Non-Binary Working Group - data collection for research subgroup minutes: October 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the subgroup on 19 October 2021.

Attendees and apologies


  • Dr Ben Vincent
  • Non-binary Community Members
  • Roanna Simpson, Equality and Social Justice Analysis, Scottish Government 
  • Matt Deary, National Records of Scotland (NRS)
  • Christopher McCrum, National Records of Scotland (NRS)
  • Zoe O’Connor, National Records of Scotland (NRS)


  • Paul Sloan, Equality Unit, Scottish Government
  • Laurie Donaldson, Equality Unit, Scottish Government


  • Vic Valentine, Scottish Trans 
  • Dr Peter Dunne, University of Bristol

Items and actions

Data collection

The Group noted the importance of finding out information and knowing why data is being collected, particularly from a intersectional perspective, while also flagging that there is often a privacy concern when working with such a small sample size and that while it is useful for people to be able to identify themselves as non-binary when asked research questions, it is important that questions remain optional to ensure that participants aren’t left feeling like they are outing themselves during this process.

Members went on to discuss that it is very common for an answer to have to be singular, you are either a man or woman, trans or non-binary person and although it provides difficulty giving multiple choice options from a data perspective, being able to ask questions in this way would ensure that the data captured will be more reflective of what is actually happening. Noting that, making data research more about gender fluidity than gender fixed also allows for findings to be more nuanced rather than one or the other.

The Group also highlighted the Scottish Trans’s work in this area, carrying out research on how best to ask research questions from an NB and Trans perspective but that often data on non-binary and trans people is commissioned by organisations whose predominantly cis employees/researchers lack the necessary experience in this area.

There was general agreement that the way sex and gender is presented misrepresents non-binary people in data but that it may prove difficult for this sub-group to make concrete solutions, noting that while it is possible to create broad recommendations, a lot of the advice previously provided appeared to be left out of the Sex gender and data working group, seemingly taking suggestion regarding non-binary data collection as “how do we help trans people”. 
The Group also reflected on the current “data chaos” for non-binary people and rather than focusing on framing and what kind of questions should be asked, look into what more can be done to get a general understanding of non-binary people in data and what exactly it is going to take to change this.

There is also a feeling of isolating non-binary in an attempt to fix non-binary issues and tack them on as an afterthought, which is a trap that many orgs are falling into. Often failing to recognise non-binary is an umbrella term, which means that you are unable to universalise people’s experiences and that the process should be thought of in a more holistic space.

The group went on to discuss the process during the sex and gender working group public engagement events, noting that there should have been a specific trans safe space asking them how they want to be represented, allowing them to share their experiences without fear of being targeted and agreed that this should form one of the group’s recommendations.


Officials from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) informed the group that the policy update given at the last working group meeting is still current.

Officials from the census Statistical Disclosure Control (SDC) and Outputs team provided an update on whether information written in the trans status or history free-text box would be published. Ultimately this will be based on SDC and, as such, a definite response cannot be given at this time. 

NRS also highlighted that there will be consultation on outputs, including the trans status or history question, to allow people to provide input in this work before any decision is made. The publication of data is dependent on how many responses are received, ensuring outputs are quality assured and meet the legislative requirements.

Following this, the group highlighted the issue of question intersectionality for trans and non-binary communities, seeking further detail on what kind of questions are being asked to avoid a situation where an individual could be identified. The Group also asked if participants were able to be included in two different classifications. 

NRS stated that, in terms of outputs, they would be unable to put someone in two different classification but agreed to double-check with colleagues responsible for “coding”. Their initial thought was that you would be captured under the primary response. Officials informed the group that every question has a coding classification and that the coding classifications for trans and non-binary is ongoing to ensure people aren’t identified.

The Group expressed that being unable to select two or more identity levels is a somewhat constraining approach which needs to be moved away from to be able to developed a more nuanced approach.


  • NRS to feedback clarification from NRS coding team to discuss further

Draft recommendations

Group went on to discuss the recommendation that there needs to be a larger re-engagement with the process of data collection, with further research carried out on the nature of how we ask questions as well as more overall testing of questions asked, In an effort to start moving away from the assumption that two broad categories such as sex or gender will automatically give you all the information you’re looking for. 

The group also noted the importance of highlighting what guidance is already available, pointing to the question used in the Scottish household survey as a possible alternative that is already in use.

Meeting close 

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