This survey guide aims to provide guidlines and procedures to (a) guard against survey fatigue among respondents, particularly students, and (b) ensure good survey quality at Amherst College.
For the purposes of this document, a survey is defined as information gathering from human subjects using questionnaires, interviews, etc. to make inferences about a target population.
The Office of Institutional Research will serve as the clearinghouse for all major surveys at Amherst College. This office should know what campus-wide surveys are being conducted at any given time from any internal or external constituents.
Surveys that are Exempt from IRB Approval
Not every survey needs to go through the approval process described below. See Amherst College IRB Policy for exemption classifications under U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) regulations and the process for achieving exempt status under the Amherst College IRB.
Examples of the types of surveys common to Amherst College that typically qualify as exempt under HHS [45 CFR 46.101]:
- Self-studies conducted by students, faculty, and the administration of the College for the purposes of evaluating educational activities, programming, curriculum, or classroom management. Ex: Course evaluations, Workshop evaluations, Forms for administrative purposes, etc.
- Optional, anonymous, evaluative feedback surveys offered to participants of a college-sponsored event, or to individuals who receive a service offered by the college. Ex: Board of Trustees meeting feedback, Residential Life feedback, Event Evaluations, Consumer Feedback Forms
If you are not sure if your study needs to go through the survey approval process, please contact the institutional research office.
Steps for Survey Approval
Step 1. Coordination
Those interested in administering a survey should ensure there is some level of coordination and approval within their department. This step is necessary to avoid duplicating efforts and/or over-sampling the same set of respondents. Discussions with relevant stakeholders and unit/office leads should include: reasons for needing a survey, suggestions for data collection windows, survey instrument selection or creation, and preliminary plans for data analysis and reporting. The senior staff member who oversees your department should be aware of all surveys that are being conducted within their division at any given time.
Step 2. Pre-approval from Institutional Research
This step is meant to facilitate the conversation between IR and the survey researchers to ensure human subjects protection, move along the survey process, as well as coordinate schedules of data collection with other researchers at Amherst College. This step will also determine if the proposed survey can be combined with other planned surveys, or if there are other data available that will allow the survey to be avoided. Any person or group wishing to conduct survey research with Amherst College constituents (including students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, administrators, or Board of Trustees) or wishing to use Amherst College’s resources to conduct a survey of any kind, will require pre-approval from the Office of Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning or directly from the Dean.
This step is not meant to hinder faculty members in doing their own research or in overseeing the research projects of their students. Faculty and students are encouraged to follow federal guidelines and college policy when designing and conducting class projects with human volunteers.
Survey researchers should submit a document to IR containing the information through the link:
Step 3. Approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) if your survey is meant to contribute to generalizable knowledge
If the survey research is designed to contribute to general knowledge (e.g., through conference presentations, journal publications), the researcher must obtain approval from the IRB of Amherst College (https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/provost_dean_faculty/faccommittees/irb_iacuc/irb). If it does not, this step may be skipped.
Step 4. Final approval and Scheduling by IR
This step ensures coordination of data collection timelines across the campus. IR should be aware of all surveys that are being conducted for a full population and/or large sub-populations (e.g. all students, all first years, sophomores, juniors, or seniors, all alumni who graduated in a given year, etc.).
Survey Software (Qualtrics)
Qualtrics, a campus-wide survey service is available to all Amherst-affiliated current students, faculty and staff, is the preferred tool for distributing surveys at Amherst College. A brief guide to getting started with Quatrics can be found at the following link:
Handling of the Data Collected
The survey researcher, will be responsible for data usage and storage, according to IRB rules and regulations. This includes not distributing the data to others, unless the researcher is an authoritative source for and an authorized distributor of the data and the recipient is authorized to receive the data. Collection, use, storage and any distribution of survey responses and the contact information of respondents should be handled according to Amherst College and IRB policies, which can be viewed at https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/provost_dean_faculty/faccommittees/irb_iacuc/irb.