Ethical review: Standardizing procedures and local shaping of ethical review practices

Patricia Jaspers*, Rob Houtepen, Klasien Horstman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Since ethical review practice has developed in relation to specific regulatory regimes and local contexts, it cannot be understood without paying attention to the institutional context of ethical review practices. We believe the tendency towards strong central governance and standardization in ethical review implies a lack of understanding of how specific local institutional contexts actually affect ethical review practices. Our question is: "How do local institutional contexts relate to the way REC's shape their formal mandate, and what are the implications for research governance?" To get in-depth insights in how REC's shape their formal mandates in every-day practice, we did a qualitative ethnographic-sociological study of three Dutch REC's in different contexts: an academic context, a care context and a commercial context. In analyzing these three REC's we paid attention to the procedures operative in REC practices, the cultures and everyday experiences of REC members, the scientific, social and financial resources that are available to REC's, and the evaluative perspective REC's employ. We conclude that specific local, institutional contexts offer valuable resources for ethical review. To track this, insight into the institutional configuration as a whole is necessary. Variations in the ways REC's shape their formal mandate should not be regarded problematic, but rather as fruitful opportunities for public learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-318
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • The Netherlands
  • Research Ethics Committees (RECs)
  • Trust
  • Local knowledge
  • Standardization
  • Institutional shaping
  • Public learning
  • Accountability


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