Save the Data: Crisis and Survey Management

Save the Data: Crisis and Survey Management

Kyle Fassett – At the Association for Institution Research (AIR) annual forum in Denver, CO, my colleague, Allison BrckaLorenz, and I led a discussion on managing data during crises. Institutional researchers are often responsible for sound data collection and tracking enrollment patterns thus it is crucial to consider how crises may hinder or improve projections.

The session was rooted in a study that examined institutions that were affected by hurricanes during their NSSE administration. Three main prompts guided the conversation that focused on planning for disruptions, maintaining data quality, and implications for the studied populations. If you missed the session, read-on to get an overview of what was discussed!

  • How do institutional researchers prepare and plan for crises that are anticipated or unanticipated?
    • Participants discussed a range of issues facing higher educational institutions, including: residence hall mold, the government shutdown, faculty strikes, student activism, hurricanes, institution closures and mergers. These have the possibility to disrupt collection or bias data with excessive negative attitudes. To combat some of the issues an example recommended was having a continuity plan in place to assist in maintaining a sense of normalcy for when things go awry; working with an office of Disaster Management on-campus could help in building a robust protocol. Ultimately, we cannot prepare for every possible hiccup, but we can attempt to mitigate issues and learn from mistakes to improve for the next time.
  • What can be done to maintain an assessment’s course in the midst of a crisis?
    • The common theme among session participants was to ensure there are ample modes, and frequency, of communication. It is important to communicate the institution’s need when using a third-party survey instrument such as NSSE, and to communicate to students about shifting campus priorities. While it is impossible to prepare for all types of crises that may occur, identifying a central hub of decision-makers will make it easier to respond to concerns. These individuals can range from an internal department team to wider university leadership.
  • What are the implications for the population you are studying and your data?
    • Crises have the potential to disproportionately affect certain student demographics. A residence hall with mold may affect responses of on campus students. While a hurricane may affect off campus students or non-traditional students more if they lose electricity and cannot complete work. One participant shared they saw an increase in their response rates due to national conversations; the #MeToo movement occurred during a survey administration for a sexual violence climate study. As institutional researchers, it is important to be ready for many scenarios. At the session, it was recommended to have a bank of survey items or a qualitative focus group protocol at-hand to be able to respond to a rapidly changing higher education landscape.

To learn more about the discussion, view the handout or contact us at nsse@indiana.edu