Skip to content

Consent Process Models

What is the process for obtaining consent?

The process for obtaining consent includes the steps that will be followed and the resources/information that will be used to inform the participant. The process for obtaining consent should be customized to fit the needs of the participants, while considering a study's risks and procedures, as well as the study location and the study team's access to the participants.  


Prior to enrolling a participant in a study, investigators must:

  1. Obtain informed consent. 
  2. Document that the participant's consent was obtained before beginning study procedures. See Consent Document Models page

What information will be provided to the participants during the consent process?

Investigators must provide important information about the study to participants during the consent process, such that participants can make a decision about being in the study. This information is generally provided in a written consent form, but may also be given in another written format (a letter, an email), or may be provided verbally.  

The IRB provides a Consent Process Checklist that includes all of the required elements of consent. Study teams may design their own consent process procedure based on the consent elements in the regulations; these will be accepted by the IRB, so long as the required elements are included.

If you have justification for leaving out one or more of the consent elements that are applicable to your study, you must request an Alteration of Informed Consent in the IRB application. You will be asked to provide justification as part of the Alteration request.  

Consent Process Example Scenarios

Consider the example scenarios below when designing your consent process. These examples may not be appropriate for all studies and should be customized to specific research when proposed to the IRB.  

Consent Process Example Description
Telephone consent process when a signed consent form is required  Though a signed consent form may be necessary before beginning study procedures, it may be appropriate to obtain consent over the phone before the first study visit.
Mailed or online questionnaire using a consent cover letter When a questionnaire is minimal risk, a waiver of documentation of consent is often justified. When a consent cover letter accompanies the questionnaire, consent to participate is given by completing and returning the questionnaire.
Opt-out parental permission for children's participation in research conducted at an elementary school Based on the nature of a research project and according to the preferences of an individual school or school district, it may be acceptable to inform parents of research conducted at an elementary or secondary school and use an opt-out model if a parent wishes to have their child excluded from the study.  This model requires a waiver of documentation of consent in order to waive the signature requirement. 
Coming soon:
Focus groups or interviews using a consent cover letter
When a focus group or interview is minimal risk, a waiver of documentation of consent is often justified.  When a consent cover letter is provided to potential participants, their consent can be documented using written communication or a note-to-file drafted by the study team.  
Coming soon:
Consent process with a legally authorized representative
Coming soon!
Coming soon: 
Consent process for children who are wards of the state
Coming soon!
Coming soon: 
Consent process with a participant and a caregiver who is not acting as a legally authorized representative
Coming soon!
Coming soon:
Consent process involving a witness for participants who cannot read or are physically unable to sign the consent form
Coming soon!
Consent process for enrolling non-English speaking participants with a short form When a full translation of the consent form cannot be obtained, it may be appropriate to enroll a non-English speaking participant using a translated short form.  The short form must be used in combination with the full English version of the consent form, facilitated by an interpreter. 

 External References

  1. DHHS Common Rule, Elements of Informed Consent: 46 CFR 46.116
  2. FDA, Elements of Informed Consent: 21 CFR 50.25
  3. VHA Handbook, 1200.05: Requirements for the Protection of Human Subjects in Research
  4. HIPAA Elements of Authorization: 45 CFR 164.508(c)
Last Updated: 4/7/21