Policy 55 - Non-Academic Surveys with University Populations

The policies found on the website of the Secretariat are compulsory rules for the University community. The authoritative copies of the policies are held by the Secretariat and bear the seal of the University. The online version accessible through the website of the Secretariat is available for information purposes only. In case of discrepancy between the online version and the authoritative copy held by the Secretariat, the authoritative copy shall prevail. Please contact the Secretariat for assistance if necessary.


27 May 2019


28 February 2020. Amended, official titles only.





Responsible/Originating Department:

Office of Institutional Analysis & Planning

Executive Contact:

Vice-President, Academic & Provost

Related Policies, Guidelines & Procedures

Policy 46 - Information Management

1. Introduction

The University of Waterloo (the “University”) administers and participates in a number of non-academic surveys that collect data about the thoughts, feelings, attitudes and/or behaviours of University populations. This data is used to inform the administration of the University, to assist with planning, and to prepare reports. “Non-academic Surveys” with University stakeholder populations are questionnaires that are sent to potential participants for purposes other than “academic research” as defined by the Tri-Council Policy Statement (TCPS 2)[1]. Non-academic Surveys can be conducted in a variety of ways, including in person, over the telephone, by mail or using the internet.

This policy seeks to support the development, implementation, and efficient administration of Non-academic Surveys administered by or for the University community for purposes other than academic research.

2. Scope

This policy applies to all Non-academic Surveys designed for a sample of 500 or more members of the University community, or any Non-academic Survey that upon preliminary assessment, poses higher than minimal risk to potential participants, as assessed by the Survey Advisory Committee (SAC). If survey administrators are unsure about the level of risk to potential participants, it is recommended that the survey be vetted under this policy. University departments and Faculties are all encouraged to use the principles and resources available through this policy when developing and administering surveys.

Examples of Non-academic Surveys covered by the Policy include:

  • internal surveys administered to the University community;
  • external surveys that involve University students, staff, or faculty;
  • surveys undertaken for internal planning purposes of the University;
  • internally sponsored market research; and
  • surveys of significance to the University brand and reputation.

The following surveys are excluded from the Policy:

  • surveys that are part of academic research;
  • course or teaching evaluations, feedback forms, or event evaluations;
  • surveys used as teaching/instructional tools, such as surveys that are part of the course or degree requirement or polls taken within a course; and
  • surveys that are administered to student and employee groups, by student and employee associations who negotiate on their behalf.

Other exemptions will be decided on a case-by-case basis by the SAC.

The following surveys are administered to University populations and are approved by the SAC for ongoing use, and will continue to be included in survey coordination activities:

  • surveys of prospective students relating to recruitment and admissions;
  • Canadian Graduate and Professional Student Survey (CGPSS);
  • Canadian University Survey Consortium surveys (CUSC);
  • Graduate and Professional Student Outcome Survey (GPOS);
  • National College Health Assessment Survey (NCHA);
  • National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE);
  • Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC) Graduate Placement Survey;
  • Ontario University Graduate Survey (OUGS); and
  • Statistics Canada’s National Graduate Survey.

Inquiries about whether a survey falls under the scope of the Policy can be directed to the Office of Institutional Analysis & Planning (IAP).

3. Legal Framework

In addition to the abovementioned “Related Policies, Guidelines & Procedures,” the Policy will be construed in accordance with applicable law, in particular:

  • An Act to promote the efficiency and adaptability of the Canadian economy by regulating certain activities that discourage reliance on electronic means of carrying out commercial activities, and to amend the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act, the Competition Act, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, and the Telecommunications Act, S.C. 2010, c. 23 (“Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation”);
  • Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. F.31 (“FIPPA”);
  • Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004, S.O. 2004, c. 3, Sched. A (”PHIPA”);  and
  • The University of Waterloo Act 1972, S.O., 1972, c. 200.

If any of these legal provisions are modified, abrogated, superseded, or added to, the Policy will be interpreted in accordance with the new legal framework.

