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New Policy Brief Makes Case for More Inclusive Data Collection and Use

The authors call on the international development community to collect gender-disaggregated data

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A new policy brief from experts at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, and John Snow, Inc., (JSI) calls for global action in the international development community to ensure data collection and use is more inclusive. The brief was published Thursday by RTI Press, a global publisher of peer-reviewed, open-access publications.

Specifically, the authors point to the need to shift away from a binary focus in data collection that excludes transgender and gender non-conforming populations, resulting in data that are not representative.

“International development programs have undoubtedly made important strides in data collection and use practices over the past two decades, but there is still room for improvement,” said Rajeev Colaço, M.D., Dr.Ph., MERLA (Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, Learning, and Adapting) Director at RTI and lead author of the brief. “The crux of this issue is visibility: current data collection practices do not allow transgender and gender-nonconforming people to be represented in important data used by national-level policymakers and governments.”

Colaço and his co-author, Stephanie Watson-Grant, Dr.PH., deputy director of CHISU (Country Health Information Systems and Data Use) at JSI, note that data that distinguishes between male and female respondents, also known as sex-disaggregated data, helps avoid assumptions that cisgender males and females share the same experiences. In the same way, gender-disaggregated data that distinguishes between cisgender people and those who are transgender and gender-nonconforming can strengthen data quality and make it inclusive and equitable, they write.

While modern electronic data systems allow researchers the flexibility to easily collect gender-disaggregated data, the brief identifies several obstacles to implementing the practice, including political resistance, laws in certain countries that criminalize and persecute non-cisgender people, stigma, and a lack of training among data collectors.

“The challenges are clear, and advocacy and training are the strategies that can lead to change,” said Watson-Grant. “As an international development community, it is important that we unite on this issue and continue pressing forward.”

View the full policy brief