Sex, gender identity, trans status - data collection and publication: guidance

Guidance for public bodies on the collection of data on sex and gender.

5. Data standards

There are no international standards for how to ask questions around sex and trans status, though currently there is very little data collected explicitly on the basis of sex registered at birth, or biological sex, and it is assumed that the vast majority of official data is collected on the basis of self-defined sex. For example, some questions ask 'what is your sex?', others ask 'are you male or female?' with no guidance on how people should interpret the question.

However, as outlined in the statistical principles, using approaches that are consistent across Scotland and between nations is desirable. Data and statistics are developed to meet specific needs. Because of this, different statistics will often measure similar concepts using different definitions and classifications. When considering each set of statistics in isolation, this approach is okay. However, many uses of data require bringing together a number of sources. Having consistent definitions, language and question structure in data collection makes it much easier to interpret these different sources together.

As such, and recognising that for most organisations and purposes that data on sex, and trans people will be needed, this guidance proposes asking questions on both sex and trans status as standard questions. This includes a question offering people to describe their trans status.This is likely to increase response rate by allowing people to describe things in their own words rather than be prescriptive about categories that people should fit to. Also, terminology is quickly evolving and the possible responses may become out of date. As described in the previous section, there will be cases where collecting both of these data items is not needed.

Within the UK, there are a range of questions currently asked in face to face (sometimes in a non-private situation), phone and self-completion surveys. These are not currently done in a uniform way. A consideration here is that collecting data can happen through a few different approaches: via a face to face interview, on the telephone, or a paper form or online. The approach needed where someone asks a question (i.e. face to face or telephone interviewing) is subtly different from a situation where someone completes a form/written survey by themselves. Surveys and administrative systems can be completed in different ways.

A question on a person's sex or trans status should be answered by the individual concerned or their advocate. It should not be inferred by an organisation based on a person's name or by observation. Testing of a gender identity question for Scotland's Census 2022[18] showed that 16% of people found that responding for a person under 16 was not acceptable for them, which is significantly higher than for people responding on behalf of someone 16 and over. As such, the voluntary trans status or history question in Scotland's Census 2022 is only being asked of people aged 16 and over.

This guidance provides standard questions, responses and guidance for sex and trans status. Separate questions are given for interview led or written self-completion situations. These have been developed from existing questions used somewhere around the world. Data standards such as those shown below usually undergo a process of cognitive testing to make sure the questions work with those who are likely to complete them. This has happened the paper/online questions as part of testing for the 2022 Scottish census. My intention is to make sure this happens for the questions included here in a face to face setting. The outcomes of this testing will be published.

I intend that this guidance will evolve and develop over time alongside developments in the terminology used.



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