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Inclusion & Belonging Research Study: FAQs

Who is eligible to participate?

The study is targeted to full-time, non-academic staff at Dartmouth. Faculty and students will not have an opportunity to participate in this study. In addition, a set of individuals who have been identified by campus privacy, IT, or HR leaders as being engaged in sensitive or legal communications will not be eligible to participate. Finally, staff who do not have an email account will not be able to participate given that the study involves an analysis of email communication networks.

Eligible staff (as indicated above) will have two opportunities to indicate how they wish to be involved in the study. First, they will have the option to opt out of the first phase of the study, which involves an analysis of the aggregate staff communication network at Dartmouth. Only the eligible staff who do not opt out of this first phase will later be asked if they wish to opt into the professional development experience associated with this study. Participation in the research study associated with this professional development experience is voluntary. Before deciding whether and how to engage with this important project, however, we ask that you read the following FAQs regarding privacy protections and other aspects of the project. If you have questions not addressed on this page, please contact Kara Wakefield, the program manager of the Tuck Initiative on Workplace Inclusion.

Who is conducting the study?

The study is being led by Professor Adam M. Kleinbaum at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. He is working in close coordination with campus officials including those in campus privacy, campus IT, and the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity.

What is the expected time commitment for staff who decide to participate in the study? 

Overall, the total time commitment for staff who participate in the study will be a little over two hours over the course of two to three weeks. In return, we believe staff will get access to a learning and development experience with their peers. Staff who decide to participate will be asked to: 

  • Spend ~30 minutes over the course of a week to review and summarize a learning and development content module from the Harvard ManageMentor learning and development platform; 
  • Attend a ~90 minute facilitated “peer learning circle,” which will be conducted via Zoom, about the different content modules; and 
  • Take a ~5 minute survey about 3 months after their participation in the learning circle.

What about staff who are in jobs that are not based in the office, custodial staff, etc., and who do not have email access?

The study is limited to those with email access, which allows the researchers to study social networks as reflected in internal email communications. Thus, staff members who do not have such email access will not be able to participate. The researchers are hopeful that learnings from this study will yield insights that might still be applied to staff who do not have email accounts; however, it is currently unclear what those insights might be.

What are the benefits of staff participation in this research?

Staff who decide to participate in the study may benefit in at least three ways. 

  • Professional development opportunity – Harvard ManageMentor, an online learning and development platform that covers such topics as effective project management, having difficult conversations with colleagues, time management, and long-term career planning. The research team will not have access to any information about participants’ activity on the platform.
  • Peer Engagement – Participants will have an opportunity to engage in a facilitated interaction with peers designed to help them cement their understanding of these content areas. 
  • Build Campus Network – Through this experience, participants will have an opportunity to connect and build substantive relationships with colleagues they do not already know in the organization. We hope that this experience will, in turn, help participants become better integrated into the organization and support their career development objectives. 

What are the value and benefits of Dartmouth taking part in this research study?

The impact and benefit to campus is that we hope findings from the research study will help Dartmouth identify specific, evidence-based practices that will help all employees feel more included, appreciated, and valued in the organization. In addition to the study at Dartmouth, there are several other universities (e.g., Berkeley, Emory, and UT-Austin, among others) who will be conducting the same research study at their institutions. After the university-specific studies have been conducted, deidentified data from each of the studies will be combined to conduct an inclusion and belonging “mega-study” to understand the commonalities in the patterns of results across institutions.

Can I opt into or out of this research project?

Yes, you will first have an opportunity to opt out of Phase 1 of the study, which involves collecting and analyzing de-identified email metadata (described in further detail below) of staff-to-staff communications. If you do not opt out of Phase 1 and are eligible for the study (per the criteria noted above), your de-identified email metadata will be included in the study. Those individuals will also have an opportunity to opt into Phase 2 of the study, which involves participating in a professional development experience with campus peers.

What exactly will researchers see in the de-identified email messages and HR data? 

Because this study involves understanding social networks, Dartmouth has agreed to share with the Dartmouth research team four months of de-identified email metadata (i.e., records without names or email addresses of who sent a message to whom and when) and some data about our staff composition (e.g., campus department and demographic information such as race/gender) for eligible staff (see criteria above) who do not opt out of Phase 1.

The de-identified email metadata will include messages sent to and from all full-time, non-academic staff on campus over the four-month period leading up to the professional development experience that is a core component of this study. Email addresses will be hashed (transformed into an unrecognizable code), and all message content—including subject lines, attachments, the message body, and past replies—will be removed before the data are shared with the researchers. Following that professional development experience, a comparable data set (i.e., de-identified email metadata of staff-to-staff communications) will be shared with the research team for the four-month period following the professional development experience. This will enable researchers to understand how participation in the professional development experience might have influenced participants’ social networks.

The figure below illustrates how Campus IT Staff, who already have access to raw email content, will transform it into email metadata, which they will then anonymize before sharing with the research team for further analysis. As you will see in the figure below, researchers will not have access to any message content, email addresses, or identifying information about campus staff. Neither the researchers nor Campus IT Staff will read people’s messages as part of this procedure.

Diagram: Process for transforming email into metadata

A similar process will be followed by Campus HR staff to de-identify the HR data that will be used for this study: demographic information such as gender and race, as well as department affiliation. To ensure that these data are not inadvertently identifiable given that some departments are small and have only a few people in a given demographic category, the department affiliation field will be removed for any department in which there are fewer than 10 individuals in a demographic “cell.” For example, if there are fewer than 10 Asian females in a department, no department information will be provided for these individuals.

Why not use another method – other than de-identified email metadata – to track networks?

The main alternative to using de-identified email metadata would be to implement a network survey using a so-called ‘roster method.’ In such a survey, staff are presented with a roster of all other staff in the university and are then asked to indicate from whom they have obtained information, advice, mentorship, and so on. Given the number of staff at Dartmouth, such a survey would take a very long time (up to an hour or longer) to complete. To yield reliable network measures, such surveys also need to have very high response rates. To avoid placing an undue burden on staff and encourage participation from as wide a range of staff as possible, we therefore opted to use an unobtrusive method (i.e., de-identified email metadata) to assess the workplace communication network.

What are the privacy and confidentiality considerations for those who participate in this study?

We want to ensure you are fully informed about the privacy considerations, the great promise of the survey, and your opportunity to opt out. As noted above, eligible staff will have the opportunity to opt out of Phase 1 of the study and will separately have to choose to opt into Phase 2, which involves a learning and development opportunity. Across all phases, safeguards will be in place at all times to protect employee privacy and college confidentiality.

  • Any and all data collected will be:
    • De-identified at the employee- and organization-level;
    • Stored on secure servers.
  • Any and all data reported will be in aggregate from across all employees and organizations recruited.
  • Departmental affiliation data will be removed if there are fewer than 10 employees in a given demographic “cell” (e.g., if there are fewer than 10 Asian females in a department, no department information will be provided for these individuals).
  • Dartmouth will be provided with a report of study findings. Findings will be presented in the aggregate, and it will not be possible to determine which staff did or did not participate.

Are there additional privacy protections?

As noted above, individual engaged in sensitive communications or legal matters are not eligible to participate.