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6 Tips for your Public Surveys built with ArcGIS Survey123

Do you plan to create a public survey that you can easily set up and analyze the data collected or are you managing several public surveys already? ArcGIS Survey123 is a form-based data collection solution that provides everything you need to create surveys, get answers and analyze the results. Survey123 is widely used to gather information and can be used broadly in different industries for public data collection. This blog post will discuss 6 tips for building and managing a public survey demonstrated with Survey123 Web Designer. Tips include best practices to protect our users’ sensitive personal information and survey design ideas. 

Public surveys can be used broadly by local governments and organizations for public data collection. For example, a city can publish surveys that residents can use to report:

  • the presence of wild animals in their neighborhood
  • airplane noise pollution
  • local trails that need maintenance

In this blog post we will discuss a few tips for building a public survey, demonstrated with Survey123 Web Designer using an ArcGIS Online account. Tips include best practices to protect our users’ sensitive personal information and survey design ideas.

Tip 1: Use templates

Not sure where to get started? ArcGIS Survey123 Web Designer offers abundant templates covering various industries. These templates are ready to use and can be easily modified to meet the purpose of your data collection. On the Survey123 website, under ‘My Surveys’, you will click ‘New survey’ > ‘Template survey’ to select a template.

Let’s pretend you work for a municipality and are interested in collecting locations of potholes from residents. With collected data, you can then send field workers for inspection and prepare for road repair. Survey123 Web Designer has a template that meets your need and will modify the ‘Report a Pothole’ template to create a survey. 

Screen shot of selective templates provided by the Survey123 Web Designer. The column on the left shows some industry types with templates available. The main part of this image shows three templates that are ‘Airport Noise Report’, ‘Report a Porthole’ and ‘Report Road Emergency’.

Examples of some survey templates provided by Survey123 Web Designer

Tip 2: Limit submitters’ access to public surveys

Since public surveys can be accessed by everyone, it’s important to define what submitters can do. After creating the survey, you can configure the sharing level of the survey and its results. For this demo, under the ‘Share survey’ tab, I will share the survey with the public and allow submitters to ‘Only add new records’. Notice that if I select ‘Add and update records’ or ‘Add, update, and delete records’, a warning message will appear saying ‘survey responses are exposed’. Under the ‘Share results’ tab, the survey results are shared with members of my organization so that they can analyze the data. 

Screenshot of the ‘Collaborate’ tab on Survey123 website. Under ‘Share survey’, when choosing ‘What can submitters do?’, the 2nd and 3rd options will show an error message ‘Survey responses are exposed. See this help topic for details.’ It is suggested to select the 1st option that is ‘Only add new records’.

Survey123 website: settings under ‘Share survey’ of the ‘Collaborate’ tab of a survey

When the survey is published using Survey123 Web Designer, a new folder titled to match the survey name is created in ArcGIS Online under ‘Content’. Four items are generated in this folder:

1) a survey form that is shared with everyone 

2) a hosted feature layer that stores all the data of the survey. It’s private to the owner

3) fieldworker view of the hosted feature layer. It is used to manage permissions for submission to the survey as a non-owner. The pencil icon indicates public data collection. This view layer is shared with everyone

4) stakeholder view of the hosted feature layer. It is used to manage permissions for viewing the survey results as a non-owner. This view layer is shared with the organization

Screenshot of the four items within a folder created in ArcGIS Online when published a new survey using the Survey123 Web Designer: 1) survey form; 2) hosted feature layer; 3) fieldworker and 4) stakeholder views of the hosted feature layer.

In ArcGIS Online: items created by the Survey123 web designer of a survey 

For surveys created for public data collection, it’s important to assure the security of some personal information. The safest way to avoid exposing survey records to the public is to give submitters access to ‘Only add new records’ under the ‘Collaborate’ tab of the survey on the Survey123 website. By doing this, the fieldworker feature layer view won’t show any records when accessed by viewers other than the survey owner in ArcGIS Online. More details can be found in the Limiting Access to Public Survey123 Responses document published by Esri.

Tip 3: Modify sharing or security properties of the survey on the Survey123 website

Users who are familiar with ArcGIS Online always find it convenient and flexible to modify items under the ‘Settings’ tab. It’s recommended to modify the settings of the hosted feature layer and its fieldworker and stakeholder views under the ‘Collaborate’ tab on the Survey123 website. Doing this will safeguard the functionalities of the survey and ensure it will not be broken. Changes in the Survey123 website will be reflected under the ‘Settings’ tab of the related items in ArcGIS Online simultaneously.

Tip 4: Always make the hosted feature layer private to the owner

DO NOT share the hosted feature layer of the survey to the public or enable public data collection. This feature layer contains all the information from submitted survey records and you don’t want it to be viewed or modified accidentally by others. The best practice is to keep this feature layer’s sharing level as private.

Tip 5: Use hosted layer views to visualize survey results

When it’s time to use data collected from a survey to create public web maps or web applications, it’s important to make sure all sensitive information is invisible. I’ve seen some clients hide attribute table fields in pop-ups of web maps or in the ‘Attribute Table’ widget of Web AppBuilder. However, if viewers can find the source feature layers used by the web map or app in ArcGIS Online, the hidden fields are still accessible to them. A safer way to hide fields in a hosted feature layer is to take advantage of views.

Rather than modifying existing layer views created by Survey123 directly, we recommend creating new feature layer views to use as source layers of your web maps or web applications. Click ‘Create View Layer’ under the ‘Overview’ tab of the feature layer and follow the instructions to unselect the fields you want to hide. Related to this demo, a view layer can be created to exclude any fields that have personal information or other information you want to keep within your organization.  

Screenshot of the interface in ArcGIS Online to create a hosted feature layer view. Under step 2 ‘Define view (optional), users can unselect fields to not include them in the view layer.

Create a hosted feature layer view in ArcGIS Online

Tip 6: Use your own web maps in the survey’s map question

With the update of ArcGIS Survey123 in February 2022, you can now use your own web map when building survey questions. Please visit this page for a detailed tutorial. I create a web map containing a view layer of the ‘Report a Pothole’ hosted feature layer and return to the survey design page to change the Map question from the default basemap to the Pothole map. Now anyone who opens the survey will be able to see points already collected and the map can prevent submitters from adding records to duplicate locations.

Screenshot of a modifying design of a survey in the Survey123 Web Designer. Under the ‘Design’ tab, you can edit a Map question to use a web map owned by the user instead of using an Esri basemap.

Use your own web map in a survey’s Map question

If you want to watch the above 6 tips being explained in a video, please click here for the YouTube tutorial. I hope some of the 6 tips are useful for your projects! With the above tips in mind, you may wish to revisit surveys that have been published or you probably have ideas to create some new public surveys. Don’t forget to also check Esri’s resources for ArcGIS Survey123 for blogs, guided tutorials, videos, and documentation that will help you guide your project better.

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Melissa is an Associate GIS Analyst at Esri Canada. She works with various teams in the company to assist clients in using Esri products. Melissa has a Master of Science in Earth Sciences from Carleton University and a GIS Graduate Certificate from Algonquin College. She became interested in geography when she was a teenager from reading the Chinese National Geography magazine; she now subscribes to National Geographic. Melissa practises public speaking and yoga in her free time.

Profile Photo of Melissa Kang