Guidelines for Online Surveys in Applications to the Institutional Review Board

I. Types of online surveys.

Most researchers use one of the following methods for conducting online surveys:

A. The researcher uses the Le Moyne College email system in one of two ways:

 1. The researcher uses the Le Moyne College email system to recruit subjects, distribute survey questionnaires to subjects, and receive surveys returned by subjects.

2. The researcher uses the Le Moyne College email system to recruit subjects and then uses a third party website (such as Survey Monkey) to post the survey. Once the survey is posted, the researcher uses the Le Moyne College email system to send an email containing a link that subjects can click on to gain access to the survey on the third party website. Once the survey period has expired, the researcher either conducts any analysis using software provided by the third party website or uses the Le Moyne College internet service to download the survey results for further analysis.

For researchers that choose one of the above methods, Le Moyne College does not make its directory of student email addresses available to students. If student researchers want to use the College's student email directory for recruiting participants and/or distributing surveys (or survey links), the faculty research sponsor named on the IRB application must request access to the email directory and distribute the relevant email correspondence on behalf of the student researcher. Therefore, student researchers who use this method of recruitment and distribution must state the following in the Research Outline of their IRB application: (i) their faculty sponsor will send out the recruitment email and/or survey or survey link to potential participants using an email list provided by the Registrar's Office; and (ii) the faculty sponsor will send out the email using the bcc feature in Gmail. Please note: Before the Registrar will release the list of email addresses to the faculty sponsor, the sponsor must provide the Registrar with a copy of the official project approval letter sent by the IRB to the researcher. 

B. The researcher posts survey notices on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. If users click on a link that accompanies the notice, they will go to a third party website that is hosting the survey that they may want to complete.  

C. After preparing the survey instrument, the researcher contracts with an external company to conduct the entire survey process.  This process includes the recruiting of subjects, the hosting of the survey, and the storage of results, which are then made available to the researcher.

II. Procedures and safeguards for online surveys.

In all cases, the following procedures and safeguards must be followed.

A. Consent:

The first page of the survey must contain the usual consent form which the subject can read before making a fully-informed decision about whether or not to participate in the research.  If the subject wishes to participate, s/he checks a box that accompanies a statement in which the subject confirms that s/he has read the consent form, understands it, and consents to participate in the study.  If the subject does not wish to participate, s/he checks a box that accompanies a statement stating that they do not consent to participate. They should either be directed to an exit page from which the survey cannot be accessed or instructed to close their browser tabs associated with the survey study. In all cases, responses from subjects who did not check the consent to participate box may not be used in any of the researcher’s subsequent work.

B. Other Procedures and Safeguards:  

1. If the researcher proposes to use a third party website to host the survey or an external company to conduct the entire survey process, s/he must include in the application to the IRB a complete assessment of the security, privacy and confidentiality practices of the service provider. If necessary, the IRB will consult with the College’s IT department when assessing whether or not the service provider can be used for hosting the survey.

2. For any online survey service used, the researcher’s complete assessment must provide information about the following items:

a. Secure transmission

Information sent to and from websites can either be transmitted in a text format that could be read if the information was intercepted by a third party (http protocol) or encrypted so that a third party could not read the intercepted information (https protocol). It is strongly recommended that https encryption be used.  The application should include verification that this type of secure transmission is used.

b. Database security

The researcher should only have access to their data stored on a server of the online company by using a username and password.

c. Server security

The servers on which the data are stored should be located in a data center with appropriate physical security controls.

d. Access time period

The researcher should indicate how long the data will be stored on the external site and the procedures that will be used for its deletion. Alternatively, they should provide a date by which the data will be deleted from the external site.

e. Confidentiality of respondent

The subject's IP address should be masked from the researcher. If not, the researcher should explain what is done with the IP address.

3. Voluntary participation. Given that participation in research is voluntary, it is likewise assumed that participants may skip questions that make them uncomfortable or that they do not want to answer. Therefore, in creating and administering an online survey, the survey must be set up so as to allow respondents to skip questions. In other words, the survey may not prevent respondents from moving to the next page or submitting their responses if questions have been left unanswered. The only question that must be required is the consent statement on the consent form, where respondents either affirm their willingness to participate in the research or decline to participate. If the nature of the research design necessitates that participants answer some or all survey questions, a justified rationale for requiring responses must be provided in the Methods and Procedures section of the Research Outline. In all cases, however, respondents must be allowed to skip any and all questions that are not absolutely required for the purposes of the research.

III. Selecting a third party service.

While researchers are free to choose the method and online survey service that best suits their needs, the IRB is aware of several services that have frequently been used by academic researchers: Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, Google Forms, Qualtrics and Survey Monkey. Researchers should consult the website of their chosen service to obtain the information (needed in their IRB application) to address the security and confidentiality issues raised above and also to obtain guidance on how to format their survey and select options that will comply with IRB standards at most academic institutions.

IV. Submitting your materials to the IRB.

The IRB requests that applicants submit their surveys and consent forms in their final form so that the committee can ensure that they are appropriate, accurate, and not confusing for subjects. In the case of online surveys, researchers must print out the consent form and survey in their final form from the web site, scan them, and submit them to the IRB as a PDF file. Researchers must also include in the text of their email to the IRB a clickable link to the consent form and survey so that the IRB may view the materials online.