4. Purpose

The objective of this policy is to ensure effective coordination of surveys and to maximize their benefits by:

  • monitoring the number and timing of surveys to any one specific group to minimize survey fatigue;
  • maximizing response rates for surveys;
  • ensuring measures are taken to protect the privacy and confidentiality of survey participants;
  • promoting effective survey methodology and design;
  • ensuring alignment with the University’s strategic goals and priorities;
  • avoiding or minimizing the collection of duplicate information; and
  • encouraging the sharing of meaningful, relevant and reliable survey results amongst the University community.

5. Roles and Responsibilities

Survey Advisory Committee (SAC):

SAC assumes the following responsibilities:

  • proposal of clarifications or revisions to the Policy in consultation with the Secretariat;
  • operationalization of the Policy with relevant procedures (see appendices); and
  • review and approval of applications referred to the SAC by IAP.

Through IAP, the SAC ensures that:

  • students, staff, faculty, and external researchers are provided with information on guidelines, procedures, and other matters related to the administration of Non-academic Surveys at the University;
  • there is a proper review and approval process for the Non-academic Surveys under SAC jurisdiction, and that accurate records of these processes are securely maintained in IAP (including all revised materials associated with initial and continuing survey review, and copies of any final reports);
  • unanticipated issues and complex requests are brought to the committee’s attention and are reviewed and approved in a timely fashion; and
  • educational activities and support (e.g., presentations, seminars and workshops) are provided to University students, faculty and staff involved in developing and administering Non-academic Surveys.

Vice-President, Academic & Provost (VPAP):

The Vice-President, Academic & Provost approves the Terms of Reference of the SAC.

Institutional Analysis & Planning (IAP):

IAP is the unit responsible for receiving, reviewing and approving survey applications under the scope of the Policy and for referring to and consulting with the SAC regarding applications that IAP assessed as requiring additional review of the SAC. 

Office of Research Ethics (ORE)

ORE will ensure that any Non-academic Surveys brought to their attention are sent to the SAC. ORE will advise the SAC on ethical and privacy considerations regarding Non-academic Surveys, at the request of the SAC.

6. Survey Review and Approval

Individuals responsible for developing and/or administering a Non-academic Survey must begin by submitting an application for administration to IAP through the Institutional Surveys website. Details regarding the application for administration can be found in Appendix A to this policy. Each application for administration of a survey will be reviewed by a designate within IAP. IAP will consult the SAC regarding applications that IAP assessed as requiring SAC review

The survey review and approval process includes:

  • an initial survey review and approval to ensure that the survey is voluntary, confidential, maintains respondent privacy, and does not conflict in timing or administration with other surveys;
  • the review and approval of modifications to ongoing surveys;
  • an annual review and approval of surveys that continue beyond one year; and/or
  • review and approval of all revised materials and related documents associated with the survey feedback process.

7. Non-compliance

Individuals carrying out a survey in contravention of the Policy:

  • will be denied access to survey participants’ contact information;
  • will be prohibited from using University brand/logo or contact information on any communication related to the survey; and
  • may be subject to discipline or corrective action measures imposed under applicable University policies.

Appendix A – Application Procedure


Any person or group wishing to conduct a Non-academic Survey will consult with IAP prior to submitting an application. IAP will consider the application and provide advice on the following criteria:

  • whether the survey activity is classified as "academic research” or “non-academic research”[1];
  • potential overlap with other surveys with the population/sample to be recruited;
  • optimal timing of recruitment and administration of the Survey to minimize interference with other University surveys and survey fatigue;
  • access to resources held by the University;
  • access to data/information collected by the University;
  • if there are other data available that would address the purpose of the Survey;
  • whether data collection could be combined with other planned surveys;
  • privacy, confidentiality, and ethical issues; and
  • methodological issues.


Applications to conduct surveys must be submitted to IAP at least two weeks prior to the date when the Survey is to be launched. IAP will endeavour to review applications within two weeks of receipt. If consultation with the SAC is required, the timeline may be longer.

