6 SETTING EQUALITY OBJECTIVES
6.1 The Scottish Government believes that public authorities should set equality objectives; either generic objectives which relate to an issue that cuts across a number of protected characteristics, or objectives specific to a particular characteristic.
6.2 Respondents were asked to consider a range of issues in relation to setting equality objectives, such as whether these should cover all protected characteristics, whether they should be linked to existing corporate and/or business planning mechanisms, how equality objectives should be publicised and how frequently public authorities should be required to review these objectives.
Question 7 - setting equality objectives
6.3 Respondents were asked: 'With reference to the relevant evidence and to wider public authority general Equality Duty obligations, do you think that setting equality objectives would help public authorities focus their response to the general duty?' and ' Should equality objective setting cover all protected characteristics, or not?'
Chart 6.1 Question 7 (Base 160)
6.4 Chart 6.1 shows that the majority, 63% (101 respondents), said 'yes'; 9% (15 respondents) said 'no', 4% said 'don't know'. Nine percent did not provide a definitive answer and 14% did not reply; 23% in total did not provide an answer to the 'tick box' options.
6.5 There was a difference in responses between individuals and other respondent types. While only 9% overall (15 respondents) said 'no', 63% (5 out of 8) of the individuals group said 'no' for a variety of reasons (although the small base size here should be noted).
6.6 Question 7 contained 2 parts, both of which could be answered 'yes' or 'no'. It was agreed with the research advisory group to take the answer given in the tick box provided as the answer to both parts, unless the associated commentary indicated otherwise. Comments from 7 of the respondents who ticked 'yes' indicated that 6 disagreed and one was undecided about the need for objective setting to cover all protected characteristics. Four of the 15 respondents who ticked 'no' commented that there is a need for objective setting to cover all protected characteristics.
Support for objective setting
6.7 Over a quarter (27% or 43 respondents) included reasons for supporting the setting of objectives and the main reason given, by 28 respondents, was that setting objectives compels action, focuses attention on the issues or focuses response to the duties. Other reasons included:
- that clear objectives are useful, some said vital, in decision making, planning, measuring outcomes, progress or achievements or in focussing on key areas of business or service delivery (20 respondents);
- that setting objectives demonstrates commitment (4);
- that setting objectives encourages, or can help with, mainstreaming (3).
Need to allow flexibility
6.8 Over a third (36% or 58 respondents) included comments on the need for flexibility to allow authorities to target priority areas; 8 of the 15 respondents who answered 'no' commented on the need for flexibility.
6.9 Differences were noted in the focus of responses across respondent groups with comments on the need to allow flexibility far more apparent in responses from the local authority group (70%, 16 out of 23) than other groups; these differences are illustrated in chart 6.2.
Chart 6.2: Need to allow flexibility
Source: Question 7
Covering all protected characteristics
6.10 A third (33% or 52 respondents) specifically commented that objective setting should cover all protected characteristics, with some (33 respondents) adding that otherwise authorities may concentrate on familiar or even 'easy' options.
6.11 Seventeen respondents felt that objective setting should cover all protected characteristics and, if not, then public authorities must provide the evidence behind their decision. Three of these respondents along with 4 others felt objectives should be set for all protected characteristics but felt these should not be generic but that there should be specific objectives for each protected characteristic.
6.12 However, 9% (14 respondents) felt that it may not be possible, or even appropriate, to set objectives for each protected characteristic, as demonstrated in the following quote from an education respondent:
"It might not be appropriate for organisations to set objectives related to all nine protected characteristics. Objectives should be identified and actions prioritised based on sound evidence about the organisation's equality profile and performance."
Need to focus on outcomes or usefulness
6.13 The need to focus on outcomes or the usefulness of objectives was mentioned by 27% (43 respondents); this included 32 respondents who wanted to see real change as opposed to number crunching with some mentioning a need for a specific duty on actions. Six of the 15 respondents who answered 'no' gave this as a reason for their answer.
6.14 Twenty-eight respondents felt that setting objectives compels action. However 15 respondents cautioned that objectives need to be reasonable, relevant, useful and/or achievable; some mentioned the need to use SMART objectives, for example: "Objectives should be service related, not organisational, and should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time limited)" (equality).
Concern about collection or availability of data or evidence
6.15 Data collection was seen as challenging by 19% (31 respondents). Twenty-two respondents commented on the difficulty of obtaining robust data, especially on some of the 'newer' strands with a respondent from the equality group noting that, "Setting equality objectives assumes that evidence is already available against which to set these objectives. At present public authorities have limited evidence and, for the newer protected characteristics, there will be even less evidence."
6.16 While 12 respondents, including 7 from the equality group, suggested the need for an evidence gathering duty, 3 respondents expressed concern over placing a data collection burden on authorities.
Need for support or guidance
6.17 There were requests for guidance or clarification on a range of issues including the 'new' characteristics, objectives, data collection, targets and availability of robust comparator data; some commented on the need for sector specific guidance. These comments were noted in 11% (17 responses).
