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Accepted Paper:

Using Written Consent Forms When Conducting Non-Elite Qualitative Research: Reflections from Zambia  
Robert Macdonald (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Some institutions and funders commonly recommend that social researchers use written consent forms to acquire informed consent. This paper will detail the emergence of this trend before arguing, with examples from Zambia, that consent forms are inappropriate for certain types of social research.

Paper long abstract:

It has become common for some institutions, funders, and national bodies to routinely recommend or insist that qualitative researchers conducting fieldwork in African countries use written consent forms to acquire informed consent. This paper details the emergence of this trend within institutions in the ‘Global North’ before detailing how it has begun to affect research in African countries, including North-South collaborative projects. It will then consider the reasons why signed consent forms are not appropriate for certain types of social research in some contexts. Drawing upon the author’s recent research experiences in Zambia, it argues that written consent procedures are not always good at ensuring respondents are genuinely informed, that they are often insensitive, and that they can be detrimental to the quality of research. It concludes that, to meaningfully address these issues, both funders and ethics committees should be flexible enough to give serious consideration to a range of methods for obtaining consent, rather than promoting a narrow orthodoxy.

Panel Poli37
Pasts and futures of research ethics in the African contexts
  Session 1 Saturday 3 June, 2023, -