Options for data-entry forms other than Access, but NOT in "the cloud"
September 24, 2019 4:29 PM   Subscribe

I am currently designing computer data-entry forms for a paper interview/survey for an academic research project. I am using MS Access and I'm just about done, but I'm wondering what my options might be for the future, because designing and programming Access forms is ... not fun.

For another project, we used an online survey service like Survey Monkey (but not Survey Monkey) to do this kind of data-entry. However, that project did not involve health data (or any private data - it was a literature review), and this one does. Our ethical oversight down not allow us - in any way or form - to store any data anywhere except our local servers. (Thus, we are using Access forms, instead of our very easy to use, very simple to set-up online survey service, which stores the data online).

But is there a free/cheap/easily accessed program which would be more like an online survey service in terms of the ease of use, but never have the data ever entered or pass through a non-local server?

Ideally, it would reproduce what Access forms and/or online survey programs do: create a multiple page form where you can enter your data quickly, allow tabbing from field to field, flag/catch errors or invalid entries, and (in the end) produce a table for analysis.

I don't know if this exists or not - I just thought I would check, because I know this will happen again, and maybe next time I can avoid the Access forms. (100+ combo boxes, yay.)
posted by jb to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sorry: minor correction to the second paragraph - "Our ethical oversight DOES not allow us ..."

Basically, we're forbidden to put any data online because we didn't ask the REB/IRB for that permission and it's not in any of our consent forms. So we're not putting anything online, even in a "secure" online storage.
posted by jb at 4:32 PM on September 24, 2019

FileMaker might be able to do this, or MySQL with a nice front-end builder of some sort...
posted by Wild_Eep at 4:52 PM on September 24, 2019

There are a number of WordPress plugins that will help you do this, and it’s easy enough to self-host a WordPress instance. It’s not free, because there is of course the added expense of administering WordPress and keeping it up to date, but it doesn’t need to involve any servers but yours.

The plugin I’m most familiar with is WPForms, which is commercial but not obnoxiously priced at the lower levels. There are free ones as well, but YMMV.
posted by a device for making your enemy change his mind at 6:57 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

XAMPP Server or WAMP Server; and write your forms in straight HTML and CSS.
posted by at at 8:17 PM on September 24, 2019

Easy to use for the person setting up the survey or easy to use for the person taking the survey?

If the latter, yeah, I'd look at setting up a localhost-based webserver (i.e. a webserver that only serves webpages to the computer it's running on), and hook it up to something like SQLite. I suspect that if you're asking this question, this isn't the boat you're in.

If the former, Access and Filemaker are the only products I can think of off the top of my head that aren't cloud-based. This list of MS Access alternatives might be a decent starting point for investigating other options.
posted by Aleyn at 9:37 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding the use of a localhost server (both XAMPP and WAMP server work just fine), and Limesurvey (https://www.limesurvey.org/), an open source web survey package. With the two, you'll be able to generate local 'online' forms without any coding. I've done this very thing many times, and it works well.
posted by butwheresthesushi at 2:22 AM on September 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yes, I'm asking about options that are easier for the form designer.

Our online survey service, for example, has very user-friendly set-up: no programming, just select the question type, you can change the question type if you realised you need to without losing any connections, insert page breaks without having to program the "next page" button, etc.

I can do these things on Access, but it takes me 20 hours instead of 2.
posted by jb at 6:30 AM on September 25, 2019

Limesurvey looks pretty good. It's hard to not put on my university IT guy hat and just mention that if you have a central IT department you can probably ask them. Or I guess maybe you are the IT person.

It also depends on if the survey is totally private, or sort of helped through or monitored. Doing something like having the server and data and entry on the same computer that you leave someone in front of unattended may not be that wise. It would be better to have the server somewhere out of reach of the survey taker. It would be good to setup SSL certificates so the browser has "the little security OK" icon.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:37 AM on September 25, 2019

I am not the IT person; we have IT people, but this is not their job (they keep the networks going, they don't make things for us), and they are not very open to new software options - which is probably my first big barrier.

My second is that I really don't code (definitely don't do HTML/CSS), and I'm having trouble understanding some of the options here. The locally-hosted Lime Survey looks like it might be a possibility. But I will have to talk to the IT people before installing anything.

Thank you to all who responded.
posted by jb at 11:56 AM on September 25, 2019

I'm not sure about Lime Survey, but most Python/Perl/Ruby/PHP sorts of web applications use some sort of framework. Most if not all of these frameworks have a built-in web server for development / testing. You may not need Apache or MySQL unless you are planning on serving up many people at a time. It sorta depends on whether LS *can* use SQLite as a backend for the database or whether it only works with full blown databases like MySQL, Postgres, etc.

You just might be able to use LS by itself for like a one person at a time sort of thing. It's probably (I hope) you only need Apache/MySQL when you want to be able to survey hundreds of people at the same time and put it on the wider network.

You'd still need the Python/Perl/Ruby/PHP or whatnot that LS is written in.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:15 PM on September 30, 2019

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