10 Reflections on 'what works best'
10.1 This final section sets out the reflections and insights in relation to 'what works best' in equality data collection. The section draws on material presented in earlier sections of this report.
10.2 The research identified four key themes in relation to 'what works best' as follows:
- The mainstreaming equality agenda has provided substantial impetus to the issue of equality data collection.
- Clarity about why questions are asked and how the information will be used is essential to establishing and improving high-quality equality data collection.
- The extraordinary diversity of the data collections under consideration means that it is vital to take a tailored (case-by-case) approach to improving the collection of equality data.
- There is a need for a 'go-to' place to help with the 'nuts and bolts' of equality data collection, especially for organisations where less in-house expertise is available.
10.3 Each of these themes is briefly elaborated below.
10.4 The mainstreaming equality agenda - including the requirement for regular progress reports - has been an important driver in promoting a focus on, and improving, equality data collection. There were varied accounts of how, specifically, this agenda was translated in relation to individual organisations.
10.5 A range of organisations had responded to the agenda of mainstreaming equality by developing a positive organisational culture and proactive leadership, investing in infrastructure, and ensuring that there was a joined up, cohesive approach to equality data collection.
10.6 In addition, as part of this agenda, there was an appetite for more guidance and greater consistency in the collection of equality data. It was thought that the Scottish Government had a vital role to play in leading on this.
Clarity about why questions are asked and how information will be used
10.7 There was compelling evidence from a range of participants about the importance of ensuring that all those involved in developing equality data systems were clear about why questions are asked and how the information which is gathered will be used. As set out at various points in the report, this clarity is already a requirement of the DPA 2018. However, if equality data collection is to be improved, the need for clarity goes far beyond a (narrow) legal requirement.
10.8 Organisations thought that this clarity helped (or would help) to build trust with those from whom the information is being sought, and gives (or would give) them confidence that their data will be used to benefit both themselves and others.
10.9 This clarity is often prompted by - and developed as a consequence of - 'normalising' and 'mainstreaming' the equality agenda within organisations (see above). Thus, finding ways to encourage this is one of the keys to improving equality data collection.
The diversity of data collections and the requirement for a tailored approach
10.10 The range of data collections encountered in the research was vast. The collections were highly diverse in terms of subject matter - as expected. But they were also diverse in terms of their operational contexts. This variation was seen in terms of (i) the physical locations in which data collection took place, (ii) the emotional and social contexts in which data were collected, (iii) the individual(s) carrying out the data collection, and (iv) (partly as a consequence of (i) to (iii) above) the methodological approaches to collecting the data.
10.11 This means that any approach to equality data collection must be very carefully tailored to the situation at hand. The task of improving equality data collection cannot take a 'one size fits all' approach.
10.12 The research found (and this is perhaps the one general finding) that there are many advantages to collecting data online. These advantages - whilst not universally achieved - tend to mean that an online collection can support enhanced rates of disclosure and improved data quality because (i) the absence of an intermediary offers better privacy to individuals providing the information, (ii) individual records can easily and continuously be kept accurate and up-to-date, and (iii) the opportunity for (sometimes highly complex) data entry checks to be implemented. However, online data collection is not possible in all cases.
A 'go-to' place for organisations with less specific equality data collection expertise
10.13 Equality data collection is a highly complex undertaking. A range of larger organisations (some of which were involved in equality data collections that had been designated as 'National Statistics') talked about the internal and external networks and sources of advice they could access on an ongoing basis. By contrast, a range of other organisations, including, but not exclusively, smaller organisations, said that they felt there was a lack of a 'go-to' place for advice and expertise on equality data collection, within their own organisation or externally. This was notwithstanding that many of these organisations belonged to some kind of 'Equality Network' which they found helpful.
10.14 Many of the questions participants had were about the 'nuts and bolts' of equality data collection. For example, how should the question be asked? What response categories should be offered? How should you define ethnicity or religion? What are the best ways of presenting and interpreting data involving small numbers?
10.15 In some instances, organisations said that they found it hard to keep up with the developments in equality data collection, and they were conscious of the ever-shifting requirements.