Public sector - understanding equality data collection: main report

This research describes and explores the range of equality and socio-economic disadvantage data collected by public sector organisations. Findings offer insights into what works best in terms of collecting, utilising and safeguarding robust data, highlighting major barriers to its collection or use.

5 Characteristics of equality data collections, and their purpose and uses

5.1 This section presents the findings of the research in relation to: (i) the characteristics of the data collections explored, (ii) why equality data are collected, and (iii) how they are (or are not) used. In order to set the context for this discussion, a brief account of the wide range and diversity of the data collections included in the research is first provided.

Diversity and range of data collections included in the research

5.2 The (55) data collections explored in the research are highly diverse in terms of their content, operational context and coverage. The data collections cover, for example, information related to:

  • Transportation of patients to or between health care settings
  • Visits by the general public to sites of historical and architectural interest
  • Applications to and / or enrolments in a school, college, university or employment scheme
  • The delivery of statutory interventions for children and adults
  • The provision of grants, benefits or other types of funding
  • Individuals in the criminal justice system
  • Participation in sport by school aged children and young people
  • Detention of individuals under the Mental Health Act
  • Homeless applications.

5.3 These data collections can be thought of as being on a spectrum. At one end of this spectrum are data collections designated as 'National Statistics' (which means that they are fully compliant with the Code of Practice for Statistics as set out by the Office for Statistics Regulation and meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality and value). At the other end of the spectrum are data collections which have been developed within a single organisation for a specific purpose with no reference to any external adjudication or assessment. Between these two ends of the spectrum, there are a variety of data collections which are described as 'official statistics', that is, they are produced by crown bodies, those acting on behalf of crown bodies, or those specified in statutory orders.[34] The amount of 'infrastructure' and resource available to support the collection and subsequent analysis and reporting of these data collections (in terms of, for example, questionnaire design, methodological development, quality control, processing, IT support, analytical support, etc.) is different, depending on where on this spectrum a particular data collection lies.

Characteristics of the data collections explored

5.4 The data that were collected provide some basic descriptors which illustrate some of this diversity quantitatively (see Template 1, Annex 3). In particular:

  • In relation to type:
    • 18 collections were described as 'surveys'
    • 37 collections were described as 'administrative' data collections
  • In relation to designation:
    • 15 of the administrative data collections were designated as 'National Statistics'
  • In relation to geographic coverage:
    • 27 collections were Scotland-wide
    • 10 collections covered (primarily) a single local authority
    • 8 collections related to some other geography (e.g. '10 local authority areas'; 'Forth Valley Region'; 'mainly Scotland')
    • 9 collections were not geographically defined / constrained (e.g. surveys of visitors to a national park; applicants to a college or university; experiences within a care home).
  • In relation to frequency:
    • 36 collections were described as 'ongoing'[35]
    • 4 collections were (at least) annual
    • 6 collections were described as 'regular' (e.g. every 2 years; every 2-3 years; at the start of every term etc.)
    • 9 collections had some other cycle (intermittent; one-off; 'the first of two', etc.).

Why are equality data collected and what are they used for?

5.5 Scottish public sector bodies collect and use equality data for a wide variety of purposes. In broad terms these purposes relate to (i) delivering on statutory requirements, (ii) developing, monitoring, evaluating and improving (national and local) policy, and (iii) developing, delivering, monitoring, evaluating and improving services. Each of these categories is elaborated below with examples from the data collections explored.

5.6 Examples in relation to delivering on statutory requirements include:

  • Assisting with the production of Equality Outcomes and Mainstreaming reports which are required under the (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012. These reports are required on a regular (2-4 year) cycle[36]
  • Producing or contributing to an official statistics publication as required by the Statistics and Registration Act 2007[37]
  • Meeting reporting requirements set by (sometimes multiple) funding and sponsoring agencies and organisations
  • Responding to Freedom of Information requests in relation to equality groups.

5.7 Organisations named a variety of specific pieces of legislation which provided an impetus for their collection of equality data. These included the Equality Act 2010, the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Scotland Act 2003, etc.

5.8 Examples in relation to developing, monitoring, evaluating and improving (national and local) policy include:

  • Contributing to the identification of suitable / suitably targeted equality outcomes (e.g. educational attainment gaps, accessibility of healthcare services)
  • Undertaking Equality Impact Assessments of proposed policy changes
  • Measuring / assessing inequalities and developing plans and proposals to reduce / eliminate them
  • Improving understanding of how different equality groups are / are not benefiting from funding / investment
  • Promoting the collection and use of equality data to other relevant stakeholders
  • Ensuring that policies are developed in a non-discriminatory way in relation to equality groups
  • Providing high level performance management information or information for internal monitoring purposes.

5.9 Examples in relation to developing, delivering, monitoring, evaluating and improving services include:

  • Determining eligibility for services or support (e.g. services may only be available to certain age groups, to people who are disabled, or to those with specified levels of socio-economic disadvantage)
  • Improving understanding of the experiences of (services by) different users, and the differential impacts of experiences and services on equality groups (e.g. How is the access to and take-up of sporting opportunities affected by disability? How does the experience of emergency detention procedures vary by ethnicity? Are men more likely than women to be awarded certain kinds of benefits? Are all equality groups able to access high quality outdoor experiences?)
  • Understanding the profile of service users in relation to their equality characteristics
  • Planning services in a way which ensures they are non-discriminatory in relation to equality groups
  • Improving uptake of services by underrepresented groups
  • Managing risk for those who need exceptional levels of care
  • Tailoring training programmes and workshops so that they meet the needs of those attending
  • Targeting literature at underrepresented groups
  • Ensuring that all individuals / service users are supported in an appropriate way.

5.10 It is important to note that - particularly, but not only, in relation to the development of services (paragraph 5.9 above) - not all organisations would necessarily describe what they are doing as 'collecting equality data'. Some organisations were more likely to describe their activities as 'collecting data for service delivery, development and improvement' and the decisions about what to collect would be prompted by considerations about what was required for 'service reasons' rather than for 'equality reasons'. In other words, organisations do not always bring an equality perspective to the question of what data they collect (or should collect or might collect).

5.11 Other purposes and uses which have been identified include:

  • To apply for awards or recognition in relation to the provision of policies and / or services to specific equality groups
  • To support the work of / or report to external stakeholders (on a non-statutory basis)
  • To inform the development of case management systems which include information about equality characteristics.
  • To provide feedback to service providers or funders about performance in relation to equality groups.

5.12 Note that in terms of publication arrangements specifically, it was found that:

  • 33 of the collections resulted in a publication about the data collection itself. However, not all the available equality characteristics were always analysed / reported.
  • In the remaining 22 cases, there was no dedicated external publication produced. However, in some cases, information based on an analysis of the data collected was incorporated into other publications (e.g. corporate publications including statutory 'equality outcomes and mainstreaming' reports), or included within internal papers and reports, some of which may be available to the public (e.g. papers prepared for consideration by boards or other strategic groups). However, an analysis of equality characteristics was not necessarily included in these reports.

Are there examples where equality data are collected but not used?

5.13 As discussed above, equality data were being used by organisations for a wide range of purposes, and there did not appear to be any widespread issues with data being collected but not used. There were, however, a few examples where equality data were collected but had not been used either at all or (in the interviewee's opinion) to their full extent. For example, one participant noted that end of project monitoring forms which recipients use to report on who has benefited from investment were not always fully scrutinised or analysed. A small number of organisations reported that 'there is probably information we are collecting that we are not analysing fully at the moment'.



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