Academic IRB – Secrets to a Smooth Approval

min. read

Need help navigating the IRB process? We'll give you the knowledge needed to respond to the most common IRB inquiries and provide valuable tips to streamline data collection. While this article is directed towards collecting responses from Centiment Audience Panel, these best practices can be applied to any study, regardless of your collection source.


Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) serve to safeguard the rights, welfare, and well-being of human subjects participating in academic survey research. As such, IRBs require researchers to undergo an approval process before engaging with a respondent population.

Navigating the Institutional Review Board (IRB) review process can be daunting, but this guide is here to help. To arm you with the knowledge needed to respond to IRB inquiries, we'll dive into how the data collection process works at Centiment. We'll also cover the top fielding considerations that may impact your project feasibility and pricing. Let's jump in!

Understanding panel operations

Recruitment and profiling

One benefit of using panel providers is that they have pre-recruited human subjects that can be quickly targeted for online surveys. 

Centiment recruits a broad, representative panel that enables deep targeting using existing profile data. Similar to advertisement across other industries, respondent recruitment efforts primarily focus on advertising on social media and affiliate websites.

When an individual agrees to sign up, they submit basic profile data, including age, gender, ethnicity, and zip code. Over time, a respondent is extensively profiled against an inventory of thousands of potential data points. Centiment utilizes this profile data to match respondents to applicable consumer and B2B studies.

This illustration compares demographic and firmographic profile questions.
Understand demographic vs. firmographic profile points

Additional profile questions are gradually woven in as a respondent continues to participate in studies. These profile questions may include additional personal demographics, including income and number of children; firmographics, such as industry, department, and role level; and lifestyle demographics, encompassing political views, pet ownership, and shopping habits. 

Study invitations

Once an audience is defined and a researcher's survey is submitted for collection, the profile data of respondents is aligned with the targeting requirements of the study. Matched surveys are automatically unlocked and made available to qualified respondents. Email notifications may be used to drive awareness of a particular study.

To avoid any selection bias, the survey topic is not shared with respondents before entering a study. The expected length of interview (LOI) and the associated reward are the only two pieces of information shared with a respondent. 

Upon accepting the invitation, the respondent will be asked to re-verify all the credentials used in targeting if they have not been recently declared. 

Suppose a respondent is selected for a study because they previously declared they work in an organization's accounting department. If that respondent hasn't participated in a survey in the past month, they will be asked to reconfirm that they still work in an accounting department by selecting it from a broad list of departments. Only then will they be able to take the survey.

Respondent security

Ensuring that qualified and engaged respondents participate in researchers' studies is a top priority for Centiment. Measures we employ to provide a secure panel include but are not limited to IP verification, proxy detection, ReCaptcha, link manipulation, fraud scoring, and duplication prevention. For more in-depth information on these measures, reference our support article, How We Safeguard Your Data

Respondents are anonymous

While Centiment extensively profiles its respondents to facilitate targeting, we do not allow for the collection of personally identifiable information (PII) within the studies we run. 

Informed consents

Adding an informed consent requirement is common and can be hosted within any survey build. Although we realize the language may be dictated by your IRB board, when possible, we recommend keeping your consent as short as possible. Add a yes/no opt-in question to your consent, and apply disqualification logic for any respondents that opt out.

Feasibility fundamentals

When conducting research with a panel provider, it's essential to understand the term "feasibility" and how it relates to reaching a specific target audience for a desired sample size. The feasibility of a survey refers to how practical it is to reach a particular audience within a given timeframe.

Population size

When targeting based on geography, realize that not every person within that geography will be accessible to participate in your study. To engage a couple of hundred respondents, the geography's base population should be at least 300,000.

Respondent density varies by geography. By quickly sharing your project requirements in a quote request, a Project Manager can quickly provide an estimate of what's feasible based on the requirements of your study.

Targeting vs. screening

Effective targeting helps to keep a survey incidence rate high. However, in-survey screening is often necessary to narrow an audience beyond available targeting parameters.

Take a target audience of salespeople using Salesforce as their CRM. Centiment can target salespeople; however, an in-survey screening question would be needed to isolate Salesforce users specifically.

When structuring a screening question, avoid generating an overly restrictive format. If in-survey screening becomes too restrictive, the incidence rate can drop to the point where feasibility is compromised.

For example, if Salesforce is the #1 CRM software, don't place it randomized in a list of 25 CRM companies where only 1/25 options passes. This will likely result in a realized qualification rate well below that of the real-world figure and can drive the incidence rate down to a level that makes the project infeasible.

