Recap: Data Considerations Portal Cafe

May 11, 2023

On April 13th, we gathered virtually for a Portal Cafe facilitated by Claire, our Member Services and Data Systems Manager. This was the second in our series of Portal Cafes—virtual discussions about the learnings and practices we’re developing in the Portal, in which attendees are encouraged to bring their own thoughts, questions, and learnings to share (our first Cafe was about liberatory hiring practices—you can read that recap here). 

This conversation was based on Claire’s blog post about considerations when collecting demographics data from program participants. As part of our effort to become better aligned with our Racial Equity Guiding Principles and Policies, Guild staff identified a need to better understand who we’re currently reaching (and not reaching). We made our first attempt at sharing an optional demographics survey with program participants, vendors we worked with, and other collaborators. Claire and our Deputy Director of Equity and Human Development, Ashley Hare, intentionally built in opportunities for respondents to give feedback about the survey itself—so that we could learn what we’re getting wrong, what we’re getting right, and what we’re missing in this process. 

Claire shared reflections on the very valuable feedback that we got from respondents, and how it has shifted the way we think about asking our community for information about themselves. When the conversation opened up to attendees, many were grappling with similar questions about data collection at their own organizations. 

Some key takeaways from the conversation:

Ground yourself in the needs of the community.

  • Questions to ask yourself: 

    • What impact(s) might the collection of this data have on our community? 

    • How can/will this effort give something valuable back to the community?

Come to a shared understanding with your colleagues across the organization (who may have varying data needs). 

  • Questions to ask yourself: 

    • Why are we collecting this data? What are we trying to achieve? 

    • What boundaries will we set in place?

Be clear and up-front with participants about your reasons for collecting data, intentions for how the information will be used, and their options for participation.

  • If you explain why you’re gathering the info, people are more likely to be on board with it. And if they’re not on board, they can tell you why—which might also be helpful info!

  • If people can opt out from sharing their information, make sure this is abundantly clear.

Allow people to self-identify.

  • Questions to ask yourself:

    • If we assume people’s identities based on how they look, whose presence might we be erasing from our data?

    • Does our data about people’s identities need to be accurate? If not, is it data we really need? Back to one of the earlier questions—what are we trying to achieve?

Tips and tricks 

  • All aspects of our work can be creative and fun—even data collection!

    • At a community event, try putting a survey on a tablet near the line for something popular—like food, a photo booth, or a sticker making machine. People are more likely to want to interact while they wait and pass the time.

  • Connect on an individual level

    • One participant shared that only 15% of students had typically filled out a google form survey each quarter, so they decided to print out the form, memorize a script, and visit each classroom to talk through the survey in person with students. This may also be a supportive option for people with accessibility needs that make filling out online forms difficult.

  • Utilize publicly available data

    • If you’re not able to gather data directly from your community or don’t want to ask them personal questions, you can instead use proxy data about the communities you serve, based on publicly available sources such as City Council district websites.

The bottom line: 

Get really clear about what you’re looking for, and why. Then ask yourself—what are some fun, creative ways we can get to that information, while respecting participants’ agency and needs? 


Thank you to everyone who came and shared your thoughts and questions! We loved learning alongside you about how to care for communities in the ways we handle data, while gathering the information needed to assess our impact and tell the story of our work. As our time in the Portal continues to teach us, many of us in the field are often dealing with the same questions and challenges.


Keep an eye out for an announcement of the next staff blog post and Portal Cafe topic very soon!

Published: May 11, 2023