Lay Membership of Ethics Committees

Defining a lay member

Lay members come from a variety of backgrounds and fields of work. Examples include academics from other fields, managers in areas unrelated to the research area, lawyers, ethicists, administrative staff, librarians, safety officers, and people from the local community, clergy or public services. Lay members should have no vested interest in the matters under review, and may also be independent of the institution where the research is conducted.                             

Benefits of lay participation

  • Providing a different perspective - Asking questions that people more deeply involved in the research might not identify or consider asking; viewing established practice and accepted norms with a fresh eye; and stimulating new or different ways of thinking about the ethical issues.
  • Helping to ensure the integrity of the ethics committee - From an independent stand-point: checking that procedures are rigorous, that all participants play an active part, and that decisions and advice are acted upon.
  • Supplying a degree of public representation - Bringing a societal perspective to consideration of research. It is unrealistic to expect individual lay members to represent the full spectrum of public opinion, but lay participation is a contribution to openness and can help researchers see how members of the public might view their work.

Useful personal qualities for lay members

  • Being open-minded, fair and impartial.
  • Being prepared to listen and respond thoughtfully to differing views.
  • Being prepared to 'think outside the box' and challenge the status quo.
  • Having the confidence to ask questions and initiate discussion in a committee environment.
  • Having realistic expectations of what can be achieved.
  • Having the commitment and time to take an active role.

A summary of the role and tasks of the lay member

The composition of the ethics committee requires it to have a lay member who is not employed by the University of Wolverhampton. An appointed lay member will be asked to perform the same tasks as members from within the University, including scrutinising applications for ethical approval, discussing new policy developments and participating in the annual audit of projects.

The lay member will need to be prepared to have their full name, profession and affiliation recorded. Any conflicts of interest should be declared and recorded.

The lay member is expected to maintain confidentiality regarding applications, meeting deliberations, information on research participants, and related matters. Like all Committee members, lay members are normally required to attend in full at least two-thirds of all scheduled Committee meetings in each academic year. Attendance at scheduled meetings should be of sufficient frequency to ensure an effective contribution to the work of the Committee. Committee members will normally be required to scrutinise at least two-thirds of the applications they are asked to review in each academic year.