A month or so ago, we published a post on asking the right questions when collecting social identity data. We’ve had a lot of interest in that subject, and given that we’re right in the middle of Pride Month here in Toronto (and around the world), I thought this might be a good time to delve a little deeper into the collection of social identity data, what it entails and why it’s important.
Beginning with the basics…
What is Social Identity Data?
Depending on the sector you work in, you might know what I’m calling social identity data by another name:
- Socioeconomic data
- Sociodemographic data
- Demographic data
- Administrative data
Regardless of the label we stick on it, social identity data is information about characteristics that make up an individual’s identity. This can include, among other things:
- Gender identity
- Ethnic background or race
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
- Indigenous status
- Disability status
Essentially, your social identity data is what makes you, you — how you identify yourself and the groups you choose to associate with.
Why is Social Identity Data Important?
Why should we as nonprofits bother collecting social identity data? After all, people are people, and someone’s gender identity, ethnic background, or sexual preferences should have no bearing on how we treat them, right?
Here’s where it gets a little tricky.
Of course, as individuals, we aim to treat every person we encounter with the same kindness and respect. But we aren’t collecting social identity data as individuals; we’re collecting it as organizations — organizations trying to serve a diverse group of people.
Not every group of people has the same needs. Not every group is facing the same challenges. Collecting social identity data can help your team understand your impact and plan for the future in a disaggregated way. It can facilitate a clearer understanding of how your work affects different social groups, well… differently. It can help you identify gaps in service, access more funding, and answer deeper questions.
Did you know that many government and nonprofit organizations are now legally required to disaggregate their reporting by gender?
Separating data about the people we are trying to serve into gender identity groups can:
- Help identify or verify specific issues
- Address issues, measure progress, and capitalize on opportunities
- Gain support from stakeholders
- Reduce exposure to legal or human rights complaints
Isn’t Collecting That Kind of Data Discriminatory?
That’s a hard no.
In fact, as I noted in the list above, collecting social identity data can be one of the best ways to avoid violating the rights of any of the people you serve.
How does that work?
Remember, we’re not asking these questions as individuals — it’s not nosiness or curiosity that drives us to know more about the people we’re attempting to help. Asking social identity questions is critical because you can’t make accommodations for exceptions you don’t know exist. The best way to deliver the programming your users need is to understand fully the challenges they are facing.
Worried About Getting It Wrong?
Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore how to start collecting social identity data in more detail and examine specific challenges you may face when collecting data on gender identity, sexual orientation, race, or disability status. Stay tuned for upcoming posts.
In the meantime, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has published a helpful guide on collecting social identity data in accordance with the Canadian Human Rights Code — it’s an excellent resource if you’re anxious to get started.
Have a specific question? The team of statistic experts and data analysts at Datassist are always here to help. Contact us directly for more hands-on assistance with your issue.