Sustainability and continuity
Although the nature of racial inequality in Scotland has remained fairly static over the past twenty years, policy making structures and the social and political context they operate in have shifted almost constantly. This creates challenges for the sustainability and continuity of strategic work on race equality.
At times, several different race equality strategies and plans have co-existed. There have also been periods of time when there was no formal strategy (perhaps most notably the gap between the end of the Race Equality Statement 2008-2011 and the launch of the Race Equality Framework 2016-2030).
In each case, however, there is a crucial period before a strategy is developed when policy makers conceptualise what it might address, what it might look like and feel like.
This crucial period requires consideration of the successes and failures of the approach taken previously. The sustainability and continuity of the next strategy is determined by how well policy makers can answer the question, "what works?"
This review's findings suggest that in Scotland, this part of the process is a key point of weakness, as lack of evaluation and detailed progress monitoring provides insufficient evidence to determine which previous approaches worked. Progress reporting focuses on stating that the proposed actions have been taken. The only knowledge that policy makers can gain from this is that the strategy was implemented.
Evidence put forward in previous strategies is often lost, creating a cycle where the realities of racial inequality and racism must be learned and re-learned by policy makers over successive policy making processes. This creates real-life harm, and must be urgently addressed.
One example of this lies in the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on minority ethnic groups in Scotland. Warnings about research identifying susceptibility to infectious disease amongst particular minority ethnic groups were made in Scottish Executive's 2002 Equality Scheme, and commitments to comprehensive ethnicity monitoring through the CHI system were made in its 2008 Equality Scheme. Despite the known issues of racial inequalities in health, at the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, Scotland's health policy environment was unprepared. The eventual recommendations of the Expert Reference Group on Covid-19 and Ethnicity could only look backwards at failings that were, in some cases, preventable through acting on evidence and actioning commitments made previously.
Understanding evidence from both research and practice is essential to the race equality policy making process. Where practice is explored, however, this often focusses only on 'good practice' which, in truth, has rarely been evaluated to confirm the claim of being 'good'. As one participant in research undertaken by the Carnegie Trust stated:
"…It's a kind of publication bias, because we only ever hear about the success stories… you don't send Ministers to visit failed projects."
This lack of attention to 'what works', combined with the fact that the areas requiring action barely change from strategy to strategy (yet this knowledge is often lost), creates a grave risk of repeating ineffective practice. The amount of work generated in implementing these strategies is often vast, so both to reduce inequalities and for reasons of efficiency, this risk must be mitigated.
This challenge could be addressed in a variety of ways, including:
- Building stronger evaluation mechanisms into strategy during the development process (the Equality and Human Rights Commission's principles for meaningful evaluation of anti-prejudice work, developed by CRER, are useful for planning evaluation of any aspects of race equality policy)
- Sharing the results of evaluation, with equal value placed on evidence of what works and what does not work; seeing the latter as a learning process rather than a 'failure'
- Benchmarking exercises to gather baseline data on inequalities, from sources which can be regularly revisited through progress monitoring to identify change over time in relation to commitments and actions
- Measures to ensure continuity of knowledge about race equality policy and its implementation within teams and directorates, for example maintaining a detailed progress tracker which can be accessed by all and is part of hand-over if key staff move or leave their position
- In the absence of a sustainable knowledge base on racial inequalities and what works to change them, it is vital that race equality policy development makes the best use of the evidence which can be gathered