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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 66-68

Crowd-sourcing the COVID data: Advantages and pitfalls

1 Department of Orthopaedics, PGIMER, Chandigarh, India
2 Senior Scientist, CSIR-CSIO, Chandigarh, India

Date of Submission24-Jan-2022
Date of Acceptance24-Jan-2022
Date of Web Publication12-Feb-2022

Correspondence Address:
Vishal Kumar
Department of Orthopaedics, PGIMER, Chandigarh
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jigims.jigims_12_22

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Web based surveys have gained importance in last 20 years due to ease of internet access. It has proven to be a boon in terms of minimized contacts and still be able to churn out statistically valid results and on the other hand, it has faced a lot of criticism due to lack of repeatability and other scientific validity pillars. To increase the validity of such studies, a central database should be maintained and the questionnaires should be short and to the point and should take into considerations the diversity in culture and languages.

Keywords: COVID pandemic, crowd sourcing, reliability, web surveys

How to cite this article:
Patel S, Khan S, Kumar R, Sharma S, Kumar V. Crowd-sourcing the COVID data: Advantages and pitfalls. J Indira Gandhi Inst Med Sci 2022;8:66-8

How to cite this URL:
Patel S, Khan S, Kumar R, Sharma S, Kumar V. Crowd-sourcing the COVID data: Advantages and pitfalls. J Indira Gandhi Inst Med Sci [serial online] 2022 [cited 2022 Dec 8];8:66-8. Available from: http://www.jigims.co.in/text.asp?2022/8/1/66/338356

  Introduction Top

Web-based surveys are an easy way of getting information. With the advent of internet and electronic media, these study designs have gained importance in the last 20 years. These study designs are being used by medical and non-medical professionals to obtain data in their respective fields. The surge of online surveys during COVID-19 is a consequence of the ingenuity of the researchers across the globe. On the one hand, it has proven to be a boon in terms of minimized contacts and still be able to churn out statistically valid results and on the other hand, it has faced a lot of criticism due to lack of repeatability and other scientific validity pillars.

In this commentary, we highlight some advantages and disadvantages of the online surveys and ways to improve this study design.

  Advantages Top

The most important advantage the surveys provide is the possibility of zero to virtually no contact between the participants and the surveyor. This has rendered popularity to these studies during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also made it possible to reach out to a large number of participants which was unthinkable earlier. It has an added advantage to make the data more heterogeneous which in turn enhances the validity of the results. The increased internet penetration has had a catalytic influence on heterogeneity. Further, the surveyor bias due to prior hypothesis or stature on the participant enhanced by the physical presence has been minimized. It has also led to less ethnic and cultural bias. One more important aspect is the issue of breach in privacy of the participants. The surveying infrastructure and protocol if properly set can make it very difficult for the breach of privacy and provide data traceability. The data traceability and safe historical record-keeping tilt much in favor of the online surveys due to the electronic nature of the records. It also makes the whole process have low throughput and high-frequency data transactions possible. On the user interaction front, the typological errors can be minimized and the use of colorful and attractive images makes filling the questionnaire very interesting[1] and gives further opportunity in terms of gamification of the process making it involving for the participants. Most importantly, the online surveys are less costly in terms of personnel involvement.

  Criticisms Top

The online surveys sit on the double-edged sword of scientific pillars where advantages weigh in with the criticisms. We list out a few in this commentary. One widely put criticism involves the psychological aspect of human interaction wherein there is a lack of trust in respondents[2] since no face to face interview has been conducted. Although it can be partly smoothed by the introduction of interactive videos by the surveyors. Since, there is no face sitting opposite taking the survey, the understanding of the questions can be very subjective. The respondents usually respond to the questions the way they understand. The doubts of the respondent cannot be cleared immediately.[3] Hence, one needs to have a certain level of education and background knowledge about the survey.[4] This does not augur well while conducting such studies in the rural setup of a country like India.

Many questionnaires are lengthy and time taking. This leads to fatigue among responders in turn leading to erroneous responses. The respondent also loses interest while filling up the response sheet. Further, the surveyor cannot be sure if the responses have been filled up by the respondent themselves. Ghost filling can lead to a significant alteration in the resultant data. In this case, the data obtained become unreliable. There is no way in which the surveyor can cross-check such instances if alternate methods of identifications are employed which can be intrusive.

Since most of these surveys are online, one needs to have a stable internet connectivity and adequate knowledge about the computers and be well versed with digital media while filling up the responses. This falls into the problems of digital divide which is very much prevalent in the developing countries. Further, the online storage of these data makes them prone to hacking and data theft. This can lead to a breach in privacy of the respondent. Many of the online surveys are device-dependent and this also makes their wider applicability infeasible. The requirements of many countries to have their own data centers for online surveys where data privacy is already an issue can make it cumbersome and feasible to publish the surveys.

  Recommendations and Way Ahead Top

The online surveys need to be registered in a centralized database before their initiation. There should be a neutral regulator which handles all issues relating to these surveys. The ethical issues should be sorted out at this level prior to initiation. This will reduce the time lapses that happen while applying for permissions at different institutes. The study should be crisp without loaded questions and not lengthy as far as possible. The questionnaire should be designed keeping in mind the needs and qualifications of the respondent. Less number of questions which can yield maximum information must be considered while designing an online study. In a vast country like India, it is important to make the questionnaire in different languages. This will not only help in getting more participants but also help us in minimizing the doubts related to the questions. Separate provision must be made for the differently-abled participants. More and more visual aids should be included to incite the interest among the participants. The study should be designed in such a way that it does not affect the privacy of a person.

The surveyor should not introduce any bias from their side. They should publish the data without any alteration. A sufficient sample size should be ensured to have the statistical veracity of the results.

Since data theft and hacking are major hurdles in breach of privacy, the data should be protected at all costs. Storage should be done in encrypted hardware storage devices and cloud networks ensuring redundancy and privacy.

The Checklist for Reporting Results of Internet E-Surveys checklist must be followed while submitting the data.[5]

  Conclusion Top

The online surveys are a great tool for research. With the pandemic looming at large, the only way to reach out to the people is through online surveys. If integrity, repeatability, and reproducibility along with infrastructure suggestions will not only improve the study design but also improve the experience of the surveyor and the respondent.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Gordon JS, McNew R. Developing the online survey. Nurs Clin North Am 2008;43:605-19.  Back to cited text no. 1
Billingsley L, Riddle K. Improving participants' experience in the online survey process. J Contin Educ Nurs 2019;50:439-41.  Back to cited text no. 2
Ball HL. Conducting online surveys. J Hum Lact 2019;35:413-7.  Back to cited text no. 3
Bernard HR. Research methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. 4th ed. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press; 2006. p. 803.  Back to cited text no. 4
Eysenbach G. Improving the quality of Web surveys: The Checklist for Reporting Results of Internet E-Surveys (CHERRIES). J Med Internet Res 2004;6:e34. doi: 10.2196/jmir.6.3.e34. Erratum in: doi:10.2196/jmir.2042. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1550605/. [Last accessed on 2021 May 15].  Back to cited text no. 5


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