Here at the Race Disparity Unit, we produce Ethnicity facts and figures - a service which presents statistics from across government showing the different experiences of people from different ethnic backgrounds.
Ethnicity data is usually gathered by asking people what their ethnic group is, either in a survey or as part of a service.
As this is a sensitive question, we need to be clear about why we’re asking it and what the data will be used for as part of our usual good practice on collecting personal information from users. We also need to give users an easy way to tell us their ethnicity, for example a list of ethnic groups to choose from.
Finding out what services currently do
Our first step has been researching the different ways in which users are asked about their ethnicity. Here are 4 examples.
Find an apprenticeship
The Find an Apprenticeship service asks: “What is your ethnic group?”. It explains to users: “We need this information to make sure that we’re giving equal opportunities to all candidates”.
Eighteen ethnic groups are presented in a dropdown box, grouped by 5 broad category headings - which appear as grey text in many browsers.
Nominate a UK person for an Honour
The Nominate a UK person for an Honour service asks: “Which ethnic group do you identify with?”
Users are given 2 dropdowns:
- ‘Ethnic Origin Group’, with 5 broad categories, plus ‘Prefer not to say’
- ‘Ethnic Origin’, whose categories change depending on which option was selected in the previous box
Users are also asked which ethnic group the person they’re nominating for an honour identifies with.
The Universal Credit service asks: “Which of these best describes your ethnic group?”.
Users are given 6 radio button choices, plus ‘Prefer not to say’. When they press ‘Next’, they are asked the same question but with a more specific list of radio button choices, based on their previous answer.
Report a crime
The Metropolitan Police's online Report a crime service ask users for their ‘Ethnic background’.
It gives users a single dropdown list, with options using a prefix such as ‘White-British’ and ‘Black-African’ to help users scan the list.
These are just 4 services, but we can already see differences in:
- the way the question is phrased
- the interaction design of the form
- the ethnic groups given
- the explanations about why the data is being collected and how it will be used
What we’re doing next
We’re planning to do some user research, taking into account what we’ve learned from other services so far. We'll also look at the extensive work the Office for National Statistics has done on an ethnicity question for the 2021 Census.
Get in touch
We're continuing to research the ways that government services ask users about their ethnicity and would love your help.