Photographs, audio recordings, video recordings are the most common tools used in social and behavioral science research. As you use these tools to collect information about your participants, please keep in mind that as the level of identity captured on the data recording increases, so does the risk to participants. Thus it is important for you to develop secure data collection and storage methods, as well as appropriate consent procedures that explain your use of the data collection tool and the participant’s options regarding their data.
You are allowed to take pictures of public events or areas without obtaining consent or permission. For example, taking a picture of a public event that does not target any one individual is permissible. However, taking a picture of an individual in a study and linking it to the participant’s interview increases the potential for that person to be identified, which in some cases could be a risk to the participant. In the protocol form, you need to explain what you will photograph and justify the necessity for using photography. You should indicate to the Board at what level the identity of the participant will be captured and provide adequate information in your consent procedures.
Most researchers use audio recordings for individual interviews as a way to capture what is said during the interview. In most cases, these types of interviews do not qualify for exemption and it is necessary for you to obtain consent (and assent where appropriate) to use an audio recording device. In the protocol form, you need to explain what you will record and justify the necessity for using an audio recorder.
Researchers often request to use audio recording devices for focus groups. The Board is required to request that researchers allow participants a way to withdraw from a study; recording a group session can be problematic if an individual wants to withdraw. Please consider this issue when using audio recording devices during focus group sessions and develop a way to withdraw individuals from the recording. In the protocol form, provide justification as to the necessity of using the audio recording versus taking field notes.
As the level of risk increases (depending on the type of questions that are asked, etc.), so will the necessity of protecting a participant’s identity. You need to describe how you will maintain the audio recordings, when/if they will be destroyed, and how the recordings will be coded to protect the participant’s identity.
Video recordings combine many of the issues of photography and audio recordings. An individual’s image is linked with their comments, thus making their data more easily identifiable. In consequence, the Board asks that you justify why it is necessary to use a video recording versus an audio recording, etc. In the protocol form, you need to explain what you will record and justify the necessity for using a video recorder. You need to explain how you will maintain the video recordings, when/if they will be destroyed, and how the recordings will be coded as to protect the participant’s identity.
In education, video recording devices are often used to record classroom interactions. Some parents and/or students may opt not to participate in the recording and you need to provide a method for not including them in the image. Some researchers have handed out stickers to the students, with specific ones identifying the non-participating students. The videographer should make an effort not to record the non-participating students and their images will be erased or “fuzzed out” should they be recorded. As is similar in photography, you are free to video any public events (though you may want to make sure video is permissible) as long as you are not targeting any individual.