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New Guidance on Survey Research

March 14, 2024 - Renee Barrette, Analyst

Governments institutions and local authorities often use surveys to collect public views and opinions on new programs and services, and to support informed policy development. As part of its public engagement strategy, the Government of Saskatchewan website states that it routinely polls residents of Saskatchewan for information to help guide policy decisions. The website lists public opinion polls conducted in recent years.

The University of Regina (U of R) has a survey research unit that provides survey and research expertise to students, faculty members and other groups on campus. The U of R has also developed a policy that governs surveys involving sampling of current and prospective students, and alumni and staff.

As of February 2024, Statistics Canada reported that it had 471 active surveys in the collection stage.

With the exponential growth in online government service delivery brought on by the pandemic, it is not surprising that government institutions and other organizations are increasingly using online survey tools and platforms.

There has been some media attention in the past on high profile online surveys. Media have reported on the Government of Saskatchewan’s cannabis survey and the federal government survey into medical aid in dying. In an article published in April 2019, CBC reported that the Saskatchewan Government has been in the habit of surveying the public on major issues noting a trend of surveying on the future of education in the province.

Where survey projects involve the collection, retention, use, disclosure and disposal of personal information, public bodies conducting surveys need to take steps to ensure compliance with Saskatchewan’s access and privacy laws.

My office has released a guide for public bodies on how to address the privacy risks when conducting surveys and the strategies for managing those risks, including online surveys.

There are separate rules and considerations that would arise when a trustee as defined in The Health Information Protection Act (HIPA) seeks to collect personal health information as part of a survey. The guide does not consider the potential impact and specific requirements of HIPA but is focused on the use of surveys by public bodies or organizations.

If your organization does not have a policy and procedure in place for conducting surveys and expects to be conducting multiple surveys, it should consider developing standards. Many universities, including the U of R, have developed guidance or policies on conducting surveys. The University of Saskatchewan has a master agreement with an online survey provider and a policy that governs the use of that survey tool.

For another example, see the Government of Canada Standards for the Conduct of Government of Canada Public Opinion Research – Online Surveys which were updated in 2020.

For further information consult the guidance document. For any questions, contact intake@oipc.sk.ca

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