Commissions and commissioners: final report

Research findings exploring the role of commissions and commissioners in supporting rights in Scotland and the UK. The research was commissioned by Scottish Government and undertaken by Research Scotland in 2022/23.

1. Introduction

About this report

This report sets out findings from research exploring the role of commissions and commissioners in supporting rights in Scotland and the UK. The research was commissioned by Scottish Government and undertaken by Research Scotland in 2022/23.

The research will inform discussion and consultation about the potential creation of a Learning Disability, Autism and Neurodiversity Commissioner or Commission in Scotland, through the ongoing development of a new Learning Disability, Autism and Neurodiversity Bill.

The Scottish Government will consult on the possibility of the establishment of a Commissioner or Commission in the second half of 2023. This report does not indicate that a Commissioner or Commission will definitely be established, but aims to inform discussion and consultation on the issue.

Research aims

There is very little published research in Scotland and the UK on commissions or commissioners, and little evaluation exploring the pros and cons of different approaches, powers or ways of working for commissioners.[1]

The aim of this research was to better understand the role of commissions and commissioners which safeguard and uphold people's rights, what helps and hinders in performing these roles, how these roles intersect and what lessons can be learned from this. The research was to provide a nuanced understanding of how commissions or commissioners effectively complete their functions, working jointly with others.


The research was undertaken between autumn 2022 and spring 2023. It involved:

  • A brief literature review – This review explored existing commissions and commissioners in Scotland the UK. It focused on commissioners with a role around protecting people's rights. It largely drew on grey literature – information available on commissioner's websites including annual reports and strategic plans. The main purpose of this review was to understand the role, ways of working and partners of various commissions and commissioners in Scotland and the UK, to inform research tools and discussions with commissions, commissioners and partners.
  • Research tool development – Based on findings from the literature review, discussion guides were developed to form a broad framework for interviews with commissions, commissioners and their partners. The interview guide was semi-structured, with set questions and themes to explore but with scope to follow up on interesting points emerging, and to explore key issues in depth. These discussion guides were drafted, agreed with the Scottish Government and then piloted during the first interview.
  • Interviews with commissions, commissioners and partners – The original aim was to hold up to 15 interviews online with commissions, commissioners and their partners, each lasting 60 minutes. During the desktop review, it became clear that it would be useful to focus on a smaller number of more in-depth interviews (11), with a targeted number of commissions or commissioners.

It was agreed with the Scottish Government to focus on in-depth interviews with five commissions, commissioners or partners:

  • Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland (MWCS)
  • Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC)
  • Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
  • Children and Young People's Commissioner (CYPCS)
  • Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO).

These interviews explored their role, scope, powers, remit and what works and what is challenging. As there was a wide range of topics to cover with each interviewee, the maximum length of these discussions was extended from 60 minutes to up to 90 minutes. A total of eight interviews were held with these organisations. In some cases, commissions indicated that one member of staff could cover all issues requiring exploration. All commissions offered very senior and experienced staff members for the interview.

A further three interviews were held outwith Scotland – with the Older People's Commissioner for Wales and the Northern Ireland Older People's Commissioner. Again, either very senior staff or the commissioner themselves took part in these interviews.

The researchers would like to thank those who took part in the interviews for their valuable time. Many indicated that this was an extremely busy time for them and their capacity was limited, and the time each interviewee has given to this research project is highly valued.

  • Reporting – This final report is for consideration by the Scottish Government and wider Lived Experience Panel. The report brings together findings from the literature review and interviews.

The interviews were analysed using manual thematic coding – carefully reading all the notes, coding themes emerging and grouping these into areas for exploration within the report. All views and experiences are reported anonymously. Anonymous quotes are used to highlight key points.

Where useful, example boxes are provided highlighting approaches used by certain commissions or commissioners, these have all been taken from existing information available online, or developed from interview discussions and have been checked and approved by the relevant interviewee.



Back to top