Surveys are an essential part of humanitarian response and research. They provide rapid data generation, are cost efficient to operate, and the methodology is fairly easy to explain to potential participants. One important ethical consideration for researchers is to balance the inherent benefits of survey research with the increased risk of conducting surveys in humanitarian settings. For instance, risks involved in survey research will depend on the nature of the survey questions and the environment that the surveys will be conducted in. In active conflict settings or refugee camps, surveys may dangerously expose respondents, highlighting the importance of anonymity and limiting the amount of identifiable information. For mental health or social research surveys, psychological distress from the process of having to think about the trauma again is a concern that may require follow-up services for the participant. Those experienced with the topic and setting, ideally including members of the target population, should review surveys to determine if they are appropriate for the target population as well as the environment of study.
It is also important to consider what limiting factors could affect data. Sensitive topics, such as sexual violence, could be easier to address in the form of a survey. However, where the surveys are completed, such as in a woman’s household, may interfere with the authenticity of the data collected. Participants may be put at risk from completing a survey, regardless of what answers they provide. Other factors affecting data integrity may be general research fatigue in the target population from too many surveys or other research methodologies. The literacy needs of respondents may require surveys to be conducted verbally rather than written, and researchers should be aware of possible language barriers or cultural ways of understanding that would require community involvement in survey creation, distribution and interpretation. Using validated surveys is also preferable to ensure that the time and risks that participants take will yield rigorous results.