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IU Human Research Protection Program (HRPP)
IU HRPP Policy on Exempt Research defines several categories of human subjects research which IU considers exempt. Exempt research is still subject to human subjects review, but is not required to comply with the same requirements which are applied to expedited and full board research. For a full understanding of the requirements which apply to exempt research, see the IU HRPP Policy on Exempt Research and the additional IU HRPP Policies applicable to exempt research:
- Auditing Human Subjects Research
- Conflict of Interest Reporting to the IRB
- IRB Records and Retention
- Kuali Protocols
- Reportable Events
- Research Data Management
- Research Personnel Responsibilities
- Students and Use of Education Records in Research
- Use of Protected Health Information (PHI) in Research
This guidance provides examples of research which may be exempt and additional considerations for each available exempt category.
Exempt research studies approved in 2020 were migrated to Kuali Protocols in January 2021. Exempt research approved prior to 2020 can be viewed in KC IRB with read only access. These studies were not migrated and are not accessible in Kuali Protocols.
Exempt research is not subject to the formal informed consent requirements described in the IU HRPP Policy on Informed Consent; however, the Belmont Report ethical principle of Respect for Persons generally requires that subjects be given the opportunity to choose whether to participate in research. For this reason, if researchers will be interacting with subjects, subjects should be provided with information about the research and provide their permission to participate.
At a minimum, researchers should provide the following information:
- That subjects are being asked to participate in research
- A description of the study procedures
- A statement regarding any potential risks or benefits of participation
- A statement that participation is voluntary
- The name, affiliation, and contact information of the researcher(s).
Depending on the complexity of the study, the familiarity of the potential subjects with research, and the forum for interaction with subjects, this information may be presented in a number of different ways, including:
- study information sheet template
- short statement incorporated into the beginning of a survey or questionnaire
- verbal discussion with the subject covering the elements above
Minor modifications to exempt studies do not require prior review and approval unless the changes could affect the study's eligibility for exemption. Modifications that have the potential to change the nature of the research and, therefore, the study's eligibility for exemption (i.e. substantive modifications) do require review by the HRPP. Substantive modifications must be submitted to the HRPP for review prior to their implementation. To request review, submit an Amendment to the existing study in Kuali Protocols. You will not be able to submit an Amendment for a study that was not migrated to Kuali Protocols (i.e., was approved prior to 2020). If a substantive change requiring review is needed on an exempt study that was not migrated, a new exempt study submission will be required in Kuali Protocols. Please contact the HRPP if you are unsure if your revision is substantive or whether a new exempt submission is needed.
Examples of minor modifications that can be implemented without review:
- Addition or removal of IU-affiliated study personnel
- Minor revisions to recruitment materials and methods. For example, a change to the phone number or the addition of a newspaper ad when using similar language to an already reviewed flyer. Changes to payment for participation cannot be implemented without review.
- Minor revisions to survey, interview, or focus group instruments that do not fall outside the scope of the original approved instruments. For example, wordsmithing, addition of clarifying questions, addition of very similar questions to those previously reviewed, or deletion of questions.
Examples of substantive modifications that require review:
- Change in PI
- Addition of non-affiliated personnel
- Addition or elimination of federal funding
- Change to study purpose or procedures. For example, adding a survey on a different topic than previously approved or collection of data falling outside the parameters of the data collection previously approved.
- Changes to study population targeted for recruitment. For example, adding a new population or substantively revising the inclusion/exclusion criteria for the current population.
- Changes to payment for participation.
- Changes which may affect subjects' physical privacy or confidentiality of data, such as changes to the identifiability of the research data received or recorded, or changes in the way research data will be stored. Examples include:
- The approved exempt application states that surveys with names will not be collected, but you now want to collect the names.
- You now want to record identifiable data from an existing dataset.
- Your approved application indicated that you will interview individuals in a private space, but you now plan to meet subjects at a coffee shop to conduct the interview.
- Changes to the risks involved in the study, especially changes which could place subjects at risk of criminal or civil liability, or damage to subjects' financial standing, employability, educational advancement, or reputation. For example, you now want to ask subjects about illegal drug use or plagiarism.
Category 1: Research conducted in common educational settings involving normal educational practices
- Commonly accepted educational settings include but are not limited to K-12 schools, college classrooms and/or learning management systems, residency programs, teaching hospitals, special education programs, after-school programs, preschools, vocational schools, alternative education programs, and other sites where educational activities regularly occur.
- If research will be conducted outside of these settings, researchers should justify in their application why the setting is believed to be a commonly accepted educational setting.
- Normal educational practices are activities that would occur regardless of whether the research is conducted.
- Research involving radically new or innovative educational practices may not qualify for exemption. If unusual methods are to be used, researchers should justify why the practice is considered a normal educational practice. One way to do this is to provide a letter from an authority of the school/institution where the research will be conducted attesting to the acceptability and use of the procedures in the normal conduct of education activities at the school/institution.
- If not all students will be participating in the educational practice, you must explain what the students who will not be participating will be doing instead. It is important that the study is designed in such a way that it does not penalize or have potential for stigma for students who will not be participating.
- Subject agreement to participate in the research should be obtained when the research would change the subjects' experience of the course. Notification in the syllabus is acceptable as long as the information also provides students with an opportunity and mechanism to opt out of the research.
- If the study involves research subjects under the age of 18, parental notification and student assent may be needed. Signed parental permission may not be required, but the HRPP typically recommends that researchers notify parents of the research, allow parents to opt-out if they do not want their child to participate, and obtain agreement to participate from the child subject.
- The following should be addressed in the application:
- If the research activities occur during class time or outside of class time.
- If implementing a novel educational method, describe how it differs from the standard method.
- If reviewing and/or collecting student grades and/or standardized test scores, describe what grades or scores will be reviewed and/or collected.
