Why it’s time to change the way we collect demographic data

With a need to record demographic data to better understand people’s experiences of care, we’re making changes to the CiviCRM and advising all Healthwatch to use our demographic taxonomy to achieve greater consistency and impact in data collection.
Healthwatch volunteers at an event looking at a clipboard

We’re changing the way we are collecting demographic data and asking you to do the same.


Collecting quality demographic data helps us understand how personal characteristics affect people's experiences of health and social care, both within local areas and at a national level. 

It also allows us to identify health inequalities and gaps in support for particular groups of people. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of understanding this data in helping determine whether a personal characteristic such as age, ethnicity, or sexual orientation has affected the experiences of health and care. 

 We’re asking you to:

  • Collect more information about people’s personal characteristics where possible
  • Move towards using the demographic fields we recommend

From a local perspective, these changes will better help you to:

  • Understand if your research is representative
  • Track trends in your own work over time
  • Make comparisons more quickly using external data sources
  • Make specific and targeted recommendations for services to improve

Why it's important to collect demographic information

Find out why demographic information is important, more about how we're going to support you an other FAQ's. 

Find out more

Healthwatch England demographic fields

The Healthwatch England Research and Insight team, working with the network have revised the demographic fields currently used in the national reports library and CiviCRM to be more complete, in line with best practice.

Our taxonomy covers the ten personal characteristics. 

  1. Age
  2. Gender/gender identity
  3. Sexual orientation
  4. Ethnicity
  5. Religion or belief 
  6. Marital and civil partnership status
  7. Pregnancy and maternity 
  8. Disability 
  9. Long-term condition
  10. Carer

See the details of the taxonomy

This year we'd like to see a step-change in the amount of demographic data collected with feedback. 

We know it will be challenging to collect in some circumstances; for example, collecting demographic information from emails and social media is rarely or never possible.

We also don't expect you to collect all the demographics for every case. At a minimum, it would be helpful to ask people about their age, gender and ethnicity.

Helping you to collect demographic data

Listening to what you told us during our recent webinars run with Healthwatch Tower Hamlets, we now have a good understanding of the barriers you face when asking for demographic data. We are producing some guidance to support you to:

  • Better explain the reasons why it's crucial to collect this information
  • Weave some of the demographic questions into conversations
  • Deal with tricky questions

What this means for you

If you use the CiviCRM system provided by Healthwatch England

We will apply the changes to your CRM system on 1 October

After this date, you will need to ensure that you:

  • Tick the relevant demographic fields using the checkboxes in your CRM reports. 
  • Update your feedback cards to include at least age, gender and ethnicity.

If you use your own data collection system

You will need to update how you collect data to include the changes outlined in the demographic guidance. Making these changes will help you spot trends in experiences, compare them to regional and national data sets and draw better conclusions. 

You may need to update feedback cards or forms to include at least age, gender and ethnicity.

For questions or more information, contact the Research Helpdesk at research@healthwatch.co.uk.

Are these demographic changes going to be mandatory?

Listening to what you've told us, we are not making these changes mandatory at this stage. We appreciate that this might mean a significant shift in how you collect your data and how you report. We want to make sure you're well supported in this change.

What will happen to the demographic data that is already in the CiviCRM? Will this be lost?

The existing data that you have collected will automatically map to the new fields on 1 October.

Take a look at the complete list of the new demographic categories in the CiviCRM

Need support?

For questions or more information, contact the Research Helpdesk. 

Get in touch