Data Collection and Equity: An Interview with the Authors of our New Guide

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Last month, the Schusterman Family Foundation launched More Than Numbers: A Guide Toward Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Data Collection. This new resource focuses on how organizations can collect the demographic data they need to make informed decisions and reflect the true diversity of the communities they serve. This post is the first in a series that will help organizations get the most out of More Than Numbers. First up, a conversation with the guide’s creators: Rella Kaplowitz, Senior Program Officer for Evaluation and Learning and Jasmine Laroche, Program Associate for Evaluation and Learning!

What inspired the creation of this guide? What makes it especially relevant now?

RK: Decisions are only as good as the data we use to inform them. When we have data that represents all constituents, we can make decisions that benefit the greatest number of people. But the ways in which many organizations collect data fall short of accurately representing all communities, especially individuals from communities that have been historically excluded. Over the last few years, many of our partners have asked me for guidance on how to improve their demographic data collection, which made me realize there wasn’t a comprehensive resource for me to recommend. So Jasmine and I decided to build it ourselves.

JL: This guide feels more important over time, as our communities continue to grow more diverse but also as historical exclusion of certain groups continues to hold our societies back. It is important that organizations understand who they are reaching, what gaps exist and how they can be a part of changing those inequities. We must collect data in a way that promotes equity and respect, not bias and exclusion.

What does the guide accomplish, and what can it be used for? 

RK: This guide gives organizations a roadmap for understanding how they can improve their data collection practices. It provides two essential tools for advancing equity through data collection: the internal processes and protocols organizations should have in place before starting data collection, and the nuts and bolts of asking questions in a way that is respectful and inclusive. The guide can be used by any organization wanting to assess or improve its data collection – through RSVP forms, program applications, member or community surveys and evaluations. Any time you start a process of asking for demographic information, you can use this guide to check and make sure you are using an inclusive approach.

What are some of the biggest changes that organizations need to make in how they collect data?

RK: Organizations need to apply intention and purpose to demographic data collection and make sure their efforts are directly connected to organizational strategy and goals. Moving data collection from a technical process to one that advances equity is a big transition. And with change comes disruption—organizations should expect that the prompts in the guide will challenge their systems, processes and ideas. We encourage organizations to approach this with a mindset of inquiry and growth and use any discomfort that arises to adjust and rebuild toward more inclusive and equitable data collection.

JL: Organizations must be willing to approach data collection with humility and a willingness to learn. One recommendation in this guide (found on page 27) is to solicit feedback from the communities that organizations intend to serve. We cannot resolve social issues without the people that are affected most by them at the table. Community input in decision-making processes is crucial to the work of the nonprofit sector. Even in building this resource, we reached out to individuals from various identity groups to ensure that the recommended questions and responses were respectful and appropriate. Without their feedback, we would not have been able to provide this resource to the field.

Who are you hoping will use this guide? 

JL: We hope this guide supports any organization, regardless of sector or practice area that wants to ensure its data represents the full diversity of the communities it serves. The guide has specific recommendations for organizations on how to collect identity characteristics, such as race and ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability, in a respectful way. It is our hope that any organization that wants to assess and improve its data collection practices will find it useful and practical.

What are you hearing so far from organizations that have had the opportunity to use the guide?

RK: We have heard from many organizations in the last few years that they want a resource like this, and we are thrilled at the positive feedback so far. Within the first 24 hours of releasing the guide, we heard from organizations that had already adjusted surveys and applications going out in a matter of days. Many organizations expressed gratitude for a resource that can be applied in a fast, straightforward manner. We even heard from one individual who said, “I’ve been waiting for this resource my entire career!” We look forward to learning from organizations using this guide and sharing how they are using it.

Download the guide here.