Why use this guide?
In certain situations, you need to obtain informed consent from people participating in your research. This is a legal obligation, but it also ensures that people participating feel comfortable and safe about the collection of ‘personally identifiable information’ and understand what will happen to their data.
What is included in this guide?
This guide includes four sections:
- What is informed consent?
- Information to share with participants when getting consent
- When you need to get consent
- How to get consent
What is informed consent?
Informed consent means that participants understand what they are consenting to. This includes the who, how and why their data is being collected, and what the implications are.
Information to share when getting consent
When collecting identifiable research information from participants, you need to make sure that participants know four points:
- The name and contact details of your organisation, as well as any research consultants or academics you’re working with
- What you’ll be using their information for
- How you’ll keep their information private
- That by providing their information they won’t be contacted for non-research purposes.
This includes passive data collection, which is identifiable research information collected by observing, measuring or recording an individual’s actions or behaviour.
You can read more about getting consent in the AMSRS Code of Professional Behaviour PDF, 105.6 KB.
When you need to get consent
Essentially, you need to obtain consent when you’re collecting personally identifiable information.
People’s faces and voices are counted as identifiable research information, so you’ll need consent for any face-to-face research.
Where consent isn’t required, it is still best practice to let people know the details outlined in the section above (Information to share with participants when getting consent).
Special care is needed when children (people under 14), young people (people aged 14 to 17) or other vulnerable groups are involved.
Below is more detailed information about when you’ll need to obtain consent and how you go about getting consent.
Observing and recording
Generally, you must let people know what observation techniques or recording equipment you’re using for research purposes. For example, at your space’s entry you could erect a sign that outlines the research you’re undertaking.
The exception is where you’re openly using any observation techniques and recording equipment in a public place and no identifiable research information is collected.
Interviews and focus groups
For interviews and group discussions/focus groups, you’ll need to obtain permission from everyone participating. The most common way to do this is by asking them to sign a consent form (see below).
In most instances, the return or submission of a survey is considered a form of consent.
Make sure that you share the information outlined above (in the Information to share with participants when getting consent section of this guide) in your survey invitation and at the beginning of your survey.
Working with children, young people and other vulnerable groups
Special care needs to be taken when collecting information from children and young people. You’ll need to get consent from a parent or responsible adult before collecting information from two groups:
- Children under 14 years
- Young people (14-17 years) when sensitive information is being collected.
If undertaking research with children under the age of 14, a parent or responsible adult may need to be present. It is recommended that surveys be sent to the parents or responsible adults and not directly to the children.
You can read more about collecting information from children in the AMSRS guidance on Interviewing Children and Young People.
You must also take special care when collecting information from people in vulnerable circumstances in the community. Such people include, but are not limited to, people with disability, those experiencing homelessness or other disadvantage, people with serious medical conditions and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. You can read more about accessibility in our accessibility guide.
How to get consent
You’ll need to decide what type of consent is required and how you’ll collect and store this information. There are three things to consider:
- Who are you interviewing and what language is most appropriate? i.e. Easy English or language children will understand
- Is audio-recorded consent or written consent most appropriate?
- Who is able to provide consent?
For tips about obtaining written consent, audio consent and posting observation notices, read below.
Whether conducting an interview, focus groups or an online survey, written consent is a good way to make sure you’re sharing all of the relevant information with your participants. You can check out the consent form templates to see which may be right for you.
It is a good idea to print out extra copies of your consent form in case any participants would like to take a copy for their information.
If you’re using an online form or document instead of printed copies, you can email participants a copy.
It can be helpful to send the consent form to people in advance, so that they have the time to read and understand the information.
Also consider if an Easy English version, a translator or an Auslan interpreter may be required.
For interviews and focus groups, you could obtain consent using an audio recording. You’ll probably be recording the interview or focus group anyway.
You must get consent at the start of your interview or focus group. On the recording it is best to include your introduction and description of what your participants are providing consent to. Then ask each participant to state their name and that they consent.
Make sure to store the audio recording file safely and back it up, so you have a record of their consent.