NEWS29 September 2021

Taskforce calls for more inclusive data analysis

Inclusion News Public Sector Trends UK

UK – Researchers should reconsider the use of broad categories, such as Bame, during surveys and adopt an intersectional approach to equalities data collection, according to a report from the Inclusive Data Taskforce set up by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Crowd of diverse people

The report, called Leaving no one behind – How can we be more inclusive in our data?, said that data producers should make sure there is “sufficient granularity” in data, and avoid “meta-categories”, such as Bame, LGBTQ+ or white, with which people might not identify and which could disguise heterogeneity within groups.

An intersectional approach to exploring and presenting equalities data, which would avoid potentially misleading single characteristic analyses, should therefore be actively promoted by the Cabinet Office and ONS, according to the report.

The Inclusive Data Taskforce was set up following the publication of the Statistics for the Public Good Strategy in July 2020 to examine how inclusive UK data and evidence is, and was made up of senior academics and civil society leaders.

To build trust in the use of statistics, the report suggested a “social contract” should be formed with respondents, including information on why data is being collected, how it will be used, confidentiality and anonymity, and to provide free and timely feedback.

The social contract would also underline that “the public interest should prevail over organisational, political or personal interests at all stages in the production, management and dissemination of official statistics”.

The report added that the ONS should alter its measures of ethnicity and religion so that they “better correspond to the current conceptual understandings, reflect the diversity of the population and are recognisable and meaningful to those from specific ethnic and religious groups”.

“Data producers and analysts should ensure that the language used in the collection and reporting of all characteristics is clear,” the report concluded.

“This would help to avoid ambiguity and confusion among respondents and data users, which can undermine data and analytical quality, as well as belief in the validity and reliability of data.”

The recommendations also suggested that data producers explore “more varied, innovative and flexible approaches to data collection and combination”.

This could include methods for “capturing those temporary experiences that are not often well recorded” such as pregnancy, hospital stays, school exclusions, ‘sofa surfing’, and periods in prison or on remand.

The report recommended data producers review the representativeness of key surveys and administrative datasets and address identified issues, particularly relating to historically underrepresented populations or more marginalised groups.

Standards for relevant groups and populations should also be reviewed every five years, according to the report, and updated and expanded in line with changing social norms and user needs.

The Inter-Administration Committee and the UK Census and Population Statistics Strategic Group should set up a mechanism to regularly review who is underrepresented in UK statistics or data collection exercises, the report said.

The report also recommends that the ONS create a UK-wide ‘one-stop shop’ database featuring equalities data and analysis that is centralised, explorable and accessible, and administrative data should be made available to non-experts.

Sir Ian Diamond, the national statistician, said: “An important lesson we’ve learned in working with the taskforce speaking to a wide range of people and organisations on their behalf is that we need to maintain momentum while also taking time to engage with people in meaningful, inclusive ways.

“A detailed plan will follow in January 2022 after more consultation both within government and more widely, including academics, civil society organisations and others.”

The Market Research Society (MRS) has set up a steering group as part of the MRS diversity and inclsuion strategy to examine current sampling practice, devise clear benchmarks for the research sector and provide support to organisations in achieving greater inclusivity.