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I’m recording you now

August 16, 2016

2012-03-18When I conduct depth interviews I always make an audio recording of the conversation because:

  • It gives me a record of the session
  • It helps me with analysis as I can either have it transcribed or listen back to it multiple times
  • I don’t need to take notes as I go along, and can concentrate on the conversation

Great for me!  But sometimes respondents can be a bit wary of the Big Brotheryness of it all, or anxious that they may be being covertly recorded, or worried that a recording of them speaking might fall into the wrong hands.

As a professional researcher I take this very seriously, and making a recording naturally has ethical considerations attached to it.  I need to ensure that I gain consent from the respondent to record what they say, and the data I am generating (the recorded file) needs to be used and stored appropriately and securely.

The Market Research Society Code of Conduct states:

Members must ensure that participants are provided with sufficient information to allow informed consent to be given. This includes:

  • whether the data collection is to be recorded and/or observed;
  • who is likely to have access to live or recorded information;

The MRS guideline on qualitative research states:

Members must ensure that participants are informed about any recording, monitoring or observation at recruitment and at the beginning of a data collection process.

Over the years I have seen a lot of different approaches to meeting these requirements, which ranges from verbal consent (explaining what is going to happen and the respondent saying this is OK) to respondents signing an agreement such as ‘I consent to be audio recorded for the purpose of analysis’ to great long screeds of advance explanatory material with tick lists.

In the majority of cases I don’t think anything too complex is required to fulfil the relevant ethical requirements, and it is my opinion that providing too much information can be off-putting and overwhelming for the respondent.  Who wants to read pages of info about the Data Protection Act 1998 and registration with the Information Commissioner?  That stuff is all taken care of behind the scenes and of course any questions about this can be answered at any time.

Instead I mention in pre-interview email correspondence that I would like to make a recoding with their consent for analysis purposes and I keep this email on file.  At the start of each interview I make initial introductions, explain again that I’d like to make a recording and what will happen to the recording, and I ask if that is OK.  If they say yes (and they almost always do) I switch on my digital recorder.

Then, I have up my sleeve a very easy way of ticking all the ethical boxes quickly which satisfies the needs of the respondent, myself and my professional body.

I say “I’m recording you now” and they respond with something along the lines of “OK”.

Their consent is thus the first thing found on every recording I make and I can save that in my secure files. Done.


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