Question 8 - linking equality objective setting
6.18 The consultation then went on to ask: 'Do you think equality objective setting should be linked to the corporate and/or business planning mechanisms of public authorities?'
Chart 6.3 Question 8 (Base 160)
6.19 As can be seen in chart 6.3, the majority (71% or 114 respondents) said 'yes', 6% (9 respondents) said 'no', 1% said 'don't know'. Six percent did not give a definitive answer and 16% did not reply; 22% in total did not provide an answer to the 'tick box' options. There was a difference in some answers across respondent groups; half (50%, 4 respondents) of those in the individuals group said 'no' for a variety of reasons.
Support for linking equality objective setting to corporate and/or planning mechanisms
6.20 Over half (56% or 90 respondents) made very general comments in support of a link such as: "This is already implicit in good practice" (other) . Many of these respondents (87) commented that equality objective setting should be built into corporate or business planning mechanisms as they saw this as core to mainstreaming. Six respondents commented that they already include equality objectives in their planning mechanisms.
6.21 Over a third (38% or 60 respondents) gave more specific reasons for agreeing that equality objective setting should be linked to the corporate and/or business planning mechanisms of public authorities. These included a feeling, noted in 24 responses, that linking equality objective setting to the corporate and/or business planning mechanisms of public authorities would help promote a commitment to equality.
6.22 One respondent from the education group, "has explicitly set strategic objectives in Corporate Strategy. We believe this provides the raison d'être for our commitment to equality and diversity and helps with mainstreaming this agenda. "
6.23 Sixteen respondents saw linking as beneficial in that it would reduce duplication of effort (and therefore costs). Other reasons for supporting a link included:
- that it would make for easier reporting, some specified reporting on progress or outcomes (10 respondents);
- that having separate mechanisms or documents make equality feel like an 'add-on', or comments that equality should not be an 'add-on' (9);
- that a link would help with effective monitoring (8);
- that a link would help make accountability clearer (6);
- the need for effective impact assessment and comments that a link would help ensure this (5).
Need for flexibility
6.24 The need for flexibility was mentioned by 10% (16 respondents). Specifically, a need to allow authorities the flexibility to decide whether to make use of their own planning mechanisms (12 respondents) or that the manner of setting equality objectives should be left to each authority (6). Three of the 9 respondents who answered 'no' mentioned the need for public authorities to decide for themselves.
Other comments on question 8
6.25 Seven respondents mentioned potential ways of linking equality objective setting, with 5 commenting that equality objective setting should be linked to individual Single Outcome Agreements.
6.26 Six respondents expressed concern over linking equality objective setting to corporate or business planning mechanisms, for example, 2 education respondents felt that this may be difficult where equalities are not inherent in organisation's activities.
6.27 Those respondents who answered no gave a variety of comments, including the need for equalities to be mainstreamed before such a link could occur and the need to ensure action rather than a 'tick box' exercise. A respondent from the police/fire group said, "Therefore, in our view, for the time being linking equality objectives to the corporate or business planning 'mechanisms' is not as important as the requirements of the General Duty being reflected within the Corporate Objectives and Standards of Service etc.."
Question 9 - publicising equality objectives
6.28 Question 9 asked: 'How do you think public authority equality objectives should be publicised?' Seventy-seven per cent (124 respondents) gave a variety of suggestions.
Use existing reports or formats
6.29 Over half (57% or 92 respondents) felt equality objectives should be publicised through existing reports or formats. However, there were notable differences in responses across respondent groups.
6.30 As shown in chart 6.4, responses from those in the health/social care were more likely to focus on the use of existing formats and/or reports than those from the other groups.
6.31 One respondent from this group explained why they felt this would be preferable: "This will ensure a structured monitoring method and responsibility for realising these objectives will be borne at leadership level."
Chart 6.4: Use existing reports or formats
Source: Question 9
6.32 Respondents mentioned various reports and formats; corporate business plans were mentioned most frequently, by 50 respondents. Also mentioned frequently, by 32 respondents, were annual reports and strategic annual reviews; 5 mentioned using existing performance planning or reporting mechanisms.
6.33 Twenty-seven respondents felt that objectives should be publicised through equality schemes or plans.
6.34 Eleven respondents, mainly from the local authority group, saw Single Outcome Agreements ( SOAs) as a good method of publicising objectives while 14 respondents felt they should be publicised in the same manner as other work objectives. One local authority respondent said:
"Another way of publishing these objectives could be by incorporating them into the publication of each Community Planning Partnership's Single Outcome Agreement every three years. Reporting on progress in implementing the duties could then be reflected in the annual reports on each SOA, as well as in the Council's performance reports."
Comments on format and accessibility
6.35 Comments on format and accessibility featured in 45% or 72 responses with the majority of these comments (46) suggesting the information should be made available online. Information leaflets, newsletters or one-off topical publications were mentioned by 11 respondents.
