Developing a university research agenda requires significant changes to the structure and specialization of an Art and Design institution; it also involves a radical transformation to the “art school” culture and overall mandate. When Emily Carr set out to establish a Research Ethics Board (REB) in 2006, it was responding to a condition of eligibility for funding from the tri-council of federal research agencies—the Social Sciences Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). More than this, the development of an in-house REB has demonstrated how determined this eighty-seven year old institution has been at prioritizing a top-flight “research enterprise.”

In a very short time, Emily Carr has had the enviable distinction of receiving research funding from each of SSHRC, CIHR, and NSERC. This has meant that the Emily Carr REB has had to work quickly and effectively to develop policies and approaches that are consistent with Emily Carr’s relatively unique multi-disciplinary, practice-driven and creativity-focused research culture. As a result, a key facet of the quasi-independent Emily Carr REB office has involved educating and supporting a new research culture. As faculty members have come to secure tri-council funding with increasing frequency, they often find themselves in the position of rethinking or revising creative practice to fit the exigencies of scholarly endeavour. Thus, the Emily Carr REB is tasked with building a structure for researchers and instructors that supports emergent as well as established participant research projects. The following principles have so far guided the work of the Emily Carr REB: “At the University, the purpose of ethics review of research involving human participants is guided by three principles: the protection of research participants, the protection of the Emily Carr of Art + Design community, and the education of those involved in research.”[2]
Within the context of the art and design university, these three principles have come to take on something of a specialized meaning, particularly around questions of creative practice and the exact meaning or definition of human participant research. Painting or photographing a portrait, creating an animation of harm reduction for drug use and addiction, or designing an open source website to share information from an NGO—all necessarily involve human subjects, but do they require REB review and approval? There is no simple answer to this question. The appropriate response has to do with the designation of “research” and the type of knowledge the project hopes to produce. While creative practitioners have learned to adopt the language of research and methodology to describe their own practice, the terminology may actually cause as much confusion as not when it comes to the definition of human subject research and the ethical responsibilities involved for academics.

