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Policy for Handling Survey Comments

Context

Institutional Research administers numerous University surveys, many of which include open-ended questions that invite comments. Two examples are the NSSE and the Graduating Student Survey. Respondents (who may be students, faculty, staff, or alumni) will sometimes include names of specific individuals in their responses, sometimes mentioned in a positive fashion and sometimes negatively.

Purpose

This document provides guidance for the handling and distribution of comments from surveys, including whether names must be removed before distribution and how analytical files containing comments are managed.

Guidelines

  1. To facilitate the management of comments, all IR-sponsored surveys will include language similar to the following: “Your responses to this survey are confidential, and only summaries of your responses will be reported. Your verbatim comments may also be sent to your department chair, your dean, and the provost for review.”
  2. IR will process comments, then create files for distribution with identifiers / names redacted from comments using the following procedure:
    1. Read each comment for names.
    2. If a name is found, evaluate if the comment is positive or negative.
    3. If the comment is positive, keep the name. If the comment is negative, remove the name and replace with ____ to indicate that something has been removed.
    4. If a title is used instead of a name (e.g., chair of Criminal Justice) that identifies a particular individual, the title will be redacted and replaced with ___ .
  3. Raw comments typically will be distributed as Excel files and be organized with one row per response. This enables one to review an individual’s comments across questions, which is helpful because respondents may refer to their other responses (e.g., “as I stated above” or “per my other response”). Basic demographic information such as college, department, and academic level (undergraduate or graduate) of the student will be included but nothing that would compromise the anonymity of a respondent.
  4. Department chairs will receive the comments only for their respective department/unit and deans/associate deans will receive comments for all departments in their respective college/school/unit. After receiving the comments, academic leaders with a direct evaluative link to individuals or units mentioned in the comments may request the verbatim comments, which would include any information that was previously redacted.
    1. Examples of individuals with a direct evaluative link include department chairs, deans, and provost.
    2. Examples of individuals without a direct evaluative link would include the President, other VPs, and individual faculty members who may receive only the distributed redacted version of comments.
  5. Files that are used by Institutional Research for qualitative analysis (i.e., those containing coded open-ended comments) will not be distributed. Rather, summaries of findings will be shared.
  6. If a faculty member or graduate student wishes to conduct a qualitative study using the comments, IR will review the request to ensure the study is linked to a legitimate university interest and has an administrative sponsor who will share responsibility for the use of the data. IR reserves the right to decline any such requests. If approved by IR, individuals conducting the study must also obtain approval from the IRB before they receive the “redacted” version of the comments from IR.

Comments will not be shared with anyone who is NOT employed at Boise State University.

 

Revision: September 2021

Original policy: January 27, 2015