Ethical Standards, Item 6: Informed Consent

IVSA Code of Research Ethics and Guidelines | Published: December 2009

6. Informed Consent

Informed consent is a basic ethical tenet of research on human populations. The scope, methodological means, cultural and organizational contexts are understood to vary. The visual research should obtain research subject consent in ways that are consistent with the research methodology and in compliance with ethical standards.

Scope of Consent Standards

(a) Visual researchers conducting research obtain consent from research participants or their legally authorized representatives (1) when data are collected from research participants through any form of communication, interaction, or intervention; or (2) when behavior of research participants occurs in a private context where an individual can reasonably expect that no observation or reporting is taking place.

(b) Researchers may seek waivers of this standard when (1) the research involves no more than minimal risk for research participants, and (2) the research could not practicably be carried out where formal informed consent would be required. Such waivers of consent may require approval from institutional review boards or, in the absence of such boards, from another authoritative body with expertise on the ethics of research.

(c) Visual researchers may conduct research in public places or use publicly-available information about individuals (e.g. naturalistic observations in public places, analysis of public records, or archival research) without obtaining consent. The consent process varies in research methodologies. IVSA supports the ethical research of members whose qualitative work meets ethical considerations for subjects, but may use and negotiate a variety of consensual means for working with research participants over time. Such means include but are not limited to long-term trust building with individuals and communities; the negotiation of use of photographic and other visual images, specifically including the use of identifying information for subject empowerment; the practice of socially responsible research that seeks to provide justice and the fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of research.

(d) In undertaking research with vulnerable populations (e.g. youth, recent immigrant populations, the mentally ill), visual researchers take special care to ensure that the voluntary nature of the research is understood and that consent is not coerced. That the ‘right to be researched’ and the opportunity for empowering the powerless does require special ethical considerations and should be undertaken with the consent of the participants.

Informed Consent Process

(a) When informed consent is required, researchers enter into an agreement with research participants or their legal representatives that clarifies the nature of the research and the responsibilities of the investigator prior to conducting the research, when reasonably possible, given the varied methods.

(b) When informed consent is required, researchers use language that is understandable to and respectful of research participants or their legal representatives.

(c) When informed consent is required, researchers provide research participants or their legal representatives with the opportunity to ask questions about any aspect of the research, at any time during or after their participation in the research.

(d) When informed consent is required, researchers inform research participants or their legal representatives of the nature of the research; they indicate to participants that their participation or continued participation is voluntary; they inform participants of significant factors that may be expected to influence their willingness to participate (e.g. possible risks and benefits of their participation); and they explain other aspects of the research and respond to questions from prospective participants. Also, if relevant, researchers explain that refusal to participate or withdrawal from participation in the research involves no penalty, and they explain any foreseeable consequences of declining or withdrawing. Researchers explicitly discuss confidentiality and, if applicable, the extent to which confidentiality may be limited.

(e) When informed consent is required, researchers keep records regarding said consent. Consent is a process that involves oral and/or written consent, and may be negotiated over the duration of the research.

Informed Consent with Children

(a) In undertaking research with children, visual researchers obtain the consent of children to participate, to the extent that they are capable of providing such consent, except under circumstances where consent may not be required.

(b) In undertaking research with children, researchers obtain the consent of a parent or a legally authorized guardian. Researchers may seek waivers of parental or guardian consent when (1) the research involves no more than minimal risk for the research participants, and (2) the research could not practicably be carried out were consent to be required, or (3) the consent of a parent or guardian is not a reasonable requirement to protect the child (e.g. neglected or abused children). (c) Usually waivers of consent from a child and a parent or guardian require approval from institutional review boards or authoritative body.

Use of Deception in Research

(a) Researchers do not use deceptive techniques (1) unless the researchers have determined that their use will not be harmful to research participants; is justified by the study’s prospective scientific, educational, or applied value; and that equally effective alternative procedures that do not use deception are not feasible; and (2) unless they have obtained the approval of institutional review boards or, in the absence of such boards, with another authoritative body with expertise on the ethics of research.

(b) Visual researchers do not deceive research participants about significant aspects of the research that would affect their willingness to participate, such as physical risks, discomfort, or unpleasant emotional experiences.

(c) When deception is an integral feature of the design and conduct of research, researchers attempt to correct any misconception that research participants may have no later than at the conclusion of the research.

(d) On rare occasions, researchers may need to conceal their identities in order to undertake research that could not practicably be carried out were they to be known as researchers. Under such circumstances, researchers undertake the research if it involves no more than minimal risk for the research participants and if they have obtained approval to proceed in this manner from an institutional review board or, in the absence of such boards, from another authoritative body with expertise on the ethics of research.

(e) Ethical and legal considerations apply to the technical potential of specific recording technologies (e.g. the concealment of cameras and recording devices).

Use of Recording Technology

Researchers obtain informed consent from research participants, students, employees, clients, or others prior to photographing, videotaping, filming, or recording them in any form, unless these activities involve simply naturalistic observations in public places and it is not anticipated that the recording will be used in a manner that could cause harm. Efforts to respond ethically to unintended circumstances and consequences are necessary in a multi-mediated environment. Reasonable efforts may include the visible use of technology (e.g. the led light on video cameras). Informal as well as subsequent formal permissions to record and make public these recordings may be in addition to formal informed consent procedures for research subjects.

The IVSA recognizes and supports the variety of recording technologies in use as well as the diversity of disciplinary standards and methodologies. Conflictive concepts of ethical practice should be presented for deliberation and consultation with authoritative boards and/or senior experts in the different fields.

Reporting on Research

Researchers do not fabricate data or falsify results in their publications or presentations and report findings fully, including and/or omitting visual data that are consistent with ethical considerations above. Disclosure of underlying assumptions, theories, methods, and use of recording technology is expected.

Visual Data Sharing

(a) Share data and pertinent documentation as a regular practice, except where proprietary agreements with employers, contractors, or clients preclude such accessibility or when it is impossible to share data and protect the confidentiality of the data or the anonymity of research participants (e.g. raw field notes or detailed information from ethnographic interview).

(b) Share data in a form that is consonant with research participants’ interests and protect the confidentiality of the information they have been given.

(c) Share recordings and images as part of the research methodology agreed with research subjects. For example: provide photographs to research participants as part of a shared experience and/or form of photo-elicitation methodology.