Sex and gender - draft guidance: consultation analysis

Analysis of responses to the consultation on the draft guidance on the collection of data on sex and gender.

Annex B – Summary of views from public engagement events

These events were organised by the Working Group on sex and gender in data to give everyone with an interest in the topic the opportunity to have their views heard and to contribute to discussion on the purposes of collecting this data, their data needs, and considerations to take into account when collecting and publishing this information.

The two events took place in Glasgow and Edinburgh on 11th and 17th February 2020, respectively. There were 23 people who attended the Edinburgh event, and 15 people who attended the Glasgow event; the majority were academics, members of the public or representatives from public sector organisations (across the two events there was representation from: Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities, British Heart Foundation, National Trust for Scotland, Office for Statistics Regulation, Police Scotland, ScotCen, Scottish Legal Aid Board, Scottish Social Services Council, as well as the Scottish Family Party).

The rooms were set up cabaret style, with a facilitator at each table. There was no seating plan for attendees. The atmosphere was constructive and people engaged respectfully during the roundtable activities.

The events followed the same agenda, with Roger opening and then moving to facilitated round-table discussion. The purpose of these events was to give interested people an opportunity to feed into the discussion on sex and gender in data, and this focused on:

  • What purposes have you seen where data on sex and or gender is needed? Any specific examples where data on sex, on gender, and on the trans population is specifically needed or would be helpful?
  • When have you seen data collection around sex and gender done well, and when have you seen it done not so well?
  • What are the things that someone collecting data about sex and gender needs to consider in practice? What are the challenges in collecting this data?

Facilitators captured views (anonymously) at both events and these were analysed and considered in developing guidance for public bodies on collecting and publishing data about sex and gender.

1. Key points

Attendees were asked to write down the one key message that they wanted the Working Group to take away from the public events. There were a number of similar comments along the same themes:

  • The need for clear definitions
  • Language that is simple and understood by everyone (i.e. across cultures, generations, etc.)
  • Response categories that do not alienate people (e.g. people who do not recognise gender as a concept, or binary sex question)
  • Clear and consistent guidance so that people understand what a question is asking
  • Intersectionality is important
  • Representing and respecting people
  • Asking separate questions (i.e. a sex question, a gender identity question) to measure each concept
  • Being clear about the purpose of collecting the data and how it will be used
  • Understanding that there will be times when it is necessary, proportionate and reasonable to ask about biological sex
  • Assurances around confidentiality and privacy
  • Ensuring that questions are standardised across surveys and administrative circumstances, and people are adequately trained in how to ask questions sensitively.

2. Purposes of collecting data - summary of views shared

The draft guidance that the working group is putting together has as a starting point that public bodies should think about their data needs, and what the data will be used for, before deciding how to collect this, if at all. It was therefore felt an important area to get public views on. Participants shared their thoughts on why collecting data about sex, gender identity and trans status was important, and gave examples of their data needs.

A number of common purposes were noted, and included:

  • Understanding – of people (population as a whole as well as specific cohorts) and their needs;
  • Illuminating differences in outcomes;
  • Being able to deliver services and signpost people to these (including single sex services);
  • Benchmarking performance;
  • Monitoring equality, pay, changes in society/trends;
  • Designing policies, services and products;
  • Allocation of resources;
  • Delivering long-term planning;
  • Using the information operationally.

3. Examples of data collection done well/not so well - summary of findings

This exercise was designed to get people to think about where they have seen data on sex, gender, trans status collected and highlight where there is consensus, if any, in terms of good practice.

Done well Done not so well
When questions are asked in a respectful manner When data is collected in a potentially offensive, disrespectful manner
Uses plain English Response options that people cannot relate to
When question responses can be aggregated to give a more complete picture of a person’s lived experience i.e. having a suite of questions, depending on ultimate use of the data Lack of disaggregation
Consideration is given to the order in which questions are asked Being forced to choose from a binary option Self-identified only, gives partial picture
Inclusive language Has ‘other’ as a response option. This is not seen as an inclusive way to ask
Explains why the question is being asked (and is proportionate to this purpose) Collecting data on issues that are not well understood by data collector is seen as ‘paying lip service’
Clear definitions. Explains what terms in the question mean e.g. doesn’t just ask: are you male/female? Lack of clarity around definitions
Consistency across time and different sources Conflation of terms, and inconsistency Definitions are contentious and variably understood
It’s clear what the data is for, so people understand why they’re supplying it, and clarify what it will be used for When the uses for the data are unclear
Clear purpose for asking the questions Collecting data without a purpose
When data collection/evidence has had a positive impact on society – i.e. minimum alcohol pricing and smoking ban When data is collected but not properly used
When data collection has highlighted issues based on gender Not having appropriate response categories, e.g. only having Mr and Mrs as response options
Standardization of definitions, questions and guidance, that has been cognitively tested Different approaches across studies means that data can’t be pooled or linked
Offer a prefer not to say option, given sensitivity of questions, and a free-text box for individual’s to define their ‘gender’ or ‘sex’ Labels females as ‘non-trans women’
Provides reassurances about privacy and confidentiality (in the context of explaining why data is needed and how it will be used) When data is collected not for the public benefit
Motivates people to answer the question honestly The question wording discourages people from answering the question
Has accompanying question guidance When sex question is not asked at all – EQIA patchy, inconsistent use of terms, etc.

4. Practical considerations for data collection - summary

The aim of the final roundtable discussion was to get views from people on the things that are important to consider when collecting data in practice, generally, and specifically about socio-demographic characteristics. The following were the key themes captured:

  • Ensuring confidentiality to encourage people to respond
  • Understanding any implications for asking the questions for small populations/groups
  • Defining the concepts being asked about in the questions
  • Generational/age differences in language comprehension and understanding should be taken into account when defining concepts/designing questions
  • Acknowledge that language changes over time, and therefore simplicity is important
  • Making clear to the user how current the data being reported is, i.e. when was it collected, is it likely that there has been change since
  • Disclosure control vs. data utility
  • Quantitative data is important, but sometimes in smaller groups, qualitative data can be equally important for understanding
  • Understanding what data is needed for an ‘intervention’ to work in practice
  • Making sure language is easy to process and understandable
  • Want to avoid a situation where people are too concerned about, and therefore avoid, collecting this data
  • There is some agreement that biological sex and gender identity are different concepts, and that this should be reflected in data collection to ensure inclusivity. Notwithstanding, for many people sex and gender will be the same
  • Collecting data in a way that allows groups to be separated out and distinguishable
  • People should be given the opportunity to opt out i.e. ‘prefer not to say’, unless there is a legitimate need to have the data, for example in the prison estate, crime recording or managing access to single sex spaces
  • Ensuring that when data is collected, it is then published, and communicated.



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