Published in December of 2010, the second edition of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS2) emphasizes a broad approach to research ethics that articulates unique opportunities for practitioners and researchers in creative disciplines. Integrating these guidelines into Emily Carr’s research policies and practices has produced a vital context for the discussion and exploration of research ethics, across disciplines and faculties at the university. It could be argued that this productive dialogue results in part from the dialogic nature of the TCPS2. Distinct from its 1998 predecessor, the TCPS2 attempts to emphasize the importance of flexibility and on-going review in a newly consolidated set of core principles and in its insistence on the “proportionate approach to research ethics review.”[3] By consolidating the eight core principles of TCPS1 into three comprehensive statements–namely, the respect for persons, a concern for welfare, and the principle of justice—TCPS2 clearly outlines approaches to the ethical treatment of participants during research that are dynamic and adaptable.[4] The revised guidelines are less dependent on the categories and classifications that have been the used to guide research practices and terminology in the past. “Respect for vulnerable persons,” for instance is no longer a unique principal but is now expected to be produced as a result of all three core principles. In other words, the TCPS2 appears to recognize the fluidity of power relations and the fact that all persons hold vulnerabilities; it suggests that concern for the welfare of others requires that researchers carefully assess the unique needs of participants within the context of their research goals and conditions. The inclusion of people in the research enterprise, regardless of their social vulnerabilities or institutional status—in such a way demonstrating the researchers’ recognition that research and knowledge can flow across formal academic boundaries,—would, in the spirit of TCPS2, be taken as a matter of social justice.
Similarly, the TCPS2 emphasizes a “propor-tionate approach to REB review.” Proportionate review suggests that REBs need to be responsive to the conditions in which they operate, as well as responsive to the balance of harm and benefit proposed in the research under review. A proportionate approach means that the REB will provide more scrutiny to projects that propose a greater level of potential risk than those which present no greater than minimal risk to their participants. Both the consolidated principles and the proportionate approach require that the REB processes have on-going discussions with researchers and those who teach research methodologies. That communication needs to reach beyond regular reports and formal reviews.
In keeping with this spirit of dialogue, the Emily Carr REB has been working with the different faculties and faculty members to help articulate the unique requirements of creative practice research involving the participation of others. This involves an on-going consideration of the environment of creative research and key questions about ethics in participant research. We are invited to think about and debate how the Emily Carr REB process might be integrated into media practices like film, video, photography—areas of research and production with well-developed professional standards and practices of consent and permission, that may or may not coincide with other academic standards.
Industry standards and professional practice conventions exist to guide and sometimes govern how consent is negotiated in disciplines like filmmaking, journalism, photography, community art, and others. Emily Carr, like most art and design universities, offers professional practice courses and public projects courses that teach undergraduate students to formulate release documents that reflect various levels of involvement with participants. During the development of the Emily Carr REB, creative producers amongst the faculty have actively questioned the implications of integrating REB scrutiny into these varied practices. The debates swirl around central questions of concern in research and creative projects: Do all creative projects that involve people need to be reviewed by Emily Carr REB? Are art projects research projects or not? Do all members of the community participate in research just by definition of there involvement in the university?
To this end, the Emily Carr REB has come to understand research as professional practice that intends to extend or build on existing knowledge through a disciplined inquiry or systematic investigation, and through the dissemination of findings. Members of the Emily Carr REB understand the significant overlap between academic research and what is alternatively referred to as creative practice and artistic inquiry. Not all artworks involving human subjects require REB approval. In Article 2.6 of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Human Subjects (TCPS2) a distinction between creative practice and research is clearly articulated.
“Creative practice activities in and of themselves, do not require REB review. However, research that employs creative practice to obtain responses from participants that will be analyzed to answer a research question is subject to REB review.”[4]
The TCPS2 application of this guideline expands on the designation of creative practice activities.
“Creative practice is a process through which an artist makes or interprets a work or works of arts. It may also include a study of the process of how a work of art is generated. Creative practice activities do not require REB review, but they should be governed by ethical practices established within the cultural sector.”[4]
While the creative practice leading to the production of art works is significantly different from other forms of academic research, when it is undertaken under the auspices of the university, artists, designers, writers, and media makers are expected to adhere to the three core principles of TCPS2. Creative practitioners of art-based research, like others working in the university, are expected to uphold Respect for Persons, Concern for Welfare, and Justice as guiding principles in their work. Creative practitioners are also bound by the ethical conventions and expectations of their cultural sector. This means that they are expected to conform to the standards of their discipline, particularly concerning how they achieve informed consent and permission from their participants, subjects, or collaborators.
This is an area of dynamic debate within Emily Carr, as it is at other arts-based research institutions and universities across the country. The Emily Carr REB in tandem with faculty and administration looks forward to participating in discussions with our counterparts in other universities and the Tri-council. These discussions are particularly useful to understand the implications of working with review models and standards that have developed in research settings that bear little resemblance to environment of creative inquiry that has developed here. To help enrich the debate, and to maintain a vibrant research culture across all disciplines at Emily Carr, it is important for creative practitioners who undertake work involving human subjects to self-identify their research aspirations and to interrogate the boundaries between their creative practices and the knowledge practices of other conventional modes of academic pursuit. Recognizing that the imported REB model is dependent upon a responsive and dialogic approach, the Emily Carr REB has so far been informed by the discussions amongst peer creative practitioners and researchers within the Emily Carr community. The Emily Carr REB is enthusiastic about its role in guiding and supporting this debate.


  • [1] Address by Dr. David Bogen to the all university meeting on January 5, 2012 at Emily Carr.
  • [2] Emily Carr Research Ethics Board, recommendations for amendment “Policy 5.1.2 Research Involving Humans Procedure”, pending publication, 2011.
  • [3] Panel on Research Ethics, “Highlights of TCPS2”, pdf, accessed January 16, 2012.
  • [4] The original 1998 edition of the TCPS listed the following eight core principles: “respect for human dignity”; “respect for free and informed consent”; “respect for vulnerable persons”; “respect for privacy and confidentiality”; “respect for justice and inclusiveness”; “balancing harms and benefits”; “minimizing harm”; and “maximizing benefit”.

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