Expanding a single-institution survey to multiple institutions: Lessons learned in research design and deployment





multi-institutional survey, institutional review board, human research, librarian research


Objective:  Creating generalizable knowledge across institutions is a step beyond a successful local research project. The purpose of this article is to share the process and lessons learned from expanding a survey tool developed and piloted at a single veterinary college to its deployment at multiple veterinary colleges in the United States and Canada. 


Population or problem: Little guidance exists on expanding a survey developed for a single institution to distribution to health professions students across multiple institutions.  


Methods:   In June 2016, the first author of the survey contacted librarians from veterinary colleges to explore a possible multi-institution study to investigate student behaviors and perceptions around scientific information. Librarians from twenty-nine institutions initially expressed interest. Those at fifteen institutions participated in initial planning, and eight elected to distribute the survey. Of these, seven submitted for IRB review at their own institution and one institution facilitated the distribution of the survey under the original institution’s IRB exemption.


Findings:  The IRB submission process and requirements varied by participating institution. Mean time from submission to approval was 10 days (range: 2-31 days). Several changes were made to the survey based on the recommendations of participating librarians, ranging from simplifying the method of survey distribution to modifying specific questions to make them meaningful across institutions. As participating institutions did not have synchronized academic calendars, the survey distribution took a staggered approach between institutions based on IRB review and varying institutional processes. 


Conclusions:   Expanding even a simple IRB-exempt survey from one institution to others requires careful consideration of local practices, attention to differences in the IRB process, and ethical considerations for recruiting students where librarians serve as instructors or hold other positions of influence. Attempts to standardize recruitment messaging and survey questions for generalizable results required compromise by the librarian researchers at participating institutions.

Author Biographies

Erin R B Eldermire

Head, Veterinary Library
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY

Kristine M Alpi

University Librarian
Oregon Health & Science University
Portland, OR

Suzanne Fricke

Animal Health Librarian
Washington State University
Pullman, WA

Andrea C Kepsel

Health Sciences Educational Technology Librarian
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI

Erin E Kerby

Veterinary Medicine Librarian
University of Illinois
Urbana, IL

Jessica R Page

Head, Veterinary Medicine Library
Ohio State University
Columbus, OH

Hannah F Norton

Chair, Health Science Campus Library
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL


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02/25/2021 — Updated on 02/25/2021


How to Cite

Eldermire, E., Alpi, K., Fricke, S. ., Kepsel, A., Kerby, E. E., Page, J. R., & Norton, H. F. (2021). Expanding a single-institution survey to multiple institutions: Lessons learned in research design and deployment. Hypothesis: Research Journal for Health Information Professionals, 32(1). https://doi.org/10.18060/23945





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