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Research consent

Research appears in various guises. These include medical research such as medication, social research or psychological research. Projects may be undertaken at various levels by drug companies, professionals such as doctors or nurses or to obtain courses such as PHDs, Degrees or Diploma.

Questions are often raised regarding the necessity to obtain consent. Consent may be required from the institution in which the study is being undertaken or from the research subjects themselves or their representative. A representative may be required to give consent if the subject is under 16 years of age or unable to give consent due to conditions such as dementia. The representative concerning children, is their parents or guardian and not just the establishment such as a school. In some cases, it may not be necessary for  a parent to give consent if it can be proved that the child fully understands (Wiles et al 2009)

Consent itself may be obtained in various forms such as in writing or verbally. Consent forms must be clear about the aims and methods of the study and must be dated and signed by the researcher and the subject. It is advantageous to continuously review consent and not merely obtain it on commencement of the project (Munhall 1988). This provides the subject with the opportunity to withdraw consent or to be updated regarding the purpose and methods of the study.
The provision of consent protects the subject and the researcher. It illustrates that the subject is fully aware of the purposes of the research and the methods to be used. It illustrates that the researcher has informed the subjects fully. It also further validates the study by indicating that subjects have not been coerced into participation in any way and that their selection is unbiased.
There are some instances when consent may be questioned, especially concerning psychological studies. Consider for example, a study concerning lying. If the person is told it is  a lie beforehand, it would invalidate the study. Also the use of placebos in medical research. Although consent is sought in such cases, the subject is not informed that it a   placebo at the time. If a researcher was studying people in a street, it would not be possible to obtain consent from all members of the public during an observation. However, if taking photographs, consent must be sought. In an observation within an establishment, a poster could be displayed giving individuals the opportunity to be excluded from observations. However, it could be argued, that not all individuals have seen the poster.

If studies are being undertaken by people within establishments such as a college, it is essential that the establishment posses a policy regarding consent. A lack of guidance may promote studies without consent and confusion may arise. A number of agencies in England will review the ethics of a  study, of which consent is  a part. This includes NHS committees who consider topics undertaken within the NHS. NRES who consider medical topic sin the NHS. Also SRES who consider social research projects. Universities also have ethics committees for their students and employees.
Any research implies that subjects may be affected by their involvement. Even if the method is purely interviews about a seemingly non-sensitive subject. Therefore consent must be sought for all studies. At college level and even school level, it is important to be aware of this.

Wiles R, Heath S, Crow G, Charles V (2009)
Informed consent in social research: A literature review
ESRC. London

NRES (National Research Ethics Services)
4-8 Maple Street

SRES (Social Research Ethics Services)
Social Care Institute for Excellence
Golding’s House
2 Hay’s Lane

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