Foresee Issues to Resolve if You Collaborate on a Survey

Collaboration has its pluses, but it also can unleash a pack of minuses. By the term collaboration, I mean if a law firm ties up with a trade group to co-launch a survey, or a publisher joins a legal vendor. Two parties agree to jointly produce a survey-based report. Below I outline issues that collaborators ought to address – the sheer number and thorniness of them suggests how good the pluses need to be to outweigh the minuses. Collaboration Issues to be resolved could include the following:

Survey design: Who makes the final call on the questions to be asked, their type (Yes/no, required), their order, and selections for multiple choice questions (or whether to be “pick all that apply”)?

Tasks: It takes a lot of work to march through a successful survey project. That means the two contributors might want to allocate responsibilities for each step, including writing the report. As both parties tango, one needs to lead, but both must stay on beat.

Data: One or both collaborators have the right to combine the data with other data, to show trends the next year, and to analyze and present it in the first place. You can’t have competing reports! So, you need to work out control of survey data.

Findings: When the great unveil happens, who authors the press release? Who takes questions from reporters? Every decision about disclosure of the findings deserves consideration.

Intellectual property: You may have to hammer out who controls the words of the report and the copyright on the survey itself. What rights belong to which side regarding the text and graphics in the report? Do you stumble into the morass of shared copyright? What can be done with the content information each party contributes; can the non-contributor thereafter freely make use of it?

Marketing. This could be as simple as how much real estate in the report, and at what page, each collaborator can claim for their promotional material. Whose name leads on the cover (in fact, who decides the title of the report or the images used?)

Finances: If the two sides seek revenue from selling the report or data, such as custom reports, what is the split? Who sets the charges and how do they share costs?

Distribution lists: Who can use the emails that are collected from the survey project? Are they fair game for both sides, to be written thereafter as if their own? Can they be sold?

I wouldn’t presume to recommend resolutions to any of these issues and questions. Any of them could become a quagmire of legalistic concerns and drafting. As a result, it is probably fair to say that most collaborators proceed more on trust and faith than on negotiated, memorialized terms. They realize they have a common interest and for the most part feel that the shared objective will guide them through the shoals of issues like the above. More pragmatically, whichever party came up with the idea for the survey will probably make the bulk of the decisions and be presumed to retain the most rights. The other party will focus on how they are presented in the report but will defer on tactical issues.