Meetings and events

Interactive symposium 'Research ethics across scientific disciplines'

March 14, 2024 Utrecht

Read the report of the meeting below, or click the buttons for the program and list of speakers for this joint event organized by Nethics and NRIN

Report Interactive symposium

On 14th March 2024, the first National Research Ethics Meeting on the topic

‘Research ethics across scientific disciplines’ was organized by NETHICS in collaboration with NRIN.

The meeting was hosted at the Utrecht Science park University library, where 74 representatives of
research ethics committees from across the country and different scientific disciplines gathered to
discuss ideas and share best practices. Their relation to ethics mostly stemmed from being member
or chair/secretary of an ethics review committee, but there were also some data stewards, privacy
officers and policy advisors. As could be expected with Nethics as organizer, the social sciences were
best represented with about half of the delegates, and in order of diminishing numbers there were
representatives from humanities, medical sciences, law, economics and government, natural sciences
and technology.

The afternoon opened with a welcome and presentations from existing ethics review platforms in the
social sciences and humanities. For the interactive part of the program delegates representing
different fields and roles gathered around tables for discussion. The first round involved cases that
were briefly introduced to find out whether similar or very different key ethical issues would be
identified. This round yielded mostly agreement about the issues at stake in the presented cases.
Expert presentations with more elaborate cases led to lively discussions on the topics of forms of
consent, vulnerability of participants and the respective responsibility for ethical conduct of research
between the researcher and ethics committee. The overall impression was that representatives with
different backgrounds largely agreed on many of the ethical issues in the cases that were discussed.
Differences were also noted, especially on procedural aspects (whether to allow researchers to
submit a research line, to what extent the research methodology is reviewed and whether the ethics
board should play a role in monitoring whether research that is conducted has been reviewed). Also,
opinions differed on whether individual consent or consent by proxy is necessary in cases where
some ethics boards allow passive consent (‘opt out’). This is especially the case when participants of
research may be considered vulnerable. Finally, in the way that ethics boards see their responsibility
in relation to that of researchers there appeared to be room for differences in interpretation.

The afternoon ended with a discussion on whether and how to proceed with the collaboration
between ethics boards across disciplines. The atmosphere was inspiring, the opportunity to make
new connections was appreciated and many constructive ideas for further development of the
network were suggested. NETHICS and NRIN intend to intensify collaboration to further the aim to
bring human research ethics committees across scientific disciplines together and provide a platform
for discussion and sharing of best practices.

We look back on a successful meeting, and are looking forward to further collaboration!