Permission Letters to Conduct Research
Researchers may be required to obtain prior permission before receiving IRB approval when enrolling participants from a non-MTSU entity or when using a non-MTSU premises or both. When determined that prior permission is needed to conduct the study, the researchers have to provide a support letter from a senior member of the non-MTSU facility who has the authority to grant permission on official letterhead.
Scenarios where permission letters are mandatory:
When an institution or an organization is responsible for the prospective participants, the researcher will be required to obtain a written support letter delineating the scope of the cooperation. It is also vital that the letter clearly indicates that the non-MTSU entity is aware of the activities to be performed and they are responsible for any unforeseen adverse events during the time of the research intervention. Typical scenarios include research with minors in a school will require support letters from the school's administration. Similarly, enrolling prisoners or patients admitted in a hospital would also require letters of support from the prison or the hospital, respectively. In all of these cases discussed, the entity - school, prison or hospitals - is responsible for the participants and therefore their consent is mandatory.
Scenarios where permission letters are recommended:
As described above, support letters are mandatory when participants are enrolled from an organization which is responsible for the participants. However, researchers may enroll participants from other non-MTSU entities, such as companies, churches, libraries and museums where the administration of those entities may not be "fully" responsible for the prospective participants. In such circumstances, the IRB may not require a permission letter as the participants are free to enroll or not without the consent of the organization. However, please note that the organization may require prior approval before the researcher can use their premises or enroll participants at their facility. For instance, churches or mosques or other religious installations are not public places and a concerned religious leader must approve the proposed activities. Same is true if the researchers wish to interview employees of a certain company, they may not be required to submit a letter of support from the company as part of their IRB application, but the company reserves the right to approve or deny access to their resources. Therefore, the MTSU IRB recommends in these circumstances that permission letters be obtained in these circumstances from a mere feasibility standpoint and not from a compliance context.
Scenarios where permission letter requirement may be waived:
The MTSU IRB would waive the requirement for obtaining permission letter if the study is conducted on a sensitive subject and the knowledge of such a study would cause adversities to the participants. For instance, investigative studies conducted to determine sexual harassment by upper management at regional companies. If such a study is conducted by an MTSU researcher, the IRB will waive the permission letter requirement as knowledge of such a study would undermine the investigative efforts to elucidate a crucial social justice issue faced by women at their work place. Also to note is that such studies may require full member review just for the reason that the participants may expose themselves to more than minimal risk by enrolling in the investigation. In addition to participant safety, the IRB will also consider the reasoning for the requirement and determine if obtaining permission letters is necessary or if it is feasible. For instance, studies conducted at location designated as "public places," such as, libraries, state parks, government offices and etc. It should be noted that the IRB may also waive the permission requirement for privately owned libraries, museums, parks, shopping centers, and etc., but the waiver is based lack of risk to the participants. Nonetheless, the waiver cannot be used as an authorization by the IRB in the latter cases.
Permission letter format:
If determined that permission letters, then the researcher has to email the proof of permission as a support letter written on the official letter head and signed by an officer entitled to make such determination as a scanned electronic copy. Permission notes required from within MTSU departments and divisions can be done via a simple email. But permission from external entities must be scanned letters and cannot be simple text emails. The letter should indicate that the officer or the administration has knowledge of all the activities to be done at their facility. They should also provide written confirmation that they are responsible for the participants' welfare during the time of research. The letter can be addressed to the researchers and should be dated within 6 months from the initial submission. The letter must also indicate the time duration within which the study must be completed. Any terms and conditions the facilitiy wants to impose on the researchers or the participants must also be clearly written.