Survey design best practices

Brevity wins

As you might guess, the shorter the survey, the deeper the available respondent pool, as people can more easily fit participation into their schedules. 

While Centiment runs longer surveys, we recommend keeping your survey below 75 questions / 12 minutes. For more guidance on survey design, reference our article Design a Survey That's Easy to Analyze.

Avoid overly repetitive formats

While some consistency can be a good thing, it's best to avoid a heavily repetitive format. Take matrix questions as an example. They can be beneficial in quickly collecting several data points; however, academic researchers often rely too much on them. Stringing several matrix batteries together can decrease engagement and lower data quality. Instead, strive to find a balance of question formats that preserves the finite attention span of respondents.

Focus on closed-ended questions

The Centiment Audience Panel was designed to collect quantitative data. To ensure the best engagement, we recommend you develop your survey with primarily closed-ended questions that focus respondents on reacting to content rather than creating it. A well-structured closed-ended survey typically results in a higher engagement rate, which provides a cleaner data set that's easier to draw insights from.

Quotas and balancing

In-survey quota balancing can be instrumental in ensuring a representative sample. That said, too many quotas increase complexity, drop incidence rate, and drive up costs. When balancing is needed, limit employing only the most necessary handful of quotas. For a comprehensive guide on balancing and quotas, reference our article How to Use Quotas to Your Advantage.

Communicate with your Project Manager early on

Good communication between the researcher and Centiment Project Manager ensures that targeting and screening are optimized to maximize reach, reduce friction, and manage costs. 

We suggest that researchers schedule a call with a Project Manager to discuss their research goals as soon as they receive a response to their quote request. This helps prevent unforeseen issues and reduces the need for additional rounds of IRB approval as project criteria evolve.

More fielding know how

Recontact studies

While most studies are ad-hoc or scheduled to repeat quarterly or annually, they usually draw from primarily a new base of respondents each time.

A recontact study is unique in that it re-engages the same individuals in a follow-up study at a later date, also referred to as a longitudinal study.

While recontact studies are often feasible, they have their limitations. The top considerations to be aware of are listed below.

  • Recontact studies are more expensive than traditional studies, given that a higher reward is needed to re-engage a finite respondent base.
  • A Project Manager must be made aware of the intent to retarget respondents before the initial study.
  • Only a subset of panelists are compatible with recontact studies, hence the need to inform a Project Manager before the initial study is released as it informs targeting.
  • Most studies realize a sub-50 % recontact rate. E.g., 400 respondents in round 1 generally yield less than 200 responses in round 2.
  • A follow-up study should be run in weeks, not months, as recontact rates diminish over time.

International reach and multi-language studies

Centiment can reach respondents in 100+ countries; you can find the complete list here. The US is generally the most cost-effective option, given the depth of the available respondent pool.

If surveying multiple countries, be aware that you generally must write your survey in the local language. Certain counties, such as India, can be reached in several languages, but the deepest respondent supply resides in the local languages. 

Most modern survey software, including the Centiment Survey Tool, can manage multiple languages hosted in a single build. Centiment can also assist with translation services; this includes studies programmed in 3rd party software, including Qualtrics, SurveyMonkey, and Alchemer. 

Note that Centiment charges the same price per response regardless of the survey software utilized to host your survey. The Centiment Survey Tool is offered for free when purchasing responses from Audience Panel.

Minimum age to engage

Each country has specific legal age minimums regarding survey participation. Within the US, researchers are allowed to survey children as young as 13 without parental consent under the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA). Most of Europe has a minimum age of 16, per Article 8 of the GDPR.

Although individuals ages 13 and older are legally allowed to participate in surveys within the US, it's often difficult to obtain responses from respondents ages 13-14. A more reliable approach is to target individuals that are 15 and older. If you need to target 15 and below, we suggest targeting parents with children of that age and requesting their child join them for the study.

Wrapping it up

IRBs exist for the purpose of respecting and protecting the privacy and confidentiality of individuals involved in human research. Our approach at Centiment dovetails with this goal as we are committed to balancing the needs of researchers with those of respondents. 

By partnering with Centiment Audience Panel, you can enjoy several complimentary services that will make your next IRB approval process stress-free. Our Project Managers are committed to helping you create personalized screening questions, examine data collection methods, and address any questions your IRB may have that are not covered in this article.

Take the first step in your next research study by requesting a quote for a targeted audience.

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