Dagwood Puzzled by “Anonymous” Survey
Just last week a client proposed having their salespeople recruit customers to take the loyalty and satisfaction survey we had launched for them. It’s a terrible idea, for exactly the reasons that Dagwood realizes with his baffled look in this cartoon. If you want honest feedback that your business unit can honestly use to improve, then having a solid approach for anonymous or confidential input is essential.
But what exactly do “anonymous” and “confidential” mean in marketing and survey research? They are terms that most of us use too loosely, so for some solid definitions that govern the most rigorous social and political research around, I consulted a guidance document from the University of Michigan’s IRB (Institutional Review Board):
- Anonymous participation means that “it is impossible to know whether or not an individual participated in the study”
- Confidential participation means that only the research team knows who has participated, and they are “obligated not to disclose that information to others outside the team” without permission
- Anonymous data means it is impossible for anyone “to connect the data to the individual who provided it,” either through identifiers in the data or through a combination of unique data elements
- Confidential data means there is a link between the data and who provided it (with identifiers usually stored separately to protect against accidental disclosure) but the research team is obligated to not disclose any links to others outside the team without permission
Anonymity is a much stronger criterion, and it is rare that we achieve it in our own primary data collection efforts. The reason is that someone needs to know who participated and who didn’t in order to assess the rigor of the design.
P.S. Speaking of confidentiality, someone told me that if I wrote about this cartoon, it would be like broadcasting my age to the world, because nobody under . . . uh, 29 . . . reads Blondie. Just so you know, I don’t usually read Blondie.