It is a requirement of ethics approval in New Zealand that each person invited to take part in research gives informed and voluntary consent to their participation and that evidence of this is obtained. It is important not only to obtain informed and voluntary consent but to obtain evidence of it. This ensures your own safety as the researcher as well as adequate transparency and accountability.
In most contexts, AUTEC requires researchers to provide participants with an Information Sheet that they can keep, and to obtain a signed copy of a written Consent Form . The researcher needs to keep the Consent Form for at least six years, in case verification is required for some reason. Information Sheets and Consent Forms need to have been approved by AUTEC before they are used.
A written Consent Form is not the only way that a person's consent can be evidenced however. When the only research instrument is an anonymous survey or questionnaire (i.e. when the researcher will be unable to identify who has completed the survey or questionnaire and there are no interviews or anything else involved) then AUTEC considers it sufficient for a statement that says something like 'Completion of this questionnaire (or survey) will be taken as indicating your consent to participate' to be included both in the Information Sheet and at the beginning of the questionnaire or survey.
When an interview, survey or questionnaire is being conducted by telephone, AUTEC usually requires that a written Information Sheet is sent to participants. Depending on on the nature and context of the conversation, a verbal consent process may be approved. Any verbal consent however needs to be adequately evidenced, e.g. recorded on audiotape. This minimises risk for the researcher as well as for the participants. It is important that the consent in these circumstances is fully informed and that it explicitly covers the issues that would be included in a written Consent Form (cf AUTEC's Consent Forms exemplars - see the link to the left).
In some other cultural or social contexts, AUTEC may permit other ways of evidencing consent, providing that it is satisfied that any possible risk to the researcher and participants will be minimal. In particular, AUTEC is always concerned to ensure that participants have been adequately informed about what is happening in the research and that they have had reasonable time to consider this information. AUTEC will not approve alternative means of recording consent if it considers that the informed and voluntary nature of the participants' consent is lessened. In these cases, researchers need to provide AUTEC with justification for using a different form of evidence, e.g. video recording consent, and to provide a consent protocol that outlines how this will occur. This needs to include exactly how the points usually contained in the Consent Form will be communicated to participants and recorded.
When conducting an interview online, it is important to clearly identify how the participants are being invited and what opportunity they will have to consider whether or not to take part. Once they consent, there are three commonly used options for evidencing this:
1. They are sent a Consent Form with the Information Sheet which they sign, scan or photograph, and return to the researcher.
2. They copy the content of the Consent Form into an email and send that to the researcher with a sentence indicating their agreement. In this case, it is important that the email is clearly from the participant.
3. The researcher uses an oral consent protocol, which echoes the statements in the Consent Form, and goes through this before the interview commences. This is recorded, either by video or audio, with its location being noted and then later separated from the interview data for separate storage.
The consent protocol along with the Consent Form or oral consent protocol, needs to be provided to AUTEC along with an Information Sheet that lets participants know that they will be expected to take part in an online interview.
There are also many cultural contexts where some form of collective assent is required. It should be noted here that individual consent is always required and that the cultural requirements for some form of collective assent are always additional to that legal and human rights requirement.
Further more, in some cultural or social contexts, written evidence of individual informed and voluntary consent is not appropriate. In these cases, AUTEC will consider alternative ways of evidencing consent, and assent, taking into account the ethical requirements involved, the cultural context, the levels of risk involved, what data is being collected and how this will occur, and the practicalities of the situation. When oral consent is being obtained, some form of recording that, e.g. audiotape or videotape, which clearly evidences the participants' involvement will be necessary.