Producing an informed consent form

When interviewing people you will need to do an informed consent form. This is essential to the ethics of all research conducted by or undertaken under the direction of universities. It is also vital for responsible professional practice.

Informed consent forms are signed by research project participants to show that they are in agreement with taking part in the research, that they have enough information about the project to make an informed decision and that they agree to the data being used in specified ways. There is an excellent introductory guide that I recommend. I have drawn on this and adapted it to provide the bare bones guidance below.

Their nature of informed consent forms varies according to the nature of the project, but below is a fairly standard format that can be adapted according to need. It is assumed here that you are not interviewing children or vulnerable adults (such as those with learning or communication difficulties). That gets more complicated. There are two forms of consent: direct consent from individuals who are able to give informed consent and assent or proxy consent for those individuals who are unable to give informed consent. This brief guidance here only deals with the former. It also assumes that the research does not involve a level of risk above that of everyday life. Remember, if in doubt, get advice.

It begins with an introduction that states:

• Summary of the project – Title, name of researcher, any other relevant details
• Statement of confirmation
• Name of participant, signature and date

You need to make the instructions totally clear. It is recommended that you use tick boxes and keep it all in the first person. For example:

I have read and understand the purpose of the study 
I have been given the chance to ask questions about the study and these have been answered to my satisfaction 
I am willing to be interviewed 
I am willing for my comments to be recorded 
I understand that I can withdraw at any time if I change my mind 
I am aware that my name and details will be kept confidential and will not appear in any printed documents 

If you intend to name respondents in any report (which obviously can happen depending on the nature and purpose of the research) then you leave out the last statement. Remember that the statements above are indicative, not comprehensive. An additional statement can be put in that provides contact details if they wish to complain about or raise any issues about the conduct of the research. This should not be you.

Then we need a space for you and the participant to sign and date it.

All data collected must be rendered anonymous, unless the participants have waived anonymity.

Some organisations have very specific formats for such forms, so you must ensure that any such procedure is adhered to.

A basic statement of confirmation can look like this:

This information will be held and processed for the following purpose(s):
_________________________________________________(Project title)

I agree to the University of Dundee recording and processing this information about me. I understand that this information will be used only for the purpose(s) set out in the information sheet supplied to me, and my consent is conditional upon the university complying with its duties and obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998.
Name___________________________
Signature________________________ Date ___________

Obviously keep all copies of these signed forms secure.