Survey Coordination Committee starts survey limits

This semester, the department of Institutional Research has put the Survey Coordination Committee into practice. The Committee, which was appointed last spring, will screen surveys distributed to the student body by students, faculty, staff, campus committees and off-campus researchers.

According to the Institutional Research page on Macalester’s website, the process will apply differently depending on which groups are distributing the surveys, and by whether they are academic research, non-academic or for class research projects. Groups must now submit surveys to the appropriate campus Institutional Review Board (IRB) and then submit two or three documents, including the survey, to the Survey Coordination Committee, before the surveys are approved for distribution.

Exempt surveys include, but are not limited to, course evaluations, elections and departmental review activities, such as surveys related to a class.

Director of Institutional Research Polly Fassinger said she saw an unusual number of surveys being distributed to students, and began to investigate how often surveys were completed at the college. Institutional Research discovered that as surveys had increased in number, response rates had declined. The SCC was developed in response to this issue. Some of these surveys included requests from students in the Greater Twin Cities area, which Institutional Research hopes to curb in the next few years.

Students in focus groups reported that they were receiving thirty to fifty surveys a year, many by email and some from Facebook.

“Some were kind of repeating information, some were just not put together well or as ethically as they could be,” Fassinger said, “so we had all these concerns.”

Expanding on issues of ethics, Fassinger added that in many surveys, “there could have been more care about how the data was stored, how it was collected, whether or not the people’s identities were recorded after the data was collected. We were also concerned that there was nobody on campus that really could review surveys on touchy subjects that were from non-academic people. You know if you do an academic study on campus, and it has a touchy campus, it has to go through an institutional review board . . . [but other sources] don’t have that obligation. So this committee has the ability to say, ‘Wait, this really needs to be looked at more closely.’”

A group of faculty and staff, appointed by former Provost Kathy Murray, gathered last spring to discuss the development of policies surrounding how surveys are distributed.

The committee includes Fassinger, Campus Assessment Facilitator Nancy Bostrom, psychology professor Jaine Strauss, philosophy professor and IRB Director Geoffrey Gorham, Institute for Global Citizenship Program Development Specialist Katie Pratt, Associate Dean of Students Lisa Landreman, and Director of Gift Administration and Advancement Records Deborah Derringer.

All resources for how to submit a survey for approval are included on the Institutional Research web page. This includes a Survey Question Inventory, which is a document of questions asked of campus community members in surveys archived from 2010 and later.

“It’s as current of data as we have,” said Research Associate Adam Johnson.

There is also a survey calendar on the site, so that surveys can be distributed at a time when they are more likely to receive an adequate response. Survey distributors will also be encouraged to collaborate and combine surveys.

“This whole thing isn’t designed to squash research, but so students don’t get five requests in the same week, sometimes about overlapping topics,” Fassinger said. “So hopefully that’ll be spaced out a little better, at least.”