Research Involving Surveys or Interviews
This page provides guidance to those conducting research that involves interpersonal interactions with participants such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
Is IRB Review Required?
The most frequently asked question with survey and interview research is whether IRB review is required. Most research involving survey and interview procedures do meet the federal definition of research simply due to the interaction with human participants. However, there are some exceptions, and if your project may not be research, it may be valuable to review associated guidance on whether IRB review is required.
Activities Not Requiring IRB Review
Not Human Subjects’ Research
Certain projects such as journalism, oral history, legal research, etc. do not require IRB review. Click to review the guidance linked below to learn more about certain activities that do not require IRB review because they do not meet the regulatory definition of human subjects’ research.
Quality / Performance Improvement
There is often confusion as to whether a Quality / Performance Improvement project may meet the criteria for human subjects’ research. Click to review the guidance linked below to learn more about quality / performance improvement.
IRB Review of Survey / Interview Research
Research that solely involves interpersonal interactions with participants such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups most often qualifies for review under exempt or expedited categories. Less commonly, some research of this type may require convened board review.
Levels of Review for Survey / Interview Research
Research specific interactions involving “educational tests (cognitive, diagnostic, aptitude, achievement), surveys, interviews” involving no risk of criminal or civil liability and is not damaging to the subjects’ financial standing, employability, or reputation.
- Audio, visual, or image recording is permissible.
- Inclusion of children is permissible only when the research is education related and taking place in an educational setting.
- Collection of identifiable information is permissible under Limited Review. A confidentiality plan is required to protect participant’s data and should clearly outline identifiers to be collected. The confidentiality plan should align with requirements of your school-based information security requirements.
Research specific interactions involving “surveys, interviews, focus groups” where there is minimal risk of discomfort and breach of confidentiality. Risk is generally dependent on the questions asked and the participant population. This may include surveys with children outside of an educational setting or research with another vulnerable population where additional protections may need to be considered (e.g., people considering abortion, individuals with mental illness and/or substance use disorders, members of historically marginalized groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community, etc.)
- Audio, visual, or image recording is permissible, but the IRB may impose conditions.
- Inclusion of children is permissible.
- A confidentiality plan is required to protect participant’s data and should clearly outline identifiers to be collected. The confidentiality plan should align with requirements of your school or department-based information security requirements.
Less commonly, some research of this type may require convened board review, if it involves a vulnerable population and/or the collection of sensitive data that may place the subject at risk of criminal or civil liability or be damaging to the subjects’ financial standing, employability, or reputation. Research with incarcerated people will require convened board review.
Consent Considerations for Audio and Visual Recording
Audio or visual recording is common in survey / interview research, especially for interviews and focus groups. Researchers must inform participants of the following:
- That the conversation will be recorded and obtain the participant’s permission for such recording.
- The plan to protect the recorded data including plans to de-identify records or use pseudonyms, where records will be stored and secured, and timeline to destroy recordings.
- Plans for transcription and who will transcribe the recordings. NOTE: If the participants are Penn Medicine or Penn patients, transcription services must be HIPAA compliant.
Frequently Asked Questions for Survey / Interview Research
Researchers doing this type of research with Penn Medicine or Penn Dental patients should utilize REDCap or another HIPAA compliant survey product that has an established Business Associates Agreement with Penn. Researchers from other schools who are unaffiliated with Penn Medicine and Penn Dental may use Survey Monkey and Qualtrics. We recommend against Google Forms because it is not a secure platform.Considerations for Research with Penn Patients
Yes. It is generally permissible to obtain verbal consent for most survey / interview research by using a consent script, a brief (1 page) information sheet, or consent language at the start of the survey. Obtaining consent without requiring participant signatures involves a waiver of documentation of consent. This is generally recommended if you want to protect participant anonymity.Information Sheet Template
Yes, researchers may use MTurk for survey based research. Please review the guidance on using MTurk below.Research with MTurk
The following documents should be provided to the IRB:
- Consent language (e.g., script, text, or information sheet) preferably in a Word document;
- Survey research: a copy of the questions to be asked if the questions were developed for the purpose of the research OR unvalidated measures are used. When validated/published measures are used, describe and cite the measures in the HSERA application
- Interview / focus group research: Interview or focus group script or interview guide with questions to be asked;
- Recruitment flyers, messages, and/or oral scripts;
- When an external company is transcribing audio or visual recordings: company’s privacy/confidentiality policy