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Ethics reference documents

Seeking Ethical Review

Ethical approval is best sought before submitting an application to the HRC but this may not always be possible. All HRC-funded research must have, where necessary, ethical approval from the appropriate regulatory agencies before the research begins. 

Where to apply

There are two types of approved ethics committees that conduct ethical review of the proposals to be funded by the HRC:

  • Health and Disability Ethics Committees (HDECs)
  • Institutional Ethics Committees (IECs).

How to apply for ethical approval

To apply for ethical approval you must submit an application for ethical review to an approved ethics committee. For applications to HDECs, the HDEC form must be used. Further information on the process of ethical review is available here.

Specific considerations

Below are some specific considerations, and relevant resources, that you may need to take into account for your particular research:

Observational studies: Observational research, audits and related activities

Is your study an observational study? Observational studies include observational research (which primarily adds to generalisable knowledge about a health or disability issue) and also audits and related activities (which primarily improve the delivery of the particular health or disability support service being studied or to control a threat to public health). 

Observational studies are where the investigator has no control over study variables and merely observes outcomes, and observational studies differ from intervention or experimental studies in that no intervention other than the recording, classifying, counting and analysing of data takes place. More information on observation studies can be found at the National Ethics Advisory Committee website – National Ethical Standards for Health and Disability Research and Quality Improvement

Intervention studies/Clinical trials

Is your study an intervention study? In an intervention study, an investigator intervenes to prevent, diagnose or treat illness or disease, and also studies the effects of the intervention for its safety and/or benefit. A clinical trial of a new blood pressure medicine is an example of an intervention study. More information can be found at:

Māori health research

Does your study involve Māori participants or research on issues relevant to Māori health? You may need to consider initiating consultation with Māori to develop your research project in a culturally appropriate way. Useful resources include:

Pacific health research

Does your study involve Pacific peoples living in New Zealand? You may need to consider the Pacific ethical standards of research. Read the HRC's Guidelines for Pacific Health Research


Does your study involve the use of human tissue for future unspecified research purposes? Does your study involve collection and use of human materials? Does your study involve genetic research? Does your study involve children? Does your study involve personal health information? The following documents will be useful: