Surveys conducted for French public research and statistical bodies must comply with certain legal and institutional requirements and procedures. Scientific and funding partnerships may also need to be set up and certain services outsourced.
Scientific and funding partnerships
INED quantitative surveys are now often funded and conducted jointly with other research institutions. One of the first procedures, then, is to create and formalize a scientific and funding partnership.
The work of collecting information from a given population in France must be undertaken in compliance with various legal requirements.
The creation of a computerized data file that contains personal information obtained either directly or indirectly, including respondent names, must be reported to the CNIL, France’s national data protection agency. This applies to all socio-demographic statistical surveys requiring a sampling frame of persons who are identified either directly or indirectly, even if the data collected are studied under strict conditions of anonymity and the sampling frame is later destroyed.
For researchers conducting a questionnaire survey, the CNIL plays another role: it ensures compliance with the conditions that must be met when asking “sensitive” questions.
Article 8 of Chapter II, Section 2 of law no. 2004-801 of August 6, 2004 (loi n°2004-801 du 6 août 2004) prohibits “collecting or processing personal data that directly or indirectly identify a person’s racial or ethnic origin, political, philosophical or religious opinions, union membership or that pertain to their health or sexual life.”
This restriction may be lifted under certain conditions, such as when respondents give written consent and the survey is deemed to be in the general interest.
Jointly conducted international surveys may involve inter-country data exchange. In this case, it is necessary to ensure that the protection level guaranteed by law in the country where the data are sent is at least as high as in the country from which they originate. This is the case for all European Union countries. Outside the EU, situations are examined on a case-by-case basis.
Survey projects must be developed in coordination with the statistics community and the data collected must be disseminated within that community.
The Conseil National de l’Information Statistique or CNIS
The CNIS organizes exchanges and agreements between public statistics producers and users. It coordinates public service statistical studies and surveys and ensures their social and economic utility.
To this end, the CNIS establishes an annual programme including all public statistical surveys. Every five years it develops a medium-term programme that sets the major guidelines for the development of future public statistics activities.
Data production services, including INED, present the survey projects they are planning for the following year to the CNIS. A preliminary project is presented in the spring, the definitive project in September.
For some surveys a utility assessment is required (this is the case for all surveys conducted jointly with INSEE, for example). This is handled by the relevant CNIS commission—in INED’s case, the Demography and Social Issues commission, which evaluates project utility on the basis of a project proposal. (See the attached template.)
The last step is to obtain approval from a CNIS committee, the Comité du Label des Enquêtes Statistiques, which assesses project proposal compliance with statistical operation quality standards. That approval certifies the project’s general interest and statistical quality on the basis of the project proposal. The committee also deliberates on whether or not survey participation is compulsory.
The Réseau Quetelet
Once the survey has been conducted and analysed by its designers, the data and findings are made available for use by the scientific community at large. As soon as INED surveys are ready for wider dissemination, they are listed in the catalogue of the Réseau Quetelet, France’s network and portal for archiving and disseminating humanities and social science data.
The Réseau Quetelet provides access to major survey databases: INED surveys; data from French public statistical surveys (population censuses, INSEE surveys, statistical surveys conducted by ministerial offices, etc.), made available by the ADISP team of the Centre Maurice Halbwachs (CMB); socio-political surveys and electoral data, made available by Sciences Po’s CDSP (Centre de Données Socio-Politiques).
In 2012 the Réseau Quetelet was joined by the CASD (Centre d’Accès Sécurisé aux Données), which disseminates detailed French public statistical survey data on individuals, households and companies.
In addition, the Universities of Lille, Lyon and Caen have data platforms (Plateformes Universitaires de Données or PUDs) and provide training in data use.
Various types of operations may be outsourced to service providers:
- design and implementation of data capture and coding systems, data storage, maintenance, consulting and other services;
- respondent contact logistics and support (printing of information leaflets and/or posters and notification letters, routing);
- respondent or interviewer recruitment, assistance in interviewer training, data collection management, data capture and/or coding, data cleansing.
Outsourcing may call for the drafting of detailed specifications.
Use of a service provider – drafting calls for tender, assessing and selecting applications – must be planned ahead of time to ensure that deadlines are met and public procurement regulations properly followed.
The main providers of outsourced services in French public research are polling institutes (particularly for telephone surveys), printers, routers, information technology specialists, other services (interpreters, venue providers, food services, etc.), goods suppliers (e.g. small gifts for respondents) and public-sector companies (post office, national railway, etc.).