Advertisements are part of the informed consent and subject selection process. Samples of all advertisements, such as flyers, newspaper ads, radio and television announcements, bulletin board tear-offs, social media positings, and posters, along with an explanation of other methods of recruiting subjects, must be submitted to the IRB.
Advertisements should be submitted with the application or as soon as the investigator decides to use them. The content of advertisements should be limited to:
- Names of the investigators conducting the research, identification of the university by name as the location of the research or the researchers main affiliation, and contact information for the researchers
- Purpose of the research
- General eligibility criteria
- Straightforward and truthful descriptions of benefits (e.g., research procedures are free of charge) and risks, if applicable.
Advertisements should not claim, explicitly or implicitly, that the research is treatment or is superior to any current practice. Extravagant attention-getting devices such as extremely large, bold typefaces and dollar signs for payment information are prohibited. Advertisements should not pressure readers into participating.
Snowball recruitment – Often times researchers have an initial pool of contacts and they hope those people will "nominate" other qualified potential subjects. This kind of sampling is commonplace in case study and qualitative psychological, sociological, and anthropological research. However, it may be used also in genetic studies where it is necessary to recruit relatives of the initial subject for direct interviews and/or tissue sampling, etc. This recruitment procedure is sometimes inappropriately labeled "cold calling". The following excerpt from the Belmont Report regarding voluntariness compels IRBs to pay close attention to snowball recruitment procedures:
"Unjustifiable pressures usually occur when persons in positions of authority or commanding influence---especially where possible sanctions are involved--- urge a course of action for a subject. A continuum of such influencing factors exists, however, and it is impossible to state precisely where justifiable persuasion ends and undue influence begins."
For example, what if a highly respected individual in the community (say a local elected official, teacher, member of the clergy, or tribal elder) provided the name of a potential contact. When the nominee is contacted, the person might be unduly influenced to participate in the project because of the stature of the nominator. Consideration of minimal risk is likely to play an important role in IRB review of snowball recruitment procedures. For example, it would make a big difference whether the research involved extramarital affairs or substance use as opposed to family meal time routines or leisure activities. To "cold call" someone on sensitive topic issues places him or her in a potentially embarrassing situation, which should be avoided. Moreover, the original subject is being placed in the position of being asked to disclose information about a third party without that party's consent.
Snowball recruitment where the researcher obtains names and contact information from one individual for another one, particularly for research involving sensitive topics, is generally not considered appropriate by the DePaul IRB. Using such a method could result in the researcher obtaining information about an individual that is sensitive and private without their permission. Alternatively, the researcher should ask other subjects to pass along flyers, emails, information sheets, etc. that contain contact information for the researcher to prevent a breach in confidentiality of sensitive information or an invasion of privacy. In instances where the research subject is not sensitive (i.e.,opinions on politics, consumer opinions), a snowball recruitment method where one person provides the name and contact information for another person may be acceptable, but doing so must be justified.
One means of reducing the risks in snowball recruitment is for the researcher to gently ask subjects whether they would be willing to pass some information about the study they just completed to other potential subjects. The researcher may give the original subject an information sheet or flyer that they can give to people they think might be interested and qualified. Then these potential subjects can contact the researcher if they are interested. The researcher must provide the IRB with a copy of the recruitment item (which must include all of the same information that is in the initial recruitment script) he/she will give to the initial contacts to distributeto others. If the potential subjects were interested in study participation, they would be free to contact the researcher.
The IRB recommends the following safeguard procedures if snowball recruitment is to be used:
- Let subjects know that they will be asked to provide information to other potential recruits, but that they have the right to decline to provide this information.
- If the initial subject will be asked to provide the names and contact information for others, they should obtain the subject's permission to reveal their identity to to the researcher.
- The research plan must include the details regarding how the snowball recruitment will be conducted and which documents/materials will be used during the process.