- If observing and/or recording data (audio/video/handwritten) on teachers and/or students, describe the activity.
- If reviewing coursework, describe what coursework will be reviewed, if it will be identifiable, and how subjects' identities will be protected.
- State if the educational activity is being conducted solely for the research study or if the educational activity occurs regardless of whether the research is conducted.
- If your research requires access to student records protected by FERPA, please refer to the HRPP Guidance on FERPA.
- Please also see HRPP Guidance on Students as Subjects.
Examples of research that may qualify for exemption under Category 1:
- A study evaluating the effectiveness of a commonly accepted science curriculum. For the study, researchers will observe classroom instruction and collect quizzes and class evaluations that are part of the curriculum and normal classroom practices.
- A study evaluating the effectiveness of an interactive anatomy/physiology DVD used to help medical students study for exams.
- A study evaluating the effects of a health literacy curriculum on first-year physician assistant students.
- A study comparing driver's education curricula offered by area driving schools. The researcher will observe classes and compare driving test scores at the end of the courses.
Category 2: Research that includes only interactions involving educational tests, survey procedures, interview procedures, or observation of public behavior
Examples of research that may qualify for exemption under Category 2:
- A researcher asks patients who have diabetes to participate in a focus group about their exercise habits.
- An investigator reviews publicly available Twitter posts that include the term “smoking”. The investigator evaluates these posts to determine what type of information Twitter users are sharing about this topic.
- A survey of women at a local hospital regarding their knowledge of and attitudes toward the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
- A research project interviewing adult subjects about the influence of religion on their health.
- A researcher asks nurses from several institutions to complete three online surveys about a new statewide mandate. The surveys include the nurses' email addresses so the surveys can be linked. However, the researcher will not share the email addresses with anyone outside the study team and will destroy the link after completing data collection. Note: Because the responses are linked, the study would not qualify for exemption if the survey responses may put the nurses' employment at risk.
Category 3: Research involving benign behavioral interventions in conjunction with the collection of information from an adult subject
- This category allows researchers to include interventions with subjects in their exempt studies, which is not allowed under Category 2.
- Benign behavioral interventions are brief in duration, harmless, painless, not physically invasive, not likely to have a significant adverse lasting impact on the subjects, and the investigator has no reason to think the subjects will find the interventions offensive or embarrassing.
- If the information is recorded so that subjects can be identified, and disclosure of the subjects' responses could place the subjects at risk of criminal or civil liability or be damaging to the subjects' financial standing, employability, educational advancement, or reputation, the study may still be exempt but will be reviewed by an IRB member who will determine there are adequate provisions to protect subjects' privacy and confidentiality.
- Subject agreement to participate in the research must be obtained.
- Studies involving children cannot qualify for this exemption.
Examples of research that may qualify for exemption under Category 3:
- Groups of subjects are given tests to complete under varying light or noise levels
- Subjects are shown different emotionally charged videos and then asked survey questions about political or religious beliefs
- Subjects are shown a series of images on a computer screen, asked to push a button when they appear, and their reaction time is measured
Category 4: Secondary research uses of identifiable private information and identifiable biospecimens
Research involving the collection or study of existing data, documents, records, pathological specimens, or diagnostic specimens if:
- These source(s) are publicly available;
- The information is recorded by the investigator in such a manner that subjects cannot be identified directly or through identifiers linked to the subjects;
- Chart reviews using only data protected by HIPAA; or
- Federal research using data collected by a federal agency.
- The study need only fit into one of the above sub-categories to qualify for exemption. For example, the third sub-category exempts review of medical records that are protected by HIPAA. This does not include other documents such as student records; however, a review of student records would be exempt if identifiers are not recorded.
- The date the original record is created is not relevant. Studies can include records that are created after the study is approved (e.g., prospective or retrospective).
Examples of research that may qualify for exemption under Category 4:
- A research study of treatment outcomes for a drug that involves only the review of patient charts at an IU-affiliated hospital
- A graduate student has access to identifiable data from a study previously conducted by her faculty advisor, but she only records deidentified data into her own research records
Category 5: Research and Demonstration Projects Studying Public Benefit Programs
Category 5 is limited to research on federal public benefit programs. Research on state or local public benefit programs are outside the scope of Category 5.
Category 6: Taste and Food Quality Evaluation Studies
- The food ingredients may not have been manipulated by the investigator.
- If it involves plants or animals raised for food products, the level of chemical additives or environmental contaminants must be at or below the levels approved by the FDA, EPA, or USDA.
- Studies involving the consumption of alcohol, vitamins, and other supplements do not qualify for exemption.
Examples of research that may qualify for exemption under Category 6:
- A taste study evaluating the differences in taste of various types of apples grown nationally
- A taste study analyzing the effects of an additive to beef if the additive has been determined to be safe by the FDA
- The taste effects of a low-level environmental contaminant on a food product that has been deemed safe by the FDA and EPA
HIPAA applies to exempt research to the same extent it applies to expedited and full board human subjects research. See the IU HRPP Policy on Use of PHI in Research for additional research.
When research, including recruitment, is to be conducted at an institution, organization, company, or other site not affiliated with IU, such as public or private schools or businesses, keep in mind the following:
- The PI must obtain and document permission from the appropriate authority to allow the conduct of the research or recruitment at the external site. This documentation must be made available to the HRPP upon request.
- The PI is responsible for complying with IU policies and procedures pertaining to the conduct of exempt research as well as with any policies and procedures of the institution/organizations where the research is being conducted.
- When research is to be conducted in a language other than English, the PI must provide subjects with accurately translated study documents (e.g., Study Information Sheet, recruitment materials, surveys). Only the English versions of these documents should be submitted in Kuali Protocols for review. However, translations must be made available to the HRPP upon request.