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Climate Surveys & Assessments

At times, Northwestern students, faculty, and staff are invited to participate in surveys related to climate assessments. Sometimes the entire survey aims to gain insight on campus climate and other times there are blocks of questions dedicated to assessing climate for participants.

Recent Campus Climate Surveys & Assessments

In 2024, the Northwestern community will participate in again participate in the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct in alignment with reporting requirements. Beyond that, there are no plans, at this time, for a university-wide campus climate survey.

Climate Survey Guidance

Schools, departments, and/or units across Northwestern may decide to engage in their own climate surveys or assessments. This information has been created to provide guidance and resources regarding climate surveys. Before launching a climate survey in your area, it is important to consider several factors. Below outlines some of the primary considerations to think through should you decide to conduct a climate survey. 

Goal Alignment 

Does a survey align with your goals? Is a climate survey the right tool or is there another method that is more appropriate?

If you decide to move forward with a survey, consider if you will create your own survey instrument or if you will use an already-developed measure or instrument. There are challenges and benefits of both approaches.

  • Creating your own survey can be time intensive and poses challenges in benchmarking or comparing yourself to other institutions. However, one of the main benefits of creating your own survey is that you can customize the questions to your specific audience and context.
  • When using an instrument or measure that has already been created, there is less customization, and it can be costly. However, it is often a more efficient use of time and results can be benchmarked or compared to other institutions who also use that instrument or measure.

Survey Creation & Administration 

You’ve decided a survey is the way to go. Now consider the participants, timeline, distribution, and support.

  • Participants: Who will be included in your survey and who will be excluded? Do you plan to distribute to students, staff, and faculty? Will you include both graduate and undergraduate students?
  • Timeline: Take into account survey fatigue. Are there other surveys happening around the same time? Consider other, potentially competing priorities (e.g., exams, course evaluations, etc.).
  • Recruitment: How will you advertise the survey (e.g., email, social media, newsletter(s), etc.)? Consider your population and sample sizes. If you have smaller numbers, this will impact your ability to disaggregate results while maintaining confidentiality. How, if at all will you incentivize participation?
  • Platform: Which platform is most appropriate for your survey needs? How does your chosen platform allow you to make sure that sensitive data is secured? Is the platform that you’ve chosen accessible? Can it be used on mobile devices, with screen readers, and/or translated into different languages? (FYI: Northwestern employees have access to Qualtrics.)
  • Outsourcing: It is sometimes beneficial to outsource survey administration and/or analysis to an external consultant or organization. If you anticipate issues of trust, sensitive topics, and tension regarding individuals’ openness to responding honestly, you may consider outsourcing. This will most likely come at a cost.

Data Management & Results 

How will you protect confidentiality, analyze data, and share your findings?

  • Data Protection: Is it possible that individuals may be able to be identified by their survey data depending on what information you’ve collected and what platform you use? Be sure participants understand whether they are responding anonymously (no identifying information) or confidentially (identifying information but kept private).
  • Analysis: Create a plan for who will analyze the data. Consider what you want to use the data for—different audiences may require different analyses. Think about the main takeaway messages.

Sharing Results & Taking Action 

How are you communicating the results and using the results for action and planning? How are you learning about the impact of your actions?

  • Communication: How will the results be shared, who will they be shared with, and who will do the sharing? Will the data be shared with the unit, the school, the campus community, the public? How widely will the disaggregated data be shared? What format will you use to share results—report, presentation, etc.? Who do you need to communicate with prior to the release of the results?
  • Action: One of the biggest missteps that units make after completing a campus climate survey data collection is that they don’t do anything with the results, or there is the perception that they don’t do anything with the results. Communicate the commitments will be made toward action as a result of the survey. Consider how metrics will be developed, success will be measured, and progress will be shared.