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U.S. Geological Survey Data Lifecycle Diagram

USGS Science Data Exit Survey Form

An Exit survey is an interview conducted with departing employee, just before they leave. By filling out the exit survey, it provides for an opportunity to document data and information created by the employee, as well as to transfer knowledge and experience.


Key Points

  • Do not assume these questions are being asked by other groups. Even if they have policies in place for departing employees, you may find that some of the questions in the form have not been asked and the answers to them are necessary to have once the employee leaves.
  • If someone other than the departing employee is filling out the Exit Survey by interviewing the employee, you may want to supply the form before you meet with them so they know what questions will be asked.
  • The information captured on the form can be shared with a variety of people: co-workers, supervisors, Science Center Directors, IT personnel, data managers, Records Management personnel, library staff, publication service centers, and lab managers.
  • The form is broken into questions about electronic and physical data; you only need fill out the sections that are relevant to your data.

When people leave their job, knowledge about their day-to-day activities, the information they have created, and contacts they have developed, are frequently lost. This is even more of an issue when it comes to science agencies like the USGS. The research a person has conducted - their findings, their hypotheses, their observations - these are items that can be unique to an individual and often irreplaceable. Without proper procedures in place to help capture this knowledge, much of this is frequently lost as it cannot be located or there is no documentation that accompanies the information. Often, we consider ourselves fortunate if the departing employee remembers to leave boxes with someone before they walk out the door. Unfortunately, these boxes are frequently forgotten, and eventually moved to storage rooms – or the garbage – without any idea of what information is contained in them. How can we make this situation better?

At the 2011 CDI face-to-face meeting, the idea of an exit survey was introduced as a way to collect information from employees about their data and information before they leave. The intent is to have a form that can be filled out, which will document details such as where data and information is located, how to access the data, what limitations there are, and who is responsible for the data after the person leaves. The objective of this effort is that even if there are boxes are left behind in someone’s office, or data from a previous employee need to be located, these forms will give us a way to find and use that information.

In early 2014, an Exit Survey Working Group (ESWG) was established to help create such a form. Members of the ESWG were comprised of personnel from across the Survey, with diverse science and technical backgrounds and with varying data management capabilities available in their offices. This ensured that the group created a form that will help support the full range of circumstances, from those who have little to no data management or IT support in their office, to those who have access to help from many relevant areas.

While collecting content for the form, the ESWG discovered that some offices were already talking to the departing employee and asking some of these questions. ESWG found the examples below to be considered of high importance:

Example 1: When IT staff collects laptops and desktops before some leaves, items such as external hard drives should also be required to be collected and if encrypted, the encryption key provided.

Example 2: Policy dictates that disks are to be erased. Process should require that any needed data has been backed up to another system prior to deletion.

Another benefit of the form is that all relevant information will be available in one location. This will make it easy for people to access the information quickly and provide for a more complete picture of the data. Also, because of the comprehensive nature of the form, a wide variety of personnel and groups can benefit from the information it contains – co-workers, supervisors, Science Center Directors, IT personnel, data managers, Records Management personnel, library staff, publication service centers, and lab managers.

[Note that this is the first version of the USGS Science Data Exit Survey Form. The intent is to revisit the form after a few months, and review the document for any needed edits.]

Form Design

The information requested in the form is intended to ensure that the value and scientific legacy of any work conducted at the USGS continues well into the future. The questions asked are necessary for learning about science data and related documents, both of which will help the USGS preserve and provide access to the data.

The form comprises three sections:

  1. introductory information ("General Information"),
  2. information about the dataset ("Dataset 1"), and
  3. a listing of Web sites where you can go for more information about the questions listed in this document ("Where do I go for help?").

For the "Dataset 1" section, there are entries for both electronic data and for physical data. The intent of listing each is to ensure the appropriate information pertaining to that specific dataset is captured. As noted earlier, the form is intended to be as comprehensive as possible, and so includes questions that may or may not be relevant. For those who have more than one dataset to be documented, simply copy the set of questions listed under "Dataset 1."

The form can be filled out either by the departing employee or given as an interview by a separate person. If this form is to be filled out by someone other than the employee who is leaving, consider supplying the form to them before the interview, so that the employee can have an idea of what information will be asked.

We have also included an introductory document, entitled "Who benefits from knowing about your data?" The purpose of this form is list those groups and personnel you may want to share the form with and to also to highlight the multitude of groups and personnel who can utilize the information in the form.

If you need general help, or have questions about specific content, please visit the following websites or contact

USGS Data Management Website:

General information, best practices, tools, recommended reading, handouts, and training covering the entire data lifecycle

DMPTool (Data Management Plan Tool)
A free tool designed to help researchers learn about data management and write guided Data Management Plans (DMPs), the DMPTool walks researchers through the steps necessary to create a generic DMP or one based upon USGS guidance

Digital Object Identifiers (DOI)
A Digital Object Identifier (DOI) is one type of unique, persistent identifier that is permanently assigned to a specific electronic resource

USGS Records Management Web site:

The Records Management Program oversees the complete lifecycle of Federal Records