International Research

International Research

International Research - Image

Researchers can use this information to support their preparations for conducting international research. We encourage researchers to provide TC IRB reviewers with detailed and thorough information on local customs and practices at a given international research site.

International research typically includes (i) two or more countries, often with the purpose of comparing responses between them, or (ii) research conducted in a country different from the researcher’s country of origin. Research of this nature might be done to devise strategies for diverse cultures, evaluate the cultural appropriateness of measures or procedures, or suggest local adjustments to a global strategy.

International research is essential to understanding diverse perspectives and experiences. However, research sponsored by developed-world entities (both public and private) and conducted in the developing world is enmeshed with complex ethical issues. In research settings, people are asked to assume risk and inconvenience in the interest of advancing knowledge designed to benefit individuals and societies. 

Codes of research ethics, regulations, laws, policies, and norms guiding researchers aim to minimize the possibility of exploitation of individuals by carefully protecting participant rights and welfare. Widely recognized provisions to protect research participants include:

  • Thorough independent review to assure the rigor of the research question and design.
  • Assessment of potential risks in relation to benefits and attention to minimizing risks.
  • Fair procedures for subject recruitment and selection.
  • Informed consent.
  • Linguistic, cultural, and social appropriateness.

TC IRB has created a Data Security Plan for all researchers (MyTC/Mentor IRB/Documentation/Data Security Plan). In most cases, the Data Security Plan serves as a foundational basis for research. 

Preparing New Researchers for International Settings

When most researchers think of international research, they consider the excitement of travel and adventure. International research is also challenging, as it requires researchers to adapt to new ways of life, a change in routine, limited communication with support networks, and a balance of personal beliefs with new customs. Researchers should be properly prepared and trained for the rigors of international research before entering the study site. For example, researchers should:

  • Define their research role in the area
    • Consider power dynamics
    • Understand the scope of the work
    • Set realistic expectations and boundaries
  • Prepare for linguistic, cultural, and social norms different from their own
  • Set a realistic timetable for participants and their data collection
    • Obtain visas, health checks, background checks, and travel items
    • Check for travel advisories
    • Be updated on known infectious diseases
    • Get vaccinated for infectious diseases known to the area
    • Know relevant security and protection resources
  • Understand challenges in high-risk areas
    • Obtain proper training to handle known and potential challenges
    • Know available human service and healthcare resources in the area
    • Establish safeguards for individual protection, the protection of research participants, and their data

For information on travel preparedness and advisory updates, please visit TC and Columbia University's websites. Please also make sure to register your travel with the appropriate offices; for more information please review our International Travel Checklist.

Data Sharing and Transmission with External Researchers

When conducting research in partnership with another institution, researchers should establish a data-sharing agreement prior to data collection. A data-sharing agreement is a formal agreement that clearly defines what data is being shared, and how the data will be used according to specific terms and conditions as outlined in the agreement. Before conducting any research or sharing data, both parties should discuss anticipated data-sharing, data-use, and data-security issues to document in the agreement. A data-sharing agreement template can be found in MyTC/Mentor IRB/Documentation.

Maintain Secure and Private Communications 

Communications between researchers should only be conducted over TC email accounts and secure Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). When discussing participants, identifying information cannot be sent over electronic communications. However, when working across time zones, it may be difficult to set up a time to speak on the phone, especially in an emergency. In these cases, researchers should rely on using pseudonyms or unique codes. Never share the name of a participant or their information in an email or text message, as these communications are not strictly confidential. 

For more information, visit the International Compilation of Human Research Standards.

The OHRP has published international research standards for Asia and the Pacific Region. Additionally, there are seven United Nations treaty bodies that govern international human rights. Please consult these bodies as relevant to your research site:  

  • Human Rights Committee (HRC)
  • Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)
  • Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
  • Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
  • Committee Against Torture (CAT)
  • Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRCD)
  • Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW)

There are several organizations intended for the protection and welfare of people. Researchers should familiarize themselves with guidelines posted by committees relevant to their research:

  • CAT - Committee Against Torture
  • CEDAW - Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
  • CERD - Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  • CESCR - Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • CHR - Commission on Human Rights
  • CMW - Committee on Migrant Workers
  • CRC - Committee on the Rights of the Child
  • CSW - Commission on the Status of Women
  • DAW - Division for the Advancement of Women
  • DESA - Department on Economic and Social Affairs
  • ESC - Economic and Social Council of the United Nations
  • FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  • HABITAT - United Nations Human Settlements Programme
  • HRC - Human Rights Committee
  • IASC - Inter-Agency Standing Committee
  • ICJ - International Court of Justice
  • OCHA - Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
  • OHCHR - Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • OSAGI - Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women
  • UNAIDS - Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
  • UNDP - United Nations Development Programme
  • UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • UNGA - General Assembly of the United Nations
  • UNHCR - United Nationals High Commissioner for Refugees
  • UNICEF - United Nations Children's Fun
  • UNIFEM - United Nations Development Fund for Women
  • UNIFPA - United Nations Population Fund
  • UNMA - United Nations Mine Action
  • UNTS - United Nations Treaty Series
  • WHO - World Health Organization

Researchers interested in working with non-English speaking participants must include completed translation verification forms in their application. All recruitment and study materials must be transcribed by verified translators/interpreters. If research is to be conducted internationally, researchers must also submit proper documentation to be approved by the IRB, the Office of Risk Management, and the Office of Global Engagement. 

Documents for Translations and Research Across Borders

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