Research should be based, as far as possible and practicable, on the freely given informed consent of those under study
Research involving human subjects can pose complex ethical issues which require careful thought and consideration on the part of both researchers and research participants. Prospective participants should always be given adequate information on both the possible risks and the potential benefits of their involvement to allow them to make informed decisions about whether or not to participate in the research.
- Research should be based, as far as possible and practicable, on the freely given informed consent of those under study. However, it is recognized that in some cases it may be necessary to employ covert methods should these constitute the only means to obtain the required data.
- It is the responsibility of the researcher to explain as fully as is reasonable and appropriate, and in terms meaningful to the participants: the aims and nature of the research, who is undertaking it, who is funding it, its likely duration, why it is being undertaken, the possible consequences of the research, and how the results are to be disseminated.
- The power imbalance between researcher and researched should be considered. Care should be taken to ensure that the latter are not pressurized into participation. Research participants should be aware of their right to refuse participation at any time, including withdrawal from a research project at any stage, and should not be given the impression that they are required to participate. It should also be recognized that research may involve a lengthy data-gathering period and that it may be necessary to regard consent not as obtained once and for all, but subject to re-negotiation over time.
- The researcher should explain how far research participants will be afforded anonymity and confidentiality and participants should have the option of rejecting the use of data-gathering devices such as tape-recorders, video cameras, and digital recording devices.
- If there is a likelihood of data being shared with or divulged to other researchers, the potential uses of the data should be discussed with the participants and their agreement to such use should be obtained.
- Where access to a research setting is gained via a ‘gatekeeper’ external to the University, researchers should also obtain the informed consent of research participants, while at the same time taking account of the gatekeeper’s interests. It should be borne in mind that the relationship between research participant and gatekeeper may well continue long after the research has been undertaken.
- Where research participants are young children or other groups that may be made vulnerable in or by specific social conditions relevant to the research such as elderly, disabled or sick people, or people with learning difficulties whose understanding is impaired in some way so that they are unable to give full informed consent, it may be necessary to use a proxy in order to gather data. In this case great care must be taken not to intrude upon the privacy of the vulnerable participants. The researcher should consult relevant professionals, parents/guardians and relatives, as appropriate. Researchers should attempt to obtain the informed consent of children and their parents and in relation to schoolchildren those who are in loco parents.
- In addition to obtaining the informed consent of those under study, researchers should attempt to anticipate and guard against the possible harmful consequences of their research for participants.