Guidelines for Surveying Hamilton College Populations
LITS Resource Center
In response to the rapidly increasing number of requests to survey Hamilton community members, the College has developed three categories of guidelines to use when polling Hamilton students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents.
These guidelines were created to:
- Avoid conflicts in survey timing and purpose
- Minimize multiple demands on respondents
- Ensure that individual surveys are necessary to fulfill a strategic objective or to comply with federal accountability or accreditation requirements
- Facilitate sharing of data and avoid redundancy
- Ensure any support needs are planned and scheduled
- Ensure that the data collected are valid, reliable, and used to inform decision-making
- Ensure that surveys that meet the federal definition of research involving human subjects are referred to the College’s Institutional Review Board (IRB)
- Meet the College’s standards for information privacy and security
- Adhere to the College’s Data Retention Policy and schedule (All data must meet the data classification handling controls specified in the appropriate College policy and guidelines.)
- Comply with all applicable regulations and ethical standards
If there is any ambiguity in the guidelines below, decisions should be made based on these principles.
This policy applies to any survey being sent to Hamilton community members.
Survey Categories and Procedures
Surveys at Hamilton fall into three broad categories. Different guidelines and procedures apply to each category. These categories are designed to make it easier to offer ad hoc and informal surveys while applying more oversight for surveys with bigger impacts. In addition, IRB approval may be needed for any survey that uses human subjects, but such approval does not guarantee that the survey will be administered. For more information see the IRB website. It is also important to note that all applicable regulations, such as FERPA and HIPAA, impose requirements may also need to be followed.
Category 1 - Internal surveys and polls used for departmental, program, or student research
Surveys in this category typically involve smaller sample sizes and are intended for individual research or department-specific purposes vs. institution-wide priorities. Category 1 surveys do not need OIRA approval, but consultation with the director of institutional research and assessment is recommended. In general, these types of surveys:
- Are conducted internally by Hamilton personnel
- Are limited in scope and do not survey all students, faculty, or other College constituents
- Do not collect personally identifiable information or use institutionally managed data
- Do not require access to institutional services or resources (e.g., email listservs, special software, access to non-public College data or data systems, or staff time for analysis)
- May support informal information gathering or academic inquiry
- A walk-in or walk-out survey for an academic resource center
- Customer service questionnaires at College service desks
- Surveys conducted as part of academic research that meet the conditions above
Category 2 - Internal surveys of large populations
If personally identifiable or demographic data are being collected, information security and the appropriate data steward(s) must review the survey instrument. When planning to survey a large population of the campus community (e.g., all students, all faculty, all staff, an entire division at the College, or another similar-sized group), consultation is required beforehand from the respective senior officer. Examples include:
- For students, contact the VP and Dean of Students
- For faculty and athletics, contact the VP for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty
- For staff, contact the VP for Administration and Finance
- For alumni and parents, contact the VP for Advancement
- For admission populations (such as prospective students, applicants, or admitted students, and their families), contact the VP for Enrollment Management
- For other campus populations, contact the appropriate VP
The director of institutional research and assessment is available to consult with members of the College community who are considering survey research. Topics and questions may include:
- Is the intended survey being conducted internally by a member of the Hamilton community?
- Is the scope of the survey intended to involve entire populations of students, staff, faculty, parents, or alumni?
- Will the survey project require access to institutional services or resources?
- Will the survey require formal analysis, such as a campus climate survey?
Category 3 - Surveys involving third parties
Surveys that use an external third party to administer data-gathering instruments, whether the data being collected are being used only by the College or as part of a consortium to share or compare data, require approval by the OIRA. In addition, the contract must be reviewed by both the director of procurement and auxiliary services and the director of information security and privacy. Examples include the MISO survey, NSSE survey, and NACCC survey.
Survey Options and Procedures
There are two options to follow when planning to survey members of the Hamilton community:
Conducting surveys internally
When surveying members of the campus community, you may choose to administer the survey yourself or, depending on the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment’s existing survey schedule, you can ask IR to help design, administer, and host the survey for you. OIRA may be able to include your questions in a survey that is already scheduled. Regardless of which option proves best for your needs, you should be prepared to promote the survey to your audience to ensure an adequate participation rate.
Conducting surveys using an external partner
When surveying members of the campus community using a third party, you should be prepared to coordinate your activities with the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment after getting the necessary approvals.
All surveys are subject to existing Hamilton College policies, including policies relating the management of institutional data, data classification, and privacy. Not every survey will collect or use data that falls under the scope of these policies. For example, many surveys in category 1 (described above) may not use any institutional data or collect any personal information. If, however, a survey generates or uses non-public institutional data, then all data management policies and procedures must be followed. Access to use or collect institutional data must also be approved through the college’s data governance process. Applicable Hamilton policies on data protection, handling, and privacy include:
Noncompliance and Sanctions
Users who violate these guidelines may be denied access to the College’s resources and may be subject to penalties and disciplinary action, both within and outside the institution, subject to the appropriate enforcement process. The College may temporarily suspend or block access to an account, prior to the initiation or completion of such procedures, when it reasonably appears necessary to do so in order to protect the integrity, security, or functionality of the College or other computing resources or to protect the institution from liability.
Last updated: September 15, 2023