So, your project has been approved, you’ve got funding and a project outline. Next, you need some people!

Your Ethical Responsibilities

When you are recruiting participants for your project there are two main things you should do to follow best practice:

  1. Describe the project so that people can decide whether they wish to take part;
  2. Record their agreement to take part and their consent for use of any information and input they provide during the project.

In describing your project, you should tell people:

  • The project’s overall aim – broadly what you’re trying to improve and for who;
  • Who is running the project – about your organisation or service and your role;
  • The kinds of activities that they will take part in (interviews, workshops etc.);
  • Practical details about the activities – where they will be held, if/how travelling expenses will be covered etc.;
  • How the information and input they provide will be used (i.e. to improve a service);
  • Their right to withdraw or withhold information at any point in the project;
  • How/who can answer any further questions they might have.

In gaining people’s consent you should explain how and where any information and input they provide might get used. Overall, you should ask whether participants wish their contributions to be used anonymously or not. And you might then enable people to decide whether to be anonymous or not depending on where their contribution is used. For example, someone might be happy to be named or recognisable in an academic paper but not in a newspaper article. We suggest making a distinction between:

  • Research and professional (academic and professional papers and conferences, internal projects, reports for decision-makers);
  • General public (everyone else – newspapers, magazines etc.).

It’s helpful to emphasise that whatever people contribute is used to improve a health or social care service, so it’s about making things better not criticising or pointing the finger at what there is now. They may then feel more comfortable about letting you share their input.

The kinds of input people might provide includes what they say, write or draw (on paper and electronically), and photos, videos and audio recordings of them. And  these contributions might be used in papers, articles, websites, DVDs, online videos, TV/Radio. This obviously has implications for how you make people anonymous (if they so choose).

One way of providing this information and recording consent is to use paper documents and below are two templates that you could adapt for your own project:

However, it may not be practical or appropriate to use paper documents. For example if you are conducting a Vox Pops (interview on the street) people are unlikely to read a long document and sign something before they talk to you. In this case you might want to have a poster or display explaining the project nearby so people can read it during/after their interview and a very short “this is what we’re doing, are you happy to be interviewed?” summary to hand to ask people prior to interviewing. Another example is if you are working with cognitively-impaired people, where you need to ensure the information you provide is clear and that it has been understood before consent is given.