Happy LGBTQ+ Evaluator Week! I’m Joseph Van Matre, an institutional research analyst at the University of California*.
Surveys are an integral part of evaluation, and when designing a survey, gender is often the second question after name. We add it to our surveys without a second thought. But do we need to know?
Evaluators are, by our nature, curious people, but evaluations are not fishing expeditions. Look carefully at the program’s theory of action and your own evaluation plan.
Cool Trick: Ask yourself:
- Is this program targeted at a particular sex or gender (they’re different!)?
- Is there reason to believe that this program will have a differential impact on participants/subjects of different genders or sexes?
- Do you need to collect gender/sex information of everyone involved in the program, or just some participants (e.g. teachers and students?)
- Do you have the time, resources, and mandate to evaluate and report on gender/sex differentials?
While our first instinct is to collect as much data as possible about the programs and interventions that we evaluate, it is our responsibility not to collect and store personal information that we do not need. If you will not or cannot use information on someone’s sex or gender, you do not need to ask in the first place.
Ask for what you need to know. Unless you are evaluating a health-related program, you probably only want to ask about a person’s gender.
It is often best to allow people to identify their gender in an open ended way: I identify my gender as ___________. With large-scale surveys, you can provide male, female and an open response so that you only manually code responses that are not male or female.
Some government agencies or funders may require rigid gender reporting. The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) requires colleges and universities to report the gender of every student as either male or female. Even unknown or missing is not an option, leading to some very strange reporting outcomes.
While dreadfully cliché, the adage, “say what you mean and mean what you say,” is an important rule when reporting evaluation outcomes related to sex and gender. Your forethought and planning will make your communication inclusive and accurate.
For example, when you ask people to identify their gender on a survey, the phrase, “there were 24 men in our sample” can be replaced by, “27 people in our sample identified themselves as male.”
It is our job to continually educate ourselves about the people and programs we evaluate, and any population is likely to include people who do not fall within the gender binary. Asking for exactly what you need (or not asking at all!) is a simple way to create more inclusive evaluations.
* The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views, positions or policy of the University of California.
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