023.
Andrew Johnson is a contributing fellow with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.