Reviewer guidance (for ethics panel members)

Guidance for reviewing ethics application

If you are a reviewer for the LEL Ethics Committee, this page will guide you through the steps in evaluating an application, requesting revisions, and granting approval.

A step-by-step guide

Step 1: Wait for an email

  1. An email will be sent from pplsethics@ed.ac.uk to your email account alerting you to a new submission.
  2. Click on the link in the email, which will take you to the PPLS Ethics portal page for that submission.

Step 2: Reviewing

  1. The link will take you directly to the application form. Note especially the following:
    1. What kind of data are being collected?  (2.1D.10)
    2. Special considerations, like vulnerable participants? (2.1D.7a-2.1D.7i)
    3. If level 2+, a secondary reviewer will automatically be assigned.
    4. Note what level of consent is being sought. (2.1D.6c) This must match the consent tick boxes on the consent form submitted.
  2. At the end of the form, you will see a link directing you to the “Uploads” area.

Step 3: Checking documents (“Uploads”)

  1. Once in the Uploads area (you can also get here by clicking “Uploads” in the top navigation bar), check all the uploaded notes and forms.
    1. The most recent version of documents uploaded will be at the end of the list.
    2. Applicants submitting minor amendments will leave a note describing the change.
    3. Check consent form(s) and any other documents uploaded.
    4. See if the documents adhere to ethical standards.
    5. Check that the documents match what was indicated on the application form.

Step 4: Secondary reviewers

  1. If you need another pair of eyes on a submission, you can assign a secondary reviewer, by going clicking on the “Reviewer Tools” link on the top navigation bar, and choosing “Add Reviewer”.
  2. If the application is level 2+ there will be a secondary reviewer assigned. Reviewers can discuss the application via the “Reviewer Tools” section, in the Messages and Notes section.
  3. Note that the secondary reviewer cannot approve the application themselves.

Step 5: Sending comments or approving

  1. If you are ready to approve the submission, click the “Approve Submission” button at the bottom of the Uploads page. Confirm that you have consulted the secondary reviewer (if required). Approval triggers an automatic email to the applicants.
  2. There are several ways to ask questions/request revisions.
    1. The primary methods is to generate and upload a pdf of your comments by clicking the “Reviewer Tools” link in the top navigation bar and using the “approval comments form”. The pdf will be automatically added to the Uploads area (triggering an email to the applicant).
    2. You can also upload a note directly in the uploads section. For example if you approve the application, but notice some small typos (see below). The applicant will be automatically notified that you’ve logged a message.
    3. In either case, you can additionally upload specific feedback directly onto a submitted document (e.g. with tracked changes), in Uploads (triggering an email to the applicant).

Minor changes/revisions

In some cases, you may notice minor issues with an application, which do not have ethical implications per se, but which you think require revisions to some part of the application. In that case, you may approve the application but leave a note to the applicants (in the Uploads section) telling them to make the minor change(s). This will allow the applicants to proceed with their research rather waiting for additional review process.

Researchers may also re-submit applications with minor revisions (see here for a list of what counts as a minor revision). In this case, they will leave a note in the Uploads section informing the reviewer of the change. They will proceed with the research, but the reviewer must re-approve the application.

Generating an approval document

If someone asks for an official approval letter, you can fill out the “Approval Template” in the Reviewer Tools section.

Other issues arising

    1. To access your applications (either reviewing or submitted), go to: https://resource.ppls.ed.ac.uk/ethics/, click “Existing applications” from the top navigation bar.
    2. If you cannot complete a review (e.g., due to personal circumstances, workload, etc.) contact Cedric MacMartin (c.macmartin@ed.ac.uk), and ask him to reassign the submission to another panel member.
    3. Revisions to documents.
      1. Note that corrections of any kind to the uploaded forms require the applicant to edit and resubmit the application (‘view form > edit’ — the small button circled in red below)
      2. To reduce the amount of time/work required to make changes to the documentation, we recommend:
        • Applicants carefully proof-read their submitted documents.
        • Applicants upload a version of each document with tracked changes plus final clean version to avoid resubmission.
      3. Once uploaded, a document cannot be deleted. That means all previous drafts of a document will be on the uploads list. Use the same name for each document type (e.g. consent form, debrief), reviewers can keep track of the most recent version using the submission time.

Automatic emails generated by the system

There are a variety of emails sent automatically by the system. Here they are (subject lines in quotes).

Submission emails

    1. “form submission”, sent to main applicant (only) when their application has been saved/logged on the system. Does NOT confirm submitted/sent for review. Says “Your online PPLS ethics application form has been recorded and is now awaiting any file uploads.”
    2. “form submission”, sent to (non-main) applicants, to let them know that an application is ready for them to sign. Says “An ethics form which lists you as a researcher has been created and is now ready for signing.”
    3. “form submission”, send to primary reviewer (only), to let the reviewer know that an applicant has resubmitted their application and it is now ready to be reviewed again. Says “A form for an ethics submission you are reviewing has been resubmitted.”

Message notification emails:

      1. “message notification”, sent to reviewers (only), to let reviewers know that a message has been left in the reviewer’s area. Says “A message has been left by XXX concerning the ethics submission.”
      2. “message notification”, sent to applicants (only), to let them know that a message has been left in the co-applicant messages area.

File upload email: “file upload”, sent to applicants when a review has been left. Says “File XXX.pdf has been uploaded by a reviewer.”

Approval email: “approval”, sent to applicants when their application has been approved.