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Taking survey-making by storm with the Greener Solvents Project

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Four colleagues on screen at a Zoom meeting.

​​

​At a monthly Zoom meeting: Gwendoline Fife, director of SiC's Greener Solvents Project; Dr. Rosie Grayburn, Scientist at Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library; Lucile Pourret, a graduate student at the École supérieure d'art d'Avignon; and the author, UD Class of 2024 student Naomi Toyama. ​Picture credit: Naomi Toyama​.

​Why a Survey?

Not every conservation professional has an all-knowing sense of what solvents are best for their health, the environment, and the treatment being carried out (shocker!). To combat this serious shortcoming, Sustainability in Conservation (SiC) proposed an accessible database for practicing conservators to reference when needed. My role in this project, and the objective of my independent study, was to create a survey to demonstrate the necessity of such a database by assessing solvent use and its environmental and personal impacts in the conservation practice. I was lucky enough to have as my supervisors two experts who heard and answered the call for information on this specific segment of solvent use research: Gwendoline Fife, director of SiC's Greener Solvents Project, and Dr. Rosie Grayburn, Scientist at Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. Lucile Pourret, a graduate student at the École supérieure d'art d'Avignon (ESAA) and a research team member of SiC was also an essential member of this project in moving it forward. ​

I began my research studying published surveys about solvent use in conservation–a devastatingly small amount–1998 American Institute of Conservation (AIC) survey, and a more recent Google Form questionnaire facilitated by a researcher at the National Heritage Institute (INP) in France. By adopting and altering questions that I determined were relevant from both resources, I thought that I could create one super survey and start distributing the final product to conservators and restorers around the world by the end of the semester!–but this presumptuous idea was quickly squashed underfoot. The amount of preparation needed to create a survey was more than I had anticipated, and I needed all the help I could get from Rosie, Gwen, and Lucile. 

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Screen capture of the draft introduction text for the survey.

​The proposed introduction to the survey in its unfinished state. Picture credit: Naomi Toyama​.

​The Board to Make it or Break it

Early on in our project, we found that an Institutional Review Board (IRB) needed to approve of our survey before its dissemination. An IRB is a diverse committee that oversees human subjects research and ensures that the best ethical practices are being followed and the welfare of the participants is protected. Depending on the submitted proposal on how the human subjects will be involved in the research process, the IRB has the authority to sort the study for:

  • Exemption, where the IRB determines that there is no more than minimal risk in proceeding with the study;
  • Expedited review, where a few members of the IRB evaluate potential risks of the study;
  • And convened review, where the full IRB meets to approve or disapprove of a study that poses higher risks to the participants.

This survey, for example, needs IRB approval because we require information collected from human subjects. Without it, we would be unable to use the data collected from the research process and therefore be withheld from assessing it and publishing the information gathered from the analysis. It's also important to note that human rights have been violated in the past in various studies and heinous crimes masquerading as research; we as researchers are obligated to not contribute to this track record (even with the IRB serving as a sieve to prevent high-risk and low-benefit studies from proceeding). As the primary researcher needed to have completed a course in Human Subject Protections, Rosie underwent the sixteen modules explaining all of this and more; as did I, because I realized that this might be a unique learning experience for potential research in the future. Here we received a neat certificate for completing the course, and thus we were on the right track to submitting the study! 

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A screen grab of one type of survey layout.

​Another screenshot of what the survey may look like to a participant; the author is currently experimenting with alternative survey formats. Picture credit: Naomi Toyama​.

​The Bones of the Survey

Lucile and I brainstormed what questions were relevant to the study, how these questions should be worded, and what format we wanted the answers to be in to more easily analyze them. The questions (and the answer choices we decided on for multiple choice questions) needed to reflect the answers that we expected from the participants, without restricting their possible answers or giving them too much free reign. An “Other" answer choice with a space to type out a personalized response, for example, would mean that the participant can articulate exactly what they want to say, but as a researcher, sorting through a list of short answers would be grueling work. ​

By providing answer choices that encompass broad subjects, we hope to avoid this occurrence. We distributed this prototype of a survey to the invitees of a Green Chemistry Institute (GCI) Greener Solvents in Conservation meeting. We received very helpful constructive criticism and feedback from them and set about incorporating their suggestions into the final version of the survey. 

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Screen image of a Zoom meeting while the authors review a document on screen.

​The four colleagues reviewing feedback and discussing what to incorporate into the final draft of the survey. Picture credit: Naomi Toyama.

​The Lingering Questions (for now)

From my monthly meetings with Rosie, Gwen, and Lucile, I gleaned so much information about the elements of a solid survey and more. It's essential to have a well-grounded objective as a standard that all of the questions in the survey rally to. For studies with human subjects, an Institutional Review Board's approval is necessary to ensure the protection of privacy and welfare of participants. Requesting feedback from professionals is a very effective way to improve the product at its working-stage, combined with a humbling experience to have gaping holes in the study be pointed out. 

At this point, my independent study was completed as the semester came to a close, but my involvement in the survey prototype continues as my summer internship. I am very fortunate to have Rosie and Gwen take me on again as a participant in their project; it is gratifying to see questions that I helped to shape in a survey that will eventually be distributed to conservation professionals who work in different parts of the world. Are these conservators familiar with risk assessments and mitigation procedures involved with working with solvents? How have hazardous solvents affected the wellbeing of those who work with them? Overall, how will revealing the results from these questions change the way practicing professionals choose to handle the solvents in their laboratories? These were some of the overarching themes that we held in the back of our minds as we created questions for the survey, and hope to find answers for soon. ​

— Naomi Toyama, UD Class of 2024

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​The author working on the survey from a remote setting. Picture credit: Naomi Toyama​.

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As part of an indpedent study project, UD Class of 2024 student Naomi Toyama worked with colleagues around the world on a survey to highlight the need for accessible information on sustainable conservation materials.
 
 
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