Editor’s note: AAPOR has a detailed code of standards and ethics that are well worth reading regardless of where you reside or what country you work in. This excerpt is one small part of it https://www.aapor.org/Standards-Ethics.aspx
Q: Are there surveys for which disclosure is not required?
A: Yes. The disclosure requirement applies only to surveys for which results are released to the public.
Q: I am not an AAPOR member. Am I obligated to disclose the methods used in surveys that I conduct, as called for in the Code?
A: Yes. The AAPOR Code represents ethical standards that apply to all public opinion researchers. If a complaint of non-disclosure is received, AAPOR can and will censure researchers (and research companies) who fail to disclose their methods as specified in the AAPOR Code, whether or not the individuals are AAPOR members.
Q: Our press agent [or my editor] says there is no room in the press release [or the abstract/presentation/journal article] for all the methods information called for in the Standards for Minimal Disclosure. Is it a violation to publish or present results without these details?
A: No. AAPOR recognizes that reports about research take many different forms, and that inclusion of all the methods information is not always appropriate. The Code prescribes that researchers will include this information in “any report of research results,” or that they will “make [it] available when that report is released.” In most cases, this means that the researcher will prepare a detailed methodological appendix as a part of a complete research report. Summaries and shorter forms of reports can then refer to the full report as a source for the details of the method, and when such reference is made, the report is taken as “including” the details. The description of method can also be prepared as a separate memo or document, which can be made available in printed or electronic form, for example, by posting on a website. Good practice dictates that public research reports should indicate, whenever practical, where the description of method can be obtained. In any case, the researcher is required to disclose the information listed in the Standards for Minimal Disclosure upon request from any member of the public.
Q: We’ve released some results from our survey, but the questionnaire includes some questions for which we don’t wish to release results. Do we need to disclose the wording of those questions?
A: Not necessarily. You can meet the requirement for release of question wording (§III.2) by disclosing the wording of only those questions for which results were released, along with the text of any preceding instruction, explanation to the interviewer or respondents, or previous questions that might reasonably be expected to affect the response.
Q: Do I have to acknowledge the existence of questions for which no results are released?
A: Not necessarily. Note, however, that you do have to release the wording of introductions and instructions that could affect the responses to released questions. Even if these materials mention or imply the existence of the unreleased questions or items, they would still need to be disclosed if they could reasonably affect any of the released questions. Also, if the presence in the survey instrument of the unreleased questions could reasonably be expected to influence the responses to the questions for which results are released, then the existence of those questions must be acknowledged and the text of those questions ought to be released as well, in the interest of full disclosure. In general, it is best to place questions for which you do not intend to release results so that they follow the questions designed for release, so that such effects will be minimized.
Q: One of my political enemies [or commercial rivals] has asked me to disclose details of our survey. This person is going to use the materials to try to make us look bad. Do I need to disclose my survey methods to someone like that?
A: Yes. The Standards for Minimum Disclosure apply to requests from any member of the public.
Q: Some aspects of our methodology are proprietary. How can you ask us to release them?
A: All research firms, organizations and individuals are obligated to make the minimally required disclosures, upon request, for any publicly released survey results. It is permissible to describe proprietary methods in general terms, without necessarily providing all the details that another researcher would need to fully replicate the procedure. For example: “The results for this election poll were weighted according to the respondent’s likelihood of voting, using a proprietary formula based on several questions about voting intention and past voting.”
Q: We run a proprietary series of polls with results that are sold by subscription. We’ve put a few results from our latest survey on our website, so prospective subscribers can see how valuable our research could be for them. Does this obligate us to make the minimally required disclosures about our methods?
A: Yes, if the posting is on a publicly accessible website. If you are not willing to make these disclosures, then don’t make the results publicly available. Save these teaser results for display in your private or individually targeted sales pitches.
Q: I know the standards call for disclosure, but my firm is under contract with the research sponsor and that contract requires us to keep all details of the survey confidential. What should I do?
A: Under these circumstances, the obligation to disclose would be upon the research sponsor (i.e., your client), assuming the sponsor has released the survey’s results. Refer requests for disclosure to the research sponsor. The Code addresses this issue specifically at §II.A.3:
We shall inform those for whom we conduct publicly released surveys that AAPOR standards require members to release minimal information about such surveys, and we shall make all reasonable efforts to encourage clients to subscribe to our standards for minimal disclosure in their releases.
If key personnel on the project are AAPOR members, they can avoid any misunderstanding on this point by including language similar to the following in the contract with the client (assuming the client is the Sponsor and the AAPOR members’ firm is in the Consultant role):
Applicability of AAPOR Code to publicly released results. The Sponsor recognizes that the Consultant’s key personnel are members of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and are bound to adhere to its Code of Ethics and Professional Practicies. Nothing in this contract shall prevent the Consultant from fulfilling its obligation to ensure disclosure by the Sponsor, or the Consultant, upon request from any member of the public, minimally required information about the survey methods as required by the AAPOR Code of Ethics and Professional Practices, as amended on May 11, 2015. The requirements of the AAPOR Standards for Minimal Disclosure (Section III of the Code) will apply only to those survey questions, if any, for which statistical results are publicly released by the Sponsor or the Consultant.
Got a question about disclosure? Contact the AAPOR Standards Chair or Associate Standards Chair for assistance. As questions and answers accumulate, they may be added to this document.
Disclosure FAQ 9/15/15
Code as revised 5/11/15