The application must identify:

  • survey purpose including strategic or research context;
  • the unit or group managing the Survey;
  • sample size;
  • target population;
  • what data will be collected;
  • how it will be administered;
  • timelines;
  • frequency of survey administration;
  • incentives;
  • how data will be used and results communicated;
  • how the data will be collected, stored, disclosed, retained and protected;
  • how informed consent is obtained; and
  • a final copy of the Survey instrument and supporting documentation (e.g., letters of introduction, consent forms, etc.).


IAP will assess applications to conduct surveys based on the following criteria, and seek the advice of the SAC as needed:

  • design of the Survey including timing, scope, and mode of delivery;
  • extent to which other surveys supply (or could supply) the required data;
  • extent of survey burden on target groups within the University;
  • adherence with FIPPA, PHIPA, Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation, the Tri-Council Policy Statement on Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS 2), and Policy 46 – Information Management; and
  • government and institutional reporting requirements.

Appendix B – Survey Advisory Committee Terms of Reference


The Survey Advisory Committee (SAC) is responsible for overseeing the implementation of Policy 55, and to review and approve Non-academic Survey applications.

Responsibilities and Deliverables:

Responsibilities of the Committee include:

  • attending committee meetings as arranged;
  • recommending policy and process improvements that will focus on:
    • strategies to optimize scheduling of Non-academic Surveys,
    • coordination of participant recruitment,
    • encuraging partnerships through sharing of survey questions and appropriate data sharing practices in order to minimize participant burden, and
    • optimization of resources;
  • promoting the use of a university survey repository for coordination of Non-academic Surveys and communication of results;
  • receive and endorse recommendations for survey approval as requested by IAP;
  • providing direction and guidance to IAP.

The Committee delegates responsibility for the following activities to IAP:

  • arranging committee meetings;
  • operationalizing and updating application procedures;
  • developing guidelines and supporting documentation for survey applicants;
  • creating and implementing a communication plan on these requirements;
  • reviewing and approving applications for permission to survey, using the criteria oulined in Appendix A;
  • providing reports of activity to the SAC; and
  • maintaining an account of the level of surveying imposed on campus stakeholders through a repository of surveys and survey calendar.

The SAC will provide the following deliverables:

  • a set of processes to coordinate and optimize the scheduling of Non-academic Surveys, encourage partnerships through sharing of questions to minimize participant burden, and optimize resources;
  • a repository of Non-academic Surveys to maintain an account of the level of surveying imposed on campus stakeholders. The repository will consist of:
    • basic information on the purpose of the Survey;
    • questions asked or a copy of the survey instrument;
    • timing;
    • survey administrator;
    • target population;
    • data ownership, storage, retention, maintenance and security, and
    • findings and reports related to surveys.
  • a survey calendar to maintain an account of the level of surveying imposed on campus stakeholders. The calendar entry will consist of:
    • population of interest;
    • timing; and
    • basic purpose
  • a set of processes to review and approve applications for permission to survey, and for sharing of survey results in accordance with relevant data security and privacy policies.

Members / Composition:


Selected from among the members, arranges committee meetings as necessary, and chairs committee meetings.


The Survey Advisory Committee consists of representatives from the following University units, offices, or other:

  • Registrar’s Office;
  • Office of the Associate Provost, Students;
  • Secretariat;
  • Office of Research Ethics;
  • Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs;
  • designated faculty member with expertise in survey methodology (possibly cross-appointment with the Survey Research Centre);
  • Human Resources; and
  • Institutional Analysis & Planning

Resource departments (for consultation):  

  • Federation of Students; 
  • Graduate Student Association;
  • Information Systems and Technology;
  • University Relations;  
  • Alumni Affairs;
  • Library (in the area of research data management);
  • Co-operative Education and Career Action; and
  • Faculties

Meeting Frequency and Decision Making:

The Survey Advisory Committee will convene as needed and will strive to use consensus to reach decisions. If consensus is not reached, the SAC will seek direction from the Vice-President, Academic & Provost.

[1] Activities defined as “academic research” according to the Tri-Council Policy Statement (Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans, 2nd edition, TCPS2) that involve collecting information from the University community must undergo ethics review and clearance through a University of Waterloo Research Ethics Committee.