IRB Considerations for International Research

UPDATED 07/30/2020:

Cornell University has been cleared by New York state to restart research activities, in a staged, limited manner. In mid-May, the Cornell Research and Operations Reactivation Committee published a guide for the safe restart of the university's research, which includes the requirement that researchers must submit a reactivation plan to their college/unit for approval before returning to campus.

On July 1, a sub-committee on Human Subjects Research Reactivation published new guidelines for reactivating in-person human subjects research on Cornell’s Ithaca, Geneva, and Cornell Tech campuses. These guidelines provide a means for each college/unit to decide if a research reactivation plan that involves in-person, on-campus human subjects research can be approved. Any changes to IRB protocols must also be reviewed by the IRB.

On July 28, the IRB published additional guidance for investigators on conducting in-person research during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Please visit the IRB COVID-19 FAQs page for updates and contact the IRB if you have any questions.

Research with human participants in other countries must comply with both U.S. and international ethical standards, and may require additional consideration for international participants' rights and welfare within different cultural contexts and local regulations.

Research conducted by Cornell faculty, students and staff in foreign countries must be reviewed and approved by the Cornell IRB. In addition to Cornell IRB approval, some international research must also be approved by the local equivalent of an IRB. Where there is no equivalent board or committee, researchers should work with local NGOs, researchers or community leaders to ensure that the project is consistent with cultural and legal expectations, and to secure support for the conduct of the research. As part of its review, the Cornell IRB will require a letter demonstrating support from an appropriate local body, organization or individual who will cooperate with and support the researcher. Researchers are urged to plan for the additional time that will be needed to obtain and document local support and review, and for the Cornell IRB to then review these important documents. Please see IRB Policy: International Human Research for more information.

Both the U.S. and host country standards for protecting human participants must be respected through the IRB review and approval process and the conduct of the research. Where the two sets of standards present a conflict, the research must meet the higher standard. In particular, while we do not impose our standards for written documentation on other cultures, we do not relax our standards for ethical conduct of research or for a meaningful consent and/or assent process, including ensuring additional protections for vulnerable participant populations (e.g., children, prisoners).