Research involves information gathering. Research Ethics concerns the means (i.e. methods) used for data collection, analysis, reporting and publication. When the information to be gathered is not in the public domain, or where its collection involves using human participants, human tissue, or animals, then it is highly likely that some form of ethical review and approval of the research would be required. Informed consent should be at the heart of any ethical research involving human participants and maintaining the dignity, rights, safety, and well-being of participants in the research should be the primary consideration of any research study. Good ethical conduct lies, in the first instance, with researchers themselves. Ethical research is therefore a matter of being risk aware, and not risk averse.
The founding principles in the above agreements form the baseline for obtaining consent from research participants. Valid and properly informed consent must be obtained prior to engaging or starting research with human subjects. The 'ESRC Framework for Research Ethics' has principles regarding what constitutes a freely given and fully informed consent:
'Research subjects must be informed fully about the purpose, methods and intended possible uses of the research, what their participation in the research entails and what risks, if any, are involved' and 'research participants must participate in a voluntary way, free from any coercion.’
The 'Research Ethics guidebook for Social Science' defines consent as a process by which potential participants can decide whether it is worth taking part in a study despite any risks and costs. Respect for people's consent or refusal, helps to prevent harm and abuse, such as the participants feeling of being deceived, exploited, shamed or wronged by researchers. Respect for consent sets standards of respect for the relationship between the researchers and participants.
There are two stages to a standard consent process for competent adults:
Stage 1: Information-giving stage:
The person reflects on the information given; they are under no pressure to respond to the researcher immediately.
Stage 2: Consent-obtaining stage:
The researcher reiterates the terms of the research, often as separate bullet points or clauses; the person agrees to each term (giving explicit consent) before agreeing to take part in the project as a whole.
A researcher can obtain consent using a written or oral consent process, though an oral process is usually only appropriate where a written process is not feasible. Any consent process must be understandable to the participants concerned (i.e. in simple language and at an appropriate comprehension level).