6.36 Twenty-two of these respondents stressed the need for information to be presented in an accessible manner using alternative formats or formats suitable for different communities. Seven respondents specifically mentioned that information needs to be presented in a manner that is straightforward, clear, simple and/or easy to read.
6.37 The need for the information to be easily identified, perhaps by the use of stand alone reports or equality summaries in annual or other reports, was mentioned by 12 respondents. Ten said that authorities should make use of a variety of methods in order to reach as great a proportion of the public and their staff as possible.
6.38 Twenty percent (32 respondents) wanted to see information presented through the most appropriate channel and 19 of these respondents felt that local authorities should have the flexibility to decide this. Suggestions for what these formats might be included:
- through the media, including new media channels to connect with young people (6 respondents, half of whom were from the equality group);
- through Community Planning Partnerships (5 respondents, mainly from the local authority group);
- through community or interest groups or charities (4 respondents, mainly from the equality group).
6.39 General comments on the manner of dissemination of information on equality objectives to be consistent across authorities featured in 14% of responses (23 respondents). Four of these respondents asked that guidance be provided in order to achieve this consistency. A respondent from the health/social care group said, "A template should be developed to ensure that there is synergy of reporting methodology within public sectors."
Question 10 - reviewing objectives
6.40 The last question relating to setting equality objectives asked: 'Do you think that public authorities should be required to review their objectives every 4 years in order to fit with the electoral cycles of Scottish or local government?'
Chart 6.5 Question 10 (Base 160)
6.41 Respondents did not agree with this suggestion; 45% (72 respondents) said 'no', 19% (30 respondents) said 'yes', 11% said 'don't know'. Five percent did not give a definitive answer, 21% did not reply; 26% in total did not provide an answer to the 'tick box' options. There were no notable differences in answers between respondent groups.
6.42 Over a quarter of responses (26% or 42 respondents) contained very general comments outlining why they do not support this proposal, such as:
- the need for reviewing to be independent of electoral cycles (30 respondents);
- that there is no clear reason for fitting with electoral cycles, that this would be inappropriate or that this proposal would not contribute to the delivery of equality outcomes (13).
6.43 In responses from the 30 respondents who said 'yes', their commentary indicated that, while they agree that public authorities should be required to review their objectives, they disagree with this review fitting with an electoral cycle. Specifically, 6 agreed that there should be a 4 yearly review but disagreed that it should be linked in any way with an electoral cycle; 2 other respondents also included comments disagreeing with a link to electoral cycles. Twenty-one commented on the need for some form of regular review; 7 of these added that this review should fit within the existing cycles used by authorities.
Objectives should fit with existing systems or cycles
6.44 Across all responses, almost a third (32% or 51 respondents) included comments on the need for objectives to fit within existing public authority cycles, rather than electoral cycles. Forty-five of these responses contained comments suggesting that authorities should establish and implement equality plans in line with their own strategic or business planning cycles; respondents felt this would be consistent with the aim of mainstreaming equality into the culture, ethos and operations of each authority. A respondent from the education group commented:
"These should not be driven by potential political timescales but by a need to improve and develop equality irrespective of the electoral cycle. Set objectives in line with your organisation's operational planning review which we would recommend as annual."
Other comments or suggestions on timeframes
6.45 Twenty-one percent (33 respondents) commented on possible reporting periods; this included 22 who expressed a preference for a 3 year cycle, said they would prefer the current 3 year cycle or said that the 3 year cycle is already embedded in current equality duties and is well understood.
6.46 Four respondents wanted to see interim annual or bi-annual reports with 4 yearly summary reviews.
6.47 Eight percent (12 respondents) specifically asked that reviewing objectives should not be prescribed and this included 8 respondents who said that 4 years is too prescriptive, too inflexible or that the review period must be flexible in order to reflect the changing equalities environment.
Setting Equality Objectives - Summary:
The majority of respondents (63%, 101 respondents) agreed that setting equality objectives would help public authorities focus their response to the general duty and that it should cover all protected characteristics.
The majority (71% or 114 respondents) also agreed that equality objective setting should be linked to the corporate and/or business planning mechanisms of public authorities.
The majority (57% or 92 respondents) felt that equality objectives should be publicised using existing reports or formats.
Less than one in 5 (19%, 30 respondents) agreed that public authorities should be required to review their objectives every 4 years in order to fit with the electoral cycles of Scottish or local government. Almost half (45%, 72 respondents) disagreed; respondents felt that equalities should be independent of politics.
Some topics emerged across questions within this section including the need to allow authorities flexibility to target priority areas and:
- to decide whether to make use of their own planning mechanisms;
- to decide the most appropriate channel for publicising objectives;
- to decide when to review objectives.
Other main themes relating to setting equality objectives included:
- the need to consider context;
- the need to focus on actions, usefulness and outcomes;
- the challenges posed by data collection and data availability;
- the need for support and guidance on a range of related issues;
- the need for accessible, consistent information.