Surveys are an important method for data collection. Whether it is for conducting internal assessments, gathering feedback, or collecting valuable research data, a reliable survey tool is an integral piece in the methodological toolkit of any researcher. Using different survey tools for different projects leads to differences in the quality of data collection and unnecessary licensing costs. In order to find a more sustainable solution, the Methods Lab assessed some of the most popular survey tools with the aim of finding the ideal one to cater to the specific needs of the Weizenbaum Institute’s research groups and administrative departments. Important to us was to select a user-friendly, open-source survey tool suitable for research that can be hosted on our own servers.
In this blog post, we introduce our choice: LimeSurvey. It is a free, open-source survey software with a strong commitment to data protection. It offers a versatile platform for data collection, making it ideal for researchers, academic institutions, and organizations of all sizes. In doing so, we hope that the insights from our survey tool comparison will prove useful to researchers and institutions beyond our own.
Here are some of the distinctive advantages that we were able to identify, making LimeSurvey a compelling choice for research and data collection:
Cost-Effective and Open Source: LimeSurvey is open source, meaning, it is available for free when hosted on your own servers, thereby eliminating the need for costly licensing fees.
Data Protection: LimeSurvey prioritizes data privacy – a particular advantage appreciated by our IT department due to its compliance with the GDPR. Its servers are strategically located in Germany and Finland, ensuring adherence to stringent European data protection regulations.
User-Friendly Integration: LimeSurvey seamlessly integrates with existing user accounts, simplifying the onboarding process without requiring additional account setup.
Suitable for Research: LimeSurvey is designed with research needs in mind. It offers a wide range of features, including unlimited projects and administrators/accounts. This flexibility makes it suitable for both simple and complex research projects.
No Artificial Limits: LimeSurvey imposes no artificial limitations on user accounts, participants, or projects.
On August 30th, 2023, the Methods Lab and Olga Pasitselska (U of Groningen) organized the workshop on data donation in messaging groups research. The workshop intended to tackle practical and ethical issues behind data collection, processing, and dissemination in the research of closed messaging groups. We asked four colleagues to share their experiences and struggles and provide their solutions for closed chat groups research. The invited speakers, Sérgio Barbosa (U Coimbra), Katharina Knop-Hülß (HMTMH Hannover), Connie Moon Sehat (Hacks/Hackers), and Julian Kohne (GESIS), paved the way for better conceptualization of messaging groups and application of tailor-made ethical and practical solutions. The workshop allowed for a cross-field discussion of ad-hoc developments in closed groups research and provided many insights for the audience, speakers, and organizers.
Sérgio Barbosa explained his approach of joining activist WhatsApp groups in Brazil. Sérgio suggested that informed consent cannot be assumed as a one-off solution: instead, one should go beyond the check-list of ethical guidelines and learn by doing and negotiating with the group members. When joining these types of groups, researchers should clearly state the purposes of the research and disclose their identity, and also share the outcome of the research and promote it in the local community as well. Different approaches should be taken, depending on the type of groups: for example, pro-democracy groups and extremist groups should be treated differently, independent of the group size.
Dr. Katharina Knop-Hülß shared insights about studying non-professional secondary groups (e.g., choir, sport, volunteer groups) with her highly unobtrusive and highly invasive research approach of scraping chats’ content. Since these groups were representative of intimate environments of everyday communication, they can be considered as “safe spaces”, closed from the public eye. To account for the sensitive nature of the data collection, Katharina used an opt-in approach, provided pseudonymized chat logs to the participants before they consented to participate, and complied with the requirement not to share this data with anyone beyond the research team, even after the data was pseudonymized.
Julian Kohne introduced his digital platform for WhatsApp data donation that automatically cleans and anonymizes the data, reducing researchers’ exposure to and intervention in the raw data. In his research, Julian takes a participant-centered approach: the data collection tool is designed to maximize usability and control of the data for research participants. They can pre-process the data in a way that allows them to review the chat logs and decide what exactly they want to donate, deleting undesirable pieces of data, up to the possibility of deleting time stamps and other meta-data. With that, the tool also allows researchers to track how much and what types of data was deleted.
Dr. Connie Moon Sehat presented the meta-review of closed messaging apps research that aimed to determine what are the conditions in terms of indexed invites, group size, discussion topics, or other aspects of closed groups that make them arguably public or private. Adding to the previous speakers’ examples of their research with activist/public and hobby and friends/private types of groups, the review summarized the discussed points and provided a framework for mapping chat groups according to the multiple parameters. Whether researchers scraped the groups without entering them, entered with invitation, disclosed or not their identity and research interest, depended on the nature of the groups and public interest that can justify researchers’ intervention into the closed communication spaces. Connie also stressed the possible differences in perceptions of groups’ “publicness” between users, researchers, and platforms, that also should be taken into account.
After four presentations, we continued the discussion with the online and offline audience, addressing the issues of generalizability of messaging data (what slice of the “natural” social interaction are we looking at here?), the role of language, and the differences between long- and short-term groups. We also discussed what is the role of the researcher in the automated versus manual data collection process, and how participants can benefit from data donation.
The workshop provided theoretical and practical insights for messaging groups research and outlined future directions for collaboration in creating the guidelines for ethical closed messaging research and data donation.
On March 2nd, the Methods Lab hosted its first-ever workshop titled “Web Scraping and API-based Data Collection”. The workshop explored various techniques for accessing and gathering data from platforms using APIs and web scraping. Speakers included Florian Primig (FU Berlin), Steffen Lepa (TU Berlin), Felix Gaisbauer (WI), and Leon Wendel (WI). The event received an overwhelmingly positive response, with many people attending both in person and remotely. The workshop generated plenty of discussions and concluded with a Q&A session.
We at the Methods Lab were very happy to see so many faces there. We would like to thank all our presenters and participants for contributing with their curiosity, knowledge, and presence and in helping us create such a successful first event. Looking forward to organizing more workshops in the future on emerging methodologies in the realm of digital research!
We hereby present the first workshop at the Institute to emerge from the methodological needs that were indicated in our institute-wide survey in December. It is titled Web Scraping and API-based Data Collection and takes place on March 2.
After an introduction to the topic by the Methods Lab team, Florian Primig (FU), Steffen Lepa (TU), Felix Gaisbauer (WI), and Lion Wedel (WI) will each present various use cases of these two data collection methods. You can find more information about the workshop on its program page.
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