Surveys can be as simple as researchers handing out a paper/pencil version on campus gathering simple responses to a more complex longitudinal online survey tracking risky behaviors. Both can be considered “minimally risky” depending on how the data are collected. The Board will want to know:

  • Where and how will the survey be presented?
  • Who will present the survey? Is the survey presented online or in person?
  • What data are collected (including identifiers)?
  • Is the survey a singular event or part of a longitudinal event? Is the survey connected to other data?
  • How are the results stored and reported?
Online Surveys
  • Recruitment: Often an online survey begins with an online recruitment campaign such as an email invitation or advertisement posted online. Whether the invitation to participate is digital or in-person, it is important that the recruitment is not coercive and provides appropriate information about the survey.
  • Consent: Most surveys qualify for exemption (see next section) and don’t require participants to sign a form; however, it is still valuable to provide participants with basic information about the study before they complete the survey. The consent should be one of the first screens that participants see and must appear before they start the study. If required, online surveys can use electronic consent to document the participant’s willingness to participate. Note that minors are not allowed to participate in a survey without parental permission; at a minimum you should state this fact in the consent information and the Board may require additional mechanisms to prevent minors from participating.
  • Collecting data using online tool: the IRB-SBS and UVA’s Information Security office requires that online surveys reach certain thresholds for user security. Review UVA’s standards for Data Security ( and their Information Policy ( Apps such as SurveyMonkey and Google Forms are not sufficient. UVA faculty and students have a free Qualtrics account and should use this program or its equivalent when conducting online surveys. In addition, you must become familiar with the data collection features related to collecting identifiable information. Qualtrics has two options for creating an anonymous survey:
    1. you can distribute a survey using an Anonymous Link which doesn’t collect the user’s identifiable information at the beginning of the survey
    2. you can use the Anonymizing Responses feature which purges the survey of identifying information, including IP addresses and locating data, before saving it to your data.

You will want to include a description in the protocol about using the above features and if you are not using the above features, you will need to provide justification for not doing so.

Surveys, Consent, and Exemption

Exempt studies are not under the same obligation to obtain consent from participants (though the Board often asks researchers to provide information about the study to participants using a Study Notification). Surveys can be exempted if the one of following are true:

  1. the information is recorded by the investigator in such a manner that the identity of the participant cannot be readily ascertained directly or through identifiers linked to the subject, the investigator does not contact the subjects, and the investigator will not re-identify the subjects.
  2. any disclosure of the participant’s responses outside the research would not reasonably place the participant at risk of criminal or civil liability or be damaging to the subjects' financial standing, employability, educational advancement, or reputation.
  3. if the participant is identifiable, there are adequate measures to protect privacy and confidentiality.

In addition, surveying prisoners and minors cannot be exempted.

If the protocol qualifies for exemption, the Board does not require researchers to obtain consent from participants. If the protocol does not qualify for exemption, it doesn’t mean that the study can’t proceed. If consent is an obstacle for conducting the study, the Board may consider waiving consent but otherwise for surveys that don’t meet the exemption qualifications, the Board will require that the researcher obtain consent from participants.

Describing a Survey in iProtocol