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Count me in! Collecting human rights based data - Summary (fact sheet)

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It’s okay to collect data

Many people think that collecting and analyzing data that identifies people on the basis of race, disability, sexual orientation and other Ontario Human Rights Code (Code) grounds is not allowed. But collecting data on Code grounds for a Code-consistent purpose is allowed and is supported by Canada’s human rights legislative framework. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (the OHRC) has found that data collection can play a useful and often essential role in creating strong human rights and human resources strategies for organizations in the public, private and non-profit sectors.

This summary is a brief overview of some of the key points raised in the guide.

What does data collection include?

Data collection includes gathering information using both quantitative research methods such as surveys, and qualitative research methods such as focus groups.

Data collection can help

Regularly collecting, tracking and reporting data can help organizations to:

  • verify, monitor, measure and address gaps, trends, progress and perceptions proactively identify opportunities for improvement and growth
  • attract, retain and motivate diverse, well-qualified people
  • improve the quality of decision-making, service delivery and programming
  • enhance perceptions of being progressive leaders in their sector or industry
  • achieve organizational goals and strategic objectives
  • gain trust, develop effective, respectful consultations, and secure the support of key decision-makers and stakeholders
  • reduce exposure to possible legal action and human rights complaints.

The guide is a practical resource for:

  • human resources professionals
  • human rights and equity advisors
  • managers and supervisors
  • unions
  • any other people or groups considering a data collection project, or seeking support to do so
  • may be particularly helpful to readers with little or no knowledge of data collection.

Some reasons for collecting data:

  • to promote human rights equality for employees, taxpayers, customers, tenants, patients, students, union members, communities, boards of directors, shareholders and other audiences
  • to prevent or address systemic barriers to access and opportunity
  • to plan a special program
  • to improve equitable service delivery and programs
  • to promote equity and diversity initiatives
  • to increase workforce productivity
  • to attract new demographic markets
  • to promote an inclusive and equitable work culture to effectively thrive in an increasingly globalized, competitive business environment
  • to meet requirements of federal employment equity legislation
  • to respond to persistent allegations of systemic barriers, or to respond to public perceptions of discrimination

Overcoming the challenges:

To overcome perceptions of “reverse discrimination,” organizations should clearly communicate the purpose, goals and method for collecting data, explain how the recruitment, hiring and promotion process will be transparent, fair and based on merit, and highlight how collecting data can benefit all staff and the organization as a whole. Inviting questions and incorporating feedback from key internal and external stakeholders is recommended, to encourage broad-based support for and participation in a data collection project.

Collecting sensitive information can create feelings of anxiety or distrust, and raise concerns about privacy and confidentiality. Organizations can overcome concerns by:
clearly communicating the rationale, method and benefits of collecting data

  • clarifying who has access to the information and why
  • outlining how the information collected will be handled and stored confidentially in compliance with privacy, human rights and other applicable legislation
  • surveying all employees or service users, rather than just staff or service users representing or perceived to represent targeted groups
  • consulting with affected communities and other appropriate individuals/organizations.

Data collection can be a highly technical, complex and expensive process. But it may not need to be in all cases, depending on the size, resources and needs of the organization, as well as the reason for collecting the information.

Collecting data in a Code-consistent way:

  • collect data for a Code-consistent purpose
  • inform the public
  • consult affected communities
  • use the least intrusive means that most respects dignity and privacy
  • assure anonymity when appropriate, and take steps to protect privacy and confidentiality
  • distinguish between collection, use and disclosure
  • comply with information and privacy laws

Collecting data – six steps to success:

Step 1: Identify issues and/or opportunities for collecting data:

  • conduct a review of all policies, practices and procedures applicable to employees, service users or another appropriate audience
  • explore organizational culture from a human rights, diversity and equity-inclusion lens
  • assess external context
  • check representation

Step 2: Select issue(s) and/or opportunity(ies) and set goals

Step 3: Plan an approach and methods:

  • Who will the data be collected about?
  • Who will the group of interest be compared to?
  • What locations or geographical areas will the data be gathered from?
  • What categories will be used to identify the group of interest and comparator group?
  • How should data be collected?
    • qualitative data
    • quantitative data
  • What sources of data should be used to collect information?
    • pre-existing or official data
    • survey data
    • focus groups and interviews
    • observed data
  • How long will the data be collected (the scope of data collection)?
    • a short-term data collection project would include a start and a finish date, with set deliverables to be carried out over a certain period of time
    • the best practice is to collect data on an ongoing, permanent basis, and to analyze this data as often as is needed to identify, address and monitor barriers to Code-protected persons or other persons based on non-Code grounds

Step 4: Collect data

Step 5: Analyze and interpret data

Step 6: Act on results

Count me in! Collecting human rights-based data is available in a variety of formats, including print and CD, and can be downloaded from the OHRC website at:
The OHRC gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsoring partners KPMG and TD Bank Finanical Group.