By Ernesto Mercado Irizarry, Evaluator
No person, or evaluation process, exists in a vacuum. It is this understanding of the socio-ecological model that allows evaluators to begin creating equitable practices in their day-to-day work, which can go on to impact the lives of other service providers, and in tandem, their clients. The first step in these equitable practices is to recognize (and celebrate!) the differences that we all share.
But how can we practice inclusivity and equity in such a data-heavy field? Where do we even begin to tackle such a complex mission?
For now, let’s focus on a crucial aspect of evaluation: data gathering and, specifically, the creation of surveys. The framework of equity and inclusion in the development of surveys can be best exemplified in how we acquire demographic data from samples. In short, we have the power to create an inclusive environment for the people we serve in the ways we ask questions. To understand how, let me ask you a couple of questions. Please select the answer that best describes you:
Where were you born?
- Alden, NY.
- Washington, DC.
- Paris, France.
What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
- Cotton candy
- I hate ice cream
Did you select the answer that best suits you? Did you feel like you could answer with the provided choices? While there is a chance that you were born in Alden, NY, and you love pistachio ice cream, there is also a high chance that you do not identify with the alternatives listed.
We can apply this concept to many demographic areas, but we will focus on gender for now. As our society changes and evolves, so does our understanding of gender and sexuality. This has resulted in a growth in our language, and the labels people utilize to identify themselves and create communities. As evaluators working towards equity and inclusion, we need to do our best to prevent feelings of isolation and erasure in the communities we serve, so we increase our potential survey options to more than just Male and Female.
This raises the question: what answers should I include to make sure I’m being inclusive? What are all of the genders, if it’s more than just Male and Female?
Similarly to ice cream flavors, there may be more gender identities than you can write in your survey (or even more that you don’t even know!), so there is no comprehensive list of Genders to Include in Every Survey to be a Good Evaluator. With this limitation in mind, we encourage you to include some of the identities that have been recommended by Harvard University’s Office of Regulatory Affairs and Research Compliance (ORARC):
- Cisgender Man
- Cisgender Woman
- Transgender Man
- Transgender Woman
- Decline to Answer
- Not listed. Please specify: __________________
Note how the answers are labeled in alphabetical order, to prevent any unconscious bias. We also include a “please specify” section, that will allow us to include further selections as we learn more about them. We encourage you to avoid using the term “Other” in this instance, due to potential negative connotations that this may have.
If you have any questions or are looking for assistance in making sure that your data collection tools are more inclusive, please feel free to reach out to someone on our evaluation team (Ernesto Mercado Irizarry at firstname.lastname@example.org or David Monroe at email@example.com) Here at CCNY, we are constantly improving and strengthening our knowledge base regarding the identities of the populations we serve, and we will make sure you do the same.
 Office of Regulatory Affairs and Research Compliance. (2020, April 20). ORARC Tip Sheet: Inclusive Demographic Data Collection. Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.