Getting Started with Public Surveys

Blog Post created by ichivite-esristaff Employee on Nov 10, 2016

Starting with version 1.9, Survey123 for ArcGIS supports public surveys.   Public surveys are ideal for crowd-sourcing and citizen-science initiatives, but can also be handy when you need to quickly gather information from the public, measure opinions about initiatives, provide the means to report issues etc


In the following example, you can see how Frederick County, in Maryland, provided a public survey for citizens and businesses to report property damage and loss after a flash flooding event in May 2018.  Public surveys like this can be put together very quickly and help you gather information right away.




A public survey can be embedded in a website as you can see, but can also be setup for people to use in the Survey123 field app. This is ideal in situations where participants will contribute to your survey again and again, or while disconnected from the network.  A good scenario may involve a public survey so a group of volunteers can repeatedly report environmental issues found.  The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) chose to make a survey public and encouraged volunteers to download it into the Survey123 app.



The New York Department of Environmental Quality offers a logbook so anglers can report stripped bass catches to help protect the fishery.  The logbook was made with a Survey123 made public, which gets downloaded into the Survey123 app.   This is part of the Stripped Bass Cooperative Anglers Program.



In the City of Sharon, Pennsylvania, an army of volunteers mapped thousands of houses using a public survey.



How to make a survey public?


Making a survey public is straight-forward. First go into the survey123.arcgis.com web site and select your survey from the gallery.  Open the Collaborate tab and share the survey with everyone.


If the option to share with everyone is not shown, then either permissions to share with Everyone have been revoked from your ArcGIS account, or sharing with Everyone has been disabled in your ArcGIS organization all together. Ask your ArcGIS administrator for details.


Sharing your survey with everyone is just a first step. If nobody knows about your survey, nobody will contribute data to it. Keep reading to understand how people can open your public survey.


How to promote and open a public survey?


From the Collaborate tab, you can easily obtain URLs to open your public survey.



You can use the survey URL to create HTML links in your own web site, or include them in e-mails, blogs etc.  Note that you can obtain URLs that will open your survey in a web browser, or alternatively URLs that will automatically open your survey within the field app.


Your survey in a web browser: The use of the URLs to open the survey in a web browser is particularly straight-forward: you can embed the link pretty much anywhere, including a tweet, your facebook page... and contributors will not need anything but a web browser to submit data: It will work in desktops, tablets and even smartphones. 


The link to open the survey in the Survey123 field app deserves a more detailed explanation.


Your survey in the Survey123 field app: First of all, for the Survey123 field app link to work, you want people install first the Survey123 app. In the next screenshot for example you can see how we encourage people though an invitation email to download and install the app first.  You will also observe that the URLs provided from the Collaborate tab have been embedded in the e-mail as HTML links.



If you decide to promote your public survey through a web site, you can follow a similar approach: Tell people to download the app first, and then load the survey. Here is an example from the County of San Bernardino, in California.


You can also get creative and describe the process through a video, like shown below.



It is also important to remember that public surveys can only be open in the Survey123 field app by using the provided link. It is not possible to download public surveys from the Download Gallery. We did this on purpose, because we do not want people to get distracted with random public surveys in the gallery.


How to secure data  in a public survey?


Public surveys, by definition, can be accessed by anyone. This means that anyone that knows about them can submit data.  That is the whole point of a public survey, so no issues with that. Now: it is important to understand that unless you pay attention, anyone could ALSO query, update and even delete data from a public survey.


Every time a survey is published, a corresponding feature service is created. The survey is represented in the ArcGIS information model as a Form item, which you will find in the My Content tab of your ArcGIS account. The feature service will be created alongside the Form item and represented as an item of type Feature Layer. 


To control the security settings of your survey's feature layer, open the Item Details page of your feature layer and go into the Settings section. If publishing from Survey123 Connect, privileges to query, add, update and even delete are granted to anyone with access the feature service. If publishing from Web Designer, the default  settings allow adds, updates and queries.  Correspondingly, if you make your survey public, everyone will have these privileges.  You may want to consider controlling these privileges. Here is how you do it:


  1. Log into ArcGIS Online using the credentials used to publish your public survey
  2. Go to the My Contents tab and open the folder corresponding to your survey
  3. Open the Item Details page of your Form
  4. Look for the Layers section within the Item  Details Page and click on the link. This will take  you to the Form's feature layer Item Details Page.
  5. Within your Feature Layer's Item Details  Page, select the Settings tab to change the editing privileges as you see fit for your needs.



Particularly in cases where your survey data is sensitive, you will want to select the option "Editors can't see any features, even those they add". In this manner, malicious users will not be able to download or query data from your surveys feature layer.


Despite revoking editing privileges to update and delete features in a feature service, the owner of the survey will always be able to edit and delete features.


How to track contributions to your public survey?


In most crowd-sourcing projects and certainly in citizen-science initiatives, it is important to track who is contributing what. It is important for a couple of reasons: First, to help out curate the data. Second, to recognize the work of the best contributors so they can be recognized and rewarded.    In a typical Survey123 survey, you will always know exactly who is contributing data, when and what data is contributed by whom... as long as they use ArcGIS accounts. In a public survey, however, you are granting permission to anyone to contribute so all of those submitting data without an ArcGIS account will be counted as one: as the general public.


It is always possible to include a question in your survey where contributors can provide their identity. The new e-mail question type included with Survey123's Web Designer is perfect for that.


You can track the activity of your survey' contributions by using the Survey123 website. The Overview tab will give you key stats:


The Survey123 website lets you quickly understand when data is contributed and by who


The screenshot above illustrates one of the several ways in which the Survey123 website will help you  understand contributed data. The line chart shows the number of surveys submitted over time.


Below a view of the Analyze tab, which summarizes every question added to your survey.  There are multiple options to control how the information will be visually represented (as a bar, pie or column chart as well as maps) as well as filters to display the specific questions and time windows to be summarized.



From the Survey123 website you can also download the data of your survey in CSV, Shapefile and FileGeodatabase formats.

I got the data I needed. And now what?


First of all, you may want to stop accepting data from contributors. Unsharing your survey from the Collaborate  tab is a definitive way to stop incoming contributions while preserving your data for further visualization and analysis.


The Survey123 website gives you several options to understand contributed data, but at some point may want to also share the results of your work. I personally like the use of Story Maps, Web AppBuilder and the Configurable Application Templates included with ArcGIS.  All submitted data to a survey is kept in a feature layer, which you can use from any of this apps.


This quick video can give  you some ideas to get started. One of my favorites to make  the results of your survey shine is Story Maps



We hope you enjoy public surveys.  Go play!