Here at Active Outcomes, we work with a lot of organisations, both within the private sector and with non-profits such as charity, community, and voluntary groups to deliver consultation and community engagement activities.
We’d like to share the expertise we’ve built up with you and today we’re going to explain exactly how to go about gaining consent from participants in your consultation activity.
Firstly, it is not always necessary to ask for consent, especially when the person being consulted has decided to do it without you prompting them, for example, if they click on a link to complete an online survey to leave feedback about the delivery service they experienced when your product was delivered. This implies consent as they understand what they are providing the information for and have a good idea about how it will be used.
For other kinds of consultation, and in particular, those that will ask for information which the respondent may feel is personally sensitive, it is best practice to provide a short explanation about why you are asking these questions, what the data will be used for and how you will protect any confidential information.
So, for example, while it may not be practical to ask a person you speak to during a telephone interview to complete and sign a written form, you can read out a pre-prepared statement that explains the reasons for your consultation and then ask that they provide consent orally in order to proceed any further with the consultation.
If you are going to speak with respondents directly, one of the easiest ways to record consent is to create a form that participants can sign. This could be as simple as a table that they can each sign and date to say that they have read and understood the text explaining the consultation and agree to the terms. See the example below:
This type of form helps people understand what they have been asked to do and can be passed around a group quickly so that it does not take a lot of time if you are limited on that front. However, it does only cover the basics. If you are undertaking more in-depth consultation, we recommend you create a form that each individual can read and refer to alone so that they can make a better assessment about whether they feel comfortable proceeding, without feeling pressured to scan the text, sign their name and pass it on to the person next to them.
What to Include
When designing a consent form we suggest you include the following information:
- Purpose: Explain why you are asking the questions and what their answers may be used for. Try to be as specific as possible, you can consider having tick boxes so people can consent to one aspect and not another (for example, they could agree that their answers can be used anonymously to feed into an evaluation report that is sent to a funding body but not that they can be made available online on your website).
- Confidentiality: If you will be maintaining anonymity for participants tell them, if you will not then explain your reasons for asking for this. Tell participants how you will store, process and protect the security of any personally identifiable information they provide to you.
- Introductions: Some participants may not be familiar with you or your work, introduce the facilitator of the session by name and any other assistants or observers who will be present, tell them about your organisation and what it does.
- Duration: Be up-front about the amount of time that will be required. If you run the session as a drop-in and participants can leave at any time let them know. If they are required to take part in the full session and it is vital they are present for every question, tell them so before you get started.
- Procedural Information: Let participants know any important safety information, such as emergency exits, and the location of any facilities they may need to use in the course of the session. Consider explaining how the consultation activity will work as your participants may never have taken part in a focus group or round-table discussion before. Tell them what behaviour is appropriate, for example, not to talk over others, to allow everyone to speak, to help themselves to refreshments.
- Recording/Photography Consent: As an additional aspect of the consent process, if you will record the session in any format, video, audio or photography, ask for permission to do so, especially if you intend to share images of the people involved publically.
You may have specific requirements to add to this list and some of the information we suggest you include will not be relevant, but we think the above bullet points provide a good starting point for creating a Consultation Consent Form.
We have attached a link to a simple Focus Group Consent Form to help you get started and we’ve placed an image of the document below, click the link that follows to see the PDF version: Focus Group Consent Form.
Remember, try and keep things simple so that everyone understands what information you want and what you are trying to achieve in your consultation.