Data with dignity: University of Leicester trials new ethical surveying software

Credit: Nick Osborne

New survey software developed by University of Leicester scientists aims to be an exemplar for ethical and inclusive data gathering to help charities and the heritage sector quantify the impact of their services on health and wellbeing.

They have received £62,500 from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) via the ARC Accelerator to validate LeicSurveyTM software in practice and develop a sustainable business model to commercialise it. The ARC Accelerator aims to equip researchers from the social sciences, arts and humanities with the skills they need to bring their ideas to market.

With the software already in use by the University of Leicester Heritage Hub and soon to be rolled out at multiple hospices, the team hopes that by enabling these organisations to collect richer data from their users they will be able to help decision-makers understand their roles in supporting community cohesion, wellbeing, and social and economic regeneration.

Understanding the user experience is vital for charities and social enterprises to demonstrate their impact and value. However, gathering user feedback can be challenging as they often serve communities who find existing survey tools unsuitable, due to accessibility issues or language barriers for example. Many of these tools are also costly and have limited customisability.

LeicSurvey combines a simple and attractive user interface with powerful tools for collating and presenting complex data, including changes in user engagement and satisfaction over time. Co-created with a charity for other charities, it takes a ‘dignity by design’ approach by putting the user in control of the survey. 

It allows for optimised visual design elements to make survey taking easier for users, with the option to skip questions or terminating surveys, simplifying questions to value their time, being inclusive by diversifying the design, and anonymising data gathering entirely including not recording personal browsing data from user devices.

The team is currently working with the University of Leicester Heritage Hub to pilot LeicSurvey with regional heritage partners, including Leicester City Council (Museums and Galleries) and North Northants Council (The Chester House Estate). 

Dr Himanshu Kaul from the University of Leicester School of Engineering said: “LeicSurvey has the potential to be transformative in facilitating strategic evaluation of heritage assets and programmes  It can be used to generate quantitative, longitudinal data to help conserve and value heritage, support nature recovery and environmental sustainability, support greater inclusion, diversity, access, participation in heritage, strengthening the heritage sector to be more resilient, contributing to economies and communities.”

Dr Nataly Papadopoulou, Lecturer (Assistant Professor) at the Leicester Law School, said: “We have pursued a ‘dignity by design’ approach to create LeicSurvey that embraces ethical data gathering, which we anticipate will serve as an exemplar for our competitors. LeicSurvey is not your average feedback gathering software: it places the user at the heart of feedback gathering, prioritising ‘voices’ and ensuring ‘dignity’ shines through the design and content. We want to use LeicSurvey to tell the stories of charities, heritage hubs, and whoever wishes to use LeicSurvey to hear from their users.”

Professor Sarah Scott, Heritage Hub Director at the University of Leicester, said: “It is exciting to be part of the interdisciplinary LeicSurvey team, working alongside colleagues with such a breadth of experience and expertise. It was fantastic to pilot LeicSurvey at our recent Celebration of Heritage event in March. We were able to view feedback from stallholders, staff, students and visitors immediately. We are already using this feedback to inform the planning of future events. The ability to compare participant feedback with feedback from those engaged in delivery, will enable us to develop inclusive and ethical approaches which ensure the best possible experience for everyone involved. It will help us to gain a more nuanced and holistic understanding of the impact of engagement on people’s lives, and to make a compelling case for the value of such activities to policy-makers and funders.”