Survey Issues

Third-party Survey Software 

The current survey software available system-wide is Qualtrics. Qualtrics is the preferred online survey tool of the University of Minnesota because it meets stringent information security requirements not found in most free online survey tools. The text below has been approved by the Office of General Counsel (OGC) regarding reasons University faculty, staff, and students should not purchase or use other third-party survey software (such as Survey Monkey or Zoomerang).

A click-through agreement is a contract, and the University can be liable under the contract. The “click-through” license agreements that users must “accept” before using a software program are subject to the same principles as contracts that are formed in any other way, meaning these click-through agreements are legally binding contracts. When a University employee enters into such an agreement, they are doing so on behalf of the University. Therefore, the University as a whole (not just the employee) may be bound by this employee’s agreement, and may also be liable under it. These click-through agreements can also violate University policy and practices regarding contract review, and uncapped liability, and jurisdiction over what state’s laws govern. Under University policy, the OGC must review any contract not in the University’s standard Contracts Library.

Click-through agreements can also grant ownership of your (and therefore, the University’s) data to the software company. Most third-party hosted sites claim to own the content on their site. Not only would this mean loss of valuable intellectual property for individuals and the University, it could also violate the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act or the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Use of third-party survey software could violate privacy laws. State and federal laws prohibit disclosure of certain information about students, and require specific security measures to prevent unauthorized access to this information . Without official contracts verified by OGC to ensure the safety of this data, the third-party survey software vendor may have no legal responsibility to uphold these standards.

Data Privacy

Issue: In recent years, the rise of free or low cost online survey software has led many units and individuals at the University to use third party hosted sites such as SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang. This means that University data, often private data, can be owned by that vendor and stored insecurely.

What is U-SAT doing? U-SAT has worked with various units across the University to obtain a enterprise-wide license for a common good survey tool that does meet our information security requirements and legal responsibilities - Qualtrics. A Business Associate’s Agreement is in place with Qualtrics to protect personal health information in accordance with HIPAA and FERPA guidelines. Learn more about Qualtrics security here.

What can you do?

  1. Use Qualtrics! Forget about those other low cost vendors. Collectively the University was spending more on these low cost vendors than we are spending on Qualtrics.
  2. Surveys often have to be longer to ask demographic questions or collect other information that may already exist in PeopleSoft or other data bases. If the sample/panel you need to administer your survey contains private demographic data that you may not have access to, such as Gender or Grades, you can work with the Office of Measurement Services (OMS) to host the survey in Qualtrics on your behalf. OMS can decouple the private data from respondents’ identifying information. This provides a more user-friendly survey while gathering more in-depth data on the respondents’ demographic categories.

Survey Fatigue: Low Response Rates and Oversampling 

Issue: Survey fatigue is an issue with many causes and consequences. In recent years, response rates for online surveys conducted at the University are lower than desirable, which can create difficulty in extrapolating meaningful and representative data. The issue of low response rates both contributes to and is an effect of oversampling (sending your surveys to a large population, much larger than the actual number of responses needed in order to ensure the minimum number of responses desired).

What is U-SAT doing? U-SAT is working to educate those on campus about oversampling and response rates, via workshops and best practices posted online. They've also created a survey calendar with the timelines for enterprise-wide surveys or surveys critical to University decision making. This helps units plan when to launch their surveys so they are not competing for the same respondents.

What can you do? First, make sure that surveying is the best way to get the data you need. If so and you are planning your sample, please visit our Best Practices page for guidelines and tips. As a general rule, think carefully about your intended audience, do not oversample beyond the number of responses needed, and follow up with non-respondents within your sample population to encourage higher response rates. And don't forget to take a look at the survey calendar when planning your survey start and end dates!