First consider the difference between:

a) Publicly observable behavior (at a protest, on the street… in an open court room)


 b) An interview,  an event in someone’s home, someone’s birthday party, etc.. (any situation that people themselves would reasonably expect to be private). 

If you are, through your work, gaining access to material that someone might reasonably expect to be private, you need to obtain informed consent. 

There are gray areas. If you are unsure, do your best and we will review it.

Second, consider how you will inform people of the possible risks, and how you will seek to obtain their consent to participate in the project.

(You may not gain consent! In which case you may have to rethink aspects of the project).

In some cases, you should use written informed consent: that is, you present someone with a form describing the project and the risks, and they sign it. If written consent makes sense in your project, consider the below.  

  • Language: Consent should be in the language people can speak and read. It should also be understandable and intelligible to the people you will be working with (do not use jargon).
  • Institutions may have their own demands for informed consent (NGOs, governmental organizations, and may actually have clauses that they can own/ request your data or want a copy of it – that is important to consider when you tell people where their data will appear!)
  • Horizon of consent - How long will you give people a chance to consent or withdraw from the project?
  • You should couple distribution of a form with an oral explanation and discussion of the project and risks. 
  • Different levels of consent: you could consider having different ways in which people can consent. I.E.

I consent to participate with the use of my name and my picture __

I consent to participate but no specific identifiable data should be used__

I do not consent to my photograph being taken or reproduced__

Sample Student Applications and Consent Forms

Posted with permission: Thank you to Eliza Oldach and Elizabeth Farrell

Below you will find examples from two past senior projects. Please note that these are to give you an example of some ways in which students have approached the ERRB application. Don’t forget, however, that the application you submit should be your own and tailored to your project.

Eliza Oldach’s senior project centers on the human ecology of Lyme Disease in Maine, and she did interviews with people with Lyme Disease as part of that project.

Oldach Consent Form

Elizabeth Farrell’s senior project concerns the domestication of birds in Indonesia. After we went through an initial review of her already thorough application, she identified additional ethical concerns which are addressed in a short revision. This is particularly useful for showing how the review process can help you deepen and nuance your understandings of ethics within the context of your project. (Note: Elizabeth’s consent form was ultimately written in Indonesian, of course!)

Farrell Consent Form



In many cases, oral informed consent may seem more fluid for the uses of the researcher but may in fact be more conducive to the interests of potential participants.

*Most of the points above pertain also to oral consent. 

Things to consider about oral consent: 

  • May be more appropriate if you research will not cause foreseeable major risks to individuals and the distribution and receipt of a form would be unnecessarily unwieldy. (it depends on the project)
  • Should strongly be considered if consent form itself will provide the only traceable document, then you can think about asking for a waiver of written consent and use instead oral informed consent.  
  • You can still present people with a description of the project, you just don’t need their signature. This does not mean you are off the hook! You must still obtain informed consent. 
  • Will you record informed consent obtained orally?