Informed consent

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Informed consent is an ethical requirement for most research and must be implemented from planning to publication. Gaining consent must include making provision for sharing data and take into account any immediate or future uses of data.
 

- UK Data Archive

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Why is gaining consent important?

In the past researchers gained consent from participants primarily so that they could collect data. 

However, many funders are now increasingly requesting researchers to share and preserve their data as part of their requirements.

It is therefore important that participants fully understand:

  • how you will store, publish and share their data
  • how you will ensure that their data remains confidential and anonymous (where applicable) throughout the duration of the project and after
Failure to obtain consent could result in non-compliance with your funder's requirements and limit the opportunities you have to share, publish and preserve your data.

Should consent be written or verbal?

It depends on the kind of research you are conducting. Research generating sensitive, personal or confidential data will generally require written consent. This is to show you have complied with ethical and legal requirements. 

You may also need written consent if you intend to preserve raw data sets, particularly when the data is in a visual or audio format, as the identities of the individuals will probably not be concealed.  

Verbal consent would suffice in research where no personal information has been used, or where an individual's identity has been protected by removing any personal identifiers (e.g. names) from the data.

Either way it is good practice to provide participants with an information sheet about your study, so they can make an informed decision about whether to participate.
 

Do I only need to gain consent the once, or is it an on-going process?

Consent can be gained in a single instance, or throughout the duration of the research process. The table below shows the advantages and disadvantages of both these options.

 Process  Advantages  Disadvantages
 One off

  • avoids having to repeatedly contact participants
  • simple
  • conforms to requirements as set out by Research Ethics Committees
  • more time efficient
  • can be seen 'box ticking' 
 Ongoing

  •  consent can be considered at different stages of the process
  •  may yield better understanding of what participation entails

  • may be seen as intrusive
  • requires more time

Who can help me at Nottingham?

Your department/faculty may have their own regulations regarding how you would gain informed consent. They may also be able to provide sample information sheets and consent forms.

General guidance however, can be found within the University of Nottingham Code of Research Conduct and Research Ethics document (pdf).

Useful resources