One way in which researchers attempt to address some of these issues is through obtaining ‘Informed Consent’ from the subjects. This is when you inform subjects prior to the study of the nature/purpose of the research/evaluation and who is financing it, what you will require from the subjects and what may subsequently happen in terms of the findings. It is important therefore that the information gathered is used only for the purposes stated, and not made available to other people or organisations. Having informed the subjects (and ensured they understand), you then seek their consent to participate, sometimes by getting them to sign a short form to this effect, a copy of which they retain.
The extent to which you can ever ‘fully inform’ subjects of the outcomes of the study is a mute point in that we cannot predict all future ramifications. We are not soothsayers! Additionally, Informed Consent is problematic for certain types of subjects eg. the mentally ill or handicapped. For younger subjects informed consent should be sought from a guardian.
However, it is also often the case in evaluations that subjects are already fully aware of the study and eager to participate which might raise questions over the suitability of using consent forms.
The main point is to consider the context of the study and its subjects in the light of the above considerations to make ‘ethically informed decisions’ prior to conducting the evaluation, and where ambiguities arise seek further advice. Researchers need to ensure that all aspects of the study are conducted in a way which “is respectful of the human rights and needs of the participants” (Batchelor and Briggs 1994, p.949)
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