Diversity Monitoring as Qualitative Research: an empirical study exploring the value of free-text demographic monitoring for organisational learning

Christopher W.B. Stephens, Lia D. Shimada


Diversity Monitoring (DM) is a process by which organisations and communities gather information about the personal characteristics of stakeholders. The standard method of DM uses tick-box surveys to gather quantitative data about predetermined group identities. This paper reviews existing research to argue that this standard method fails to produce data appropriate for achieving many of the organisational purposes for DM. Tick-box surveys ignore the complexities of human identity and can lead to exclusion and diminished engagement.

The researchers advocate developing alternative approaches to DM. They describe an original, empirical study conducted with two UK-based professional membership organisations: the College of Mediators and the Diaconal Order of the Methodist Church in Britain. This study used a primarily qualitative method, inviting free-text responses to identity questions. The paper explores themes emergent from the resulting data, examining data validity and utility, and participant experience and engagement with the research method.

The researchers describe the methodological considerations of gathering qualitative data for DM and the resulting analytical process. They argue that free-text DM represents a viable method for organisations to balance the need for data validity and practical utility, while ensuring greater inclusion and nurturing positive relationships with participants.


Diversity Monitoring; Diversity Management; Equality; Inclusion; Research Methods; Equal Opportunities.

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