Difference between quality improvement and research

The following criteria can be used to decide whether Research Ethics Board review and approval are needed. If you are unsure, please contact the REB office (TEL, email) to discuss your project.

Criteria Research Quality improvement/Program evaluation


  • Generate new knowledge
  • Test innovative practice, therapy or technology
  • Understand a phenomenon
  • Improve internal processes, practices, costs, or productivity for specific interventions or programs that are standard of care/practice


  • Broadly generalizable, or of interest to researchers or health professionals elsewhere
  • May not have direct benefits to research participants, but knowledge may have future benefits for the research population or those who wish to apply the research findings
  • Local managers, clinicians, staff
  • Intervention or program recipients
  • Not usually relevant outside the setting


  • Usually requires a source of funding
  • Some research is unfunded
  • Typically included in operating budget


  • Potential for physical, emotional, or privacy risks due to change in usual standard of care, or from being exposed to questions about sensitive issues
  • Data must be de-identified and anonymized
  • No risks
  • Data must be de-identified and anonymized


  • May include individuals outside your setting
  • Sample size depends on design (ie. quantitative or qualitative), stage of research (ie. pilot testing or exploratory study versus testing), and research question
  • Usually restricted to internal participants
  • Sometimes external stakeholders or experts may be consulted
  • Sample size depends on number of intervention/program recipients but are typically small convenience samples


  • Mixed methods may apply
  • Protocol typically remains unchanged through the course of the study to limit confounding
  • May take considerable time
  • Mixed methods may apply
  • Protocol may be flexible and confounding variables are acknowledged but not controlled
  • Typically rapid process limited by the availability of local resources

Sharing of findings

  • Broad dissemination
  • Publications, presentations, etc.
  • Communicated within the organization

Application of findings

  • Contribute to body of knowledge that collectively informs practice and/or policy
  • May also be relevant locally
  • Change local practice
  • Improve local program design

Is REB review and approval required?



* NOTE: Publication of quality improvement findings, even when locally relevant only, often requires ethical review and approval. Before launching a project, consider whether and how you will share the findings, and check author instructions for intended peer reviewed journals. REB review and approval cannot take place once a project has started, or upon its completion.

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