Once scholars have determined from whom consent must be elicited, the practice of obtaining consent can shape the data collection process in potentially unforeseen ways. For example, Pachilova (2017) conducted a study of a healthcare system where they aimed to compare the networks as represented in a multiplex set of relationships elicited variously from interviews, surveys, and badges recording interpersonal interactions. They found that each platform produced different response rates from their target sample. Given that each of these modalities for gathering data involved different levels of consent, one potential explanation for their finding arises from other literature noting that the very act of requesting informed consent can paradoxically raise research subjects’ concerns of privacy or potential risks. In other words, the assurances intended to increase participants’ comfort in participating in the research can potentially decrease their likelihood of participation (McCarty et al. 2019).82
Some of the considerations raised above, and elsewhere, push this question further to re-evaluate whether the individual is even the appropriate level from which to elicit consent for research on social relationships. This could encourage future researchers to redevelop notions of relational or community level autonomy, which may be more consistent with the methods and aims of many types of social network or community-based research (Schönhuth 2017). In practice, discussion on the Socnet listserve suggests IRBs to date have been variably responsive to these sorts of suggestions.
A final consideration is whether the consent process should explicitly address the myriad ways that resulting data can be used, which is increasingly important with the proliferation of data sharing norms and big data efforts. In particular, as data are increasing in both availability and scope, the likelihood of those data being used to address questions other than those for which they were initially designed also increases (Welles 2015). Part of IRBs’ applications of the Common Rule have typically required that informed consent includes details on the aims of the project in which research subjects are participating (Kadushin 2005). This has led to debates about whether consent to provide data should be considered as consent for all potential uses of those data, or if some of those potential uses violate the consent agreements that inform the research subjects’ participation (Safran et al. 2007).