Survey Policies and Procedures

Survey administration policies
Survey planning procedures

Survey planning and reflection (separate page)

College Survey Program

Institutional Research coordinates survey administration at Williams. Because over-surveying yields poor response rates, and potentially unrepresentative survey data, it is our goal to control the number of surveys, and to prioritize those with higher potential to inform institutional decision-making and planning. To that end, we will always, as a first step, recommend consideration of other ways in which the information desired could be gathered, including, but not limited to: analysis of existing survey data, analysis of administrative data, direct observation of behavior, focus groups, or surveying an external population.

Institutional Research periodically conducts institutionally-sponsored surveys, including:

  • Survey of incoming students (every 2-4 years)
  • Survey of all enrolled students (every 2-4 years)
  • Senior survey (every year)
  • Alumni survey (every 4 years)
  • Parent survey (every 4 years)
  • Staff survey (every 3 years)
  • Faculty survey (every 3 years)
  • Eph Community Attitudes on Sexual Assault survey (every 3 years)
  • Health or Alcohol survey (every 3 years)

as well as other other occasional ad hoc surveys. We make our best efforts to share aggregate survey results back to the community, when appropriate.

Survey Policies

Voluntary participation

Participation in Williams surveys is always voluntary and participants should always be free to opt out of any survey without penalty. Respondents are free to discontinue their participation at any time, for any reason, even after they have provided consent.


Survey administrators must state clearly in the invitation message or introduction to the survey whether the survey is confidential or anonymous (defined below), and for directly emailed surveys, administrators are highly encouraged to provide an opt-out link or procedure that is clear to respondents.

An anonymous survey is one where responses can’t be associated with individuals unless the respondent answers the survey questions in a way that uniquely identifies them. Even if the respondent is uniquely identifiable due to a unique combination of responses, survey administrators must not make any effort to determine that identity. Williams’ survey software allows administration of surveys that are anonymized after the fact in order to target reminder messages only to non-respondents. In this case, administrators can see which set of the survey population did and did not respond to the survey, but we can’t associate the responses with individuals. Note that our survey policy prohibits merging in of demographic or other data for anonymous surveys. If a survey is referred to as “anonymous” it must be the case that all information is explicitly provided by the respondent.

With a confidential survey, each survey respondent receives an individualized survey link that enables survey administrators to associate the response with the respondent. This means other demographic and institutional data may be merged with survey responses for analysis. Researchers will ensure that data is stored securely. In the normal course of events, unit record data is not shared with anyone outside the project and results won’t be reported in a way that could identify individual respondents. However, the College, in extraordinary circumstances, may identify, use, and disclose the source of survey responses if it determines in good faith that it is necessary to comply with legal obligations, or to protect the legal rights, safety, or security of the College or members of the Williams community.

Use of Official College Communication Channels

Use of direct email to advertise surveys is generally restricted to institutionally sponsored surveys, such as those listed above. See the daily messages guidelines for more information on the types of surveys permitted through that channel.

Procedures for Conducting a Survey

If you wish to conduct a survey, that will be advertised to any large campus population, we urge you to get in touch with an Institutional Research staff member early on in the process. As mentioned above, our survey schedule is sometimes planned years in advance, and we try very hard to minimize the number of surveys going out to any population in a given year.

Williams strongly discourages the use of survey incentives (monetary or other rewards) and generally does not use them for institutionally sponsored surveys.

If you’re creating your own survey, we highly suggest you review our survey planning and reflection page, as well as this survey guidelines document prepared by Associate Provost Chris Winters. Institutional Research staff are also available, time permitting, to provide some feedback on survey design.

Some surveys may be subject to review by Williams’ Institutional Review Board (IRB), which ensures that no human subjects are harmed by research projects, but please note that IRB approval or exemption does not imply institutional approval or sponsorship of a survey. The IRB reviews proposals in which human participants are involved in research, with “research” defined as “an activity designed to test a hypothesis, permit conclusions to be drawn, and thereby develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.”  Notably, some projects that involve human participants are not considered research, and would thus not require IRB review, because their intent is to document a historical event or the experiences of individuals, rather than to have predictive value or lead to the development or testing of a hypothesis (e.g., oral histories, ethnographies, documentaries and other journalistic inquiries).  Finally, note that whether or not an investigator intends to publish his or her results is not relevant to whether or not the project requires IRB review.

Surveys for Coursework

Student surveys conducted as part of academic coursework are not subject to oversight or coordination by Institutional Research. For these surveys, it is the instructor’s responsibility to ensure that student surveys are ethical, don’t pose risk to human subjects, and follow the college’s surveying policies and procedures.

Surveys for Academic Research

Surveys conducted as part of academic research projects (excluding coursework) are not subject to oversight or coordination by Institutional Research unless they are targeting large college populations (faculty, staff, students, or alumni). They are, however, subject to Institutional Review Board review and expected to adhere to the policies and procedures described here.

Surveys by Outside Entities

Williams will, on rare occasions, agree to participate in surveys initiated by outside researchers or organizations. Participation in such projects must get the approval of senior staff. Institutionally sponsored survey projects will always take priority over surveys initiated by outside groups.

Survey Software

Survey administrators are encouraged to use Google Forms for their surveys. For those needing more advanced capabilities, Williams has a Qualtrics license and Institutional Research staff can create Qualtrics accounts for community members, upon request. Students may be granted temporary Qualtrics accounts for course work or academic research, and are expected to use their accounts only for those purposes. We reserve the right to revoke anyone’s Qualtrics access at any time.