IONA

Online Research Guidelines

The mission of the IRB is to ensure that human subjects’ rights are being protected in all research situations. This includes the rights of subjects who are participating in research that is being conducted online. Online research introduces unique challenges to traditional IRB guidelines. If you will be using an online medium to collect data, please make sure you adhere to the following guidelines.

Recruitment*

Researchers have considerable discretion in recruiting research participants using online methods. Whether using a targeted sample or posting to newsgroups, the specific recruitment strategy should be presented in sufficient detail for IRB review. Researchers should also be cognizant about online etiquette by considering the following: "Do not interfere with the activities of others or use a disproportionate share of resources. Send messages only to those who may be interested in the content." Researchers who wish to use the Iona College Master Distribution list should contact the Office of the Provost.

Choosing an Online Survey Provider

The choice of online survey technology rests with the researcher, but it is recommended that a professionally administered survey service be used. Regardless of choice, the following requirements must be met to ensure ethical treatment of the participants, particularly in the area of confidentiality:

  • SSL encryption for all data transmission
  • Masked IP addresses so that the source of the data cannot be traced
  • Time stamp of response (consent question in particular)
  • Assurance that the service provider will not use participant data in any way
  • Assurance that access to participant data requires researcher authentication
  • Ability to delete database from server

In your application, please indicate that the survey service you have chosen meets all of these requirements (if you use Survey Monkey® all the above are possible, but are not necessarily the default settings). If you use a personally or privately administered data collection tool, your application must indicate how each of the requirements above is being addressed.

In addition to the required characteristics, the following are recommended:

  • Encrypted data storage
  • Separation of identifying information from other data

Creating Your Survey

When you create your survey, be sure that you:

  • “Turn on” the features described above, where necessary.
  • For each question in your survey include the ability to withhold the answer with a “no response” choice or the ability to move to the next item without providing an answer. Subjects may not be forced to answer a question in order to proceed.
  • At the end of your survey, include an option to withdraw from the survey and a statement regarding the fate of the participant’s data.

Informed Consent

  • Include informed consent as the first page of your survey including all elements of a typical informed consent document. Implied consent for online data collection is usually satisfactory and can be obtained with statements such as, “I am at least 18 years of age and I agree to participate in the research described above” or “By continuing with this survey, you affirm that you are at least 18 years old and you agree to participate in this research.” In some situations (greater than minimal risk) the IRB will require documented consent. In those cases, email, postal mail, and fax can be used to issue and retrieve consent forms.
  • In your informed consent, make no promises of anonymity and confidentiality taking place outside of your control. Please caution your subjects with an explicit statement. Example: “Your confidentiality will be maintained to the degree permitted by the technology used. No guarantees can be made regarding interception of data sent via the Internet by any third parties. Your participation in this online survey involves risks similar to a person’s everyday use of the Internet.” You might also include a link to the security policies of the service you are using.
  • The consent form should make clear that anonymous responses cannot be extracted from the database once that have been submitted.  Moreover, the consent should specify the fate of a participant’s responses if the participant withdraws before completing the research.
  • Provide an alternate means of filling out a survey in case a participant is not comfortable with the electronic medium.
  • Please review the online-research sample consent form that can be found here.

Additional Considerations for Online Research:

  • Using the highest level of encryption might force participants to use a particular browser or browser version.
  • The highest level of encryption might not be available in some countries.
  • If an incentive is being offered, the researcher should be able to provide it without revealing the identity of the participant.

* University of Texas, Austin, Acceptable Use Policy (http://www.utexas.edu/cio/policies/)