Surveys and questionnaires are a common method of collecting quantitative (and sometimes qualitative) data. They may be conducted via an online platform, via electronic devices such as tablets, or using pen and paper.
As there is a high chance that data collected via a survey will include personal data, it is important that proper processes are put in place, and appropriate tools are used: see the general notes on Data from or about human subjects above for more on this.
Online survey platforms
Online survey platforms can offer a quick and convenient way of creating and running a survey. Two platforms are available free at the point of use to all University members: Jisc Online Surveys, and Microsoft Forms. These have both been approved by the University's Information Security team as suitable places to store University data, including confidential data. They offer solid, user-friendly functionality, though they do not have the more advanced features offered by some survey tools.
Other tools offering a wider range of features are available to specific groups within the University: for example, the Medical Sciences Division runs an instance of REDCap for its members, and some departments have subscriptions to other survey platforms (for example Qualtrics) for the use of their members. Consult your local admin staff, research support staff, or IT officer to find out what is available to you.
If you need to use a survey tool other than those provided by the University, a Third Party Security Assessment (TPSA) should be completed. A handful of survey tools (including Qualtrics and SmartSurvey) have already been through this process, and are deemed suitable for use with confidential data. New subscriptions should be arranged through your department, rather than via a personal account, so that a contractual relationship exists between the University (which ultimately has legal responsibility for data gathered in the course of University research) and the service provider.
The IT Services Survey Advice Service can provide advice about selecting a suitable online platform, and training is available via the IT Learning Centre.
If a reliable internet connection is not available, it may be more convenient to conduct a survey using an app on an electronic device, such as a tablet or a smartphone. This may be a standalone piece of software, or it may be an offline app that works in tandem with an online survey platform (responses are stored on the device, and then synced with the online platform when internet access is available).
Thought needs to be given to data storage and handling both on the device, and after data has been transferred elsewhere. If at all possible, portable devices used for storing personal data should be encrypted: if this is not feasible, data should be transferred from the device to secure storage at the earliest opportunity, and the original unencrypted copy deleted. If an app provided by an online survey platform is used, the platform should be selected in line with the guidance given above. Qualtrics and SmartSurvey are examples of suitably secure survey platforms which offer an offline app.
Hard copy surveys
In some cases, the traditional method of collecting survey responses using pen and paper may be most appropriate. Responses may then be digitised, either by scanning, or by entering the data manually into an electronic survey platform or database. As with electronic collection, care needs to be taken to ensure that the data is handled properly both during collection and subsequently. For example, it may be necessary to store completed survey forms in a locked filing cabinet, and any involvement of non-University personnel in collection or transcription may require a data sharing agreement.