7.3.3. Questions on sensitive issues

Even in surveys of beekeepers, some issues can be sensitive. Matters such as financial returns, incidence of disease, location of beehives, and methods for treating diseases and parasites may be sensitive topics for some beekeepers. Taxation, personal and commercial confidentiality issues may be important in financial questions. Beekeepers may feel sensitive about exposure to criticism for poor management if they report disease. If unorthodox treatments for disease have been used, then exposure to the risk of prosecution may make respondents reluctant to respond. Concern about safety of beehives, or any of these other issues may mean that some beekeepers will not answer those questions at all, will provide incomplete information, or will supply wrong information. There is no doubt that seeking too much sensitive information will seriously reduce response rates and also lead in many cases to incomplete survey returns, thus defeating the object of asking the questions.

It is hard to know how best to address this problem. Firstly, investigators should be aware of what may be sensitive points in their target population, and if necessary, avoid directly asking about them. Sometimes a suitable non-sensitive substitute question may be available for some of these issues, but that too can be problematic. Perhaps seeking information about the mean honey yield per production colony may be felt to be less threatening to a respondent than asking about the financial return for their honey harvest in a particular season, for example. Participants should be assured that all information held will be treated in confidence and only used for the stated purposes of the survey, and that permission would be sought for any subsequent use of the data for other purposes. Any wider data sharing should only be undertaken with extreme caution and great care taken to remove any information which could lead to the identification of the individual beekeeper. There are limits on how successful this can be, in a small area, for example, where beekeepers may be well-known. Information on exact hive location is probably best not shared at all.