Collecting informed consent

This support article is accompanied by this sample form.

Collecting informed consent is a common characteristic across research studies, which defines the survey path of each respondent. If the respondent agrees to participate in the study, you can continue with your questions, otherwise you should end the interview and treat the interview as a “refusal”. In this article, we will explain different approaches and best practices for recording consent in your survey.

What is informed consent

Informed consent is an ethical obligation for any human research. You will collect and use data from your respondents’ lives (e.g. livelihoods, knowledge, behavior, etc.), so being transparent and clear about your project is a principle of respect and a legal requirement, allowing participants to make an informed decision whether or not to participate in the study.

This is particularly relevant when you are collecting personally identifiable information (PII). Most organizations have procedures in place, but you can check some general requirements here.

How to collect informed consent

Firstly, regardless of the approach used, language is important. An informed consent statement should communicate all relevant information to the respondent in the most simple, understandable way. This includes not only the voluntary nature of their participation, but also what they can expect in terms of time commitment, privacy, compensation (if any), and risks. In SurveyCTO form designs, you can use separate note fields, or the label of your fields, to display this comprehensive information to the enumerators. Considering that this can be a significant amount of information, make use of HTML tags for formatting field labels to help your enumerators’ reading with different coloring, spaces, font sizes and others.

Below, we will discuss different approaches to record consent using SurveyCTO.

1. Using a select_one field

The most common and easy method to store your respondents’ consent is by creating a question “Do you consent to this interview?”, using a select_one field type with two choices: yes or no.

Although this question alone might not be enough to ensure you that informed consent was given, it’s quite useful to include it in your form design as it allows you to adjust the skip-logic (or relevance) of your survey accordingly. Once the respondent chooses not to consent, it’s very important for sampling purposes to collect this refusal information.

The best practice in this case is to:

  1. Create a group in your form that encloses all fields after the “consent” question.
  2. Give this group  the relevance selected(${consent}, '1').

Note: If you would like to include a field to store a survey status or comments, leave these fields after the consent group so that enumerators can answer these questions after a refusal. This is illustrated in the sample form.

Of course, this method alone relies on trust. While you will see the “yes” value on the dataset, you’re trusting that your enumerator provided the correct information, asked the question correctly, and entered the given answer. Depending on your project specifics, you might need more information for quality control. We will now see some complementary strategies.

2. Recording informed consent with an audio audit

Works on SurveyCTO Collect only

A great addition for any data quality control is to record an audio audit. This is a hidden field that can record audio during the interview. You could complement the select_one field mentioned above with an audio audit to ensure that the informed consent was recorded accurately.

Learn more about the best practices for audio audits here.

3. Visibly recording informed consent

Works on SurveyCTO Collect only

If you are looking for explicit verbal consent, then, instead of invisibly recording audio, you can create an audio field type. This way, when enumerators reach this field, they can deliberately click to record their presentation of the project, the question, and the response.

This promotes transparency, and might incentivize enumerators to be more careful with consent. At the same time, it is an alternative to when hidden audio recordings are not allowed for ethical reasons.


4. Using an image field to collect signature

Works on SurveyCTO Collect only

In some cases, verbal consent might not be enough. Alternatively, requesting respondents’ signature is legal proof of someone's acknowledgement and willingness to participate in the project.

This can be collected using an image field type (using the "signature" appearance), where respondents can write a digital signature on any mobile device.


5. Sharing consent statements with respondents

For more restrictive projects, or depending on your context, you might need to share a consent statement, either paper-based or digitally, with your respondents. Again, depending on the context, different tools can be used. You can distribute them via email, handing a paper consent statement in face-to-face interviews, or even using an SMS. The latter can be particularly useful for CATI research projects, and you can explore this alternative a bit more in these resources:

  1. How to get consent via SMS in phone interviews
  2. Requesting consent via bulk SMS

Do you have thoughts on this support article? We'd love to hear them! Feel free to fill out this feedback form.


Article is closed for comments.