What works to reduce prejudice and discrimination? - A review of the evidence

A review of international evidence on prejudice reduction interventions

Section One: Introduction

Aims of this report

The purpose of this report is to examine the existing evidence on what approaches and interventions are most effective at tackling prejudice and discrimination, drawing on UK-based and international studies in various settings. Tackling prejudice and discrimination in all forms is a policy priority for the Scottish Government, and this has been a particularly important issue in relation to the on-going work on tackling sectarianism in Scotland.

The Scottish Government recently published the results of a programme of research and analysis on the 'nature and extent of sectarianism in Scotland'. However, this body of research on the 'nature and extent' has thus far not been complemented by a strong evidence base on the best solutions for reducing the problem. In recent years, 44 community-based projects have been funded to address sectarianism in local areas, with funding totalling £9 million. Evidence from the projects would suggest that many of the anti-sectarianism projects have made positive contributions, however increasing our knowledge of similar programmes that have been rigorously assessed for their effectiveness might help to determine what interventions are of the highest quality. The original aim of this report was therefore to look at the international evidence on tackling prejudice and discrimination, to consider the appropriateness of applying such approaches in Scotland in relation to sectarianism.

Yet calls for greater evaluation of prejudice-reduction initiatives are not restricted to the area of sectarianism; indeed, these are shared by equalities groups regarding all types of prejudice or hate crime. Abrams (2010) emphasises in a report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission that there is a need for 'rigorous evaluation' of initiatives aimed at tackling prejudice. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, and as a result there are general concerns that programmes which deal with prejudice-reduction and similar issues might be disconnected. Various factors are known to contribute to this: including lack of planning; time restrictions; and funding limitations (Abrams 2010: 74). It is also not a simple task: attitudes are hard to measure, especially over time. Non-evaluated interventions may not only be a 'waste' of public funds; indeed, if there is limited evidence about the effects of initiatives, or confusion over what behaviours or attitudes these are targeting, they could actually be counter-productive. Since the uncertainty about 'what works' in relation to promoting equality / tackling inequality and discrimination is a common issue this report broadens its focus on sectarianism to look at tackling prejudice and discrimination more generally. The report reflects on the applicability of the prejudice-reduction approaches towards the subject of sectarianism, but it is helpful to think about sectarianism within a broader context more generally.

This report is intended to be useful for a wide-ranging audience, including policymakers, practitioners, academics, and third sector organisations.

Literature scope

There exists a large body of academic work on the topic of prejudice-reduction, much of this from psychology or education journals but also within sociology and health. Useful sources were also obtained from the government and Third Sector organisations. This report aims to focus on those studies which attempt to determine the most effective interventions, summarising the vast literature and information and making suggestions about what we may learn from these to work towards best practice in future. Given the main focus on sectarianism, the literature search focused initially on religious and racial identity prejudice, and interventions tackling these, however this was widened to enable the study to draw on prejudice-reduction interventions in other areas, gaining the benefit of good practice from other areas.

Research questions

The objectives of this report were to:

  • Focus on high quality empirical studies, identifying the key features of different prejudice-reduction initiatives worldwide, interventions that were evaluated in 'real world' settings and also lab-based psychological experiments
  • Consider the types of activities that work and those are not considered to be as effective, and what we might learn from these
  • Develop the question of 'what works' to explore 'what works' for whom; in what context; where; and for how long etc.
  • Reflect on the appropriateness and applicability of such interventions for tackling sectarianism in Scotland
  • Determine whether blanket prejudice-reduction programmes or targeted initiatives are more likely to be effective
  • Consider how 'effectiveness' is measured, and what we can learn about evaluations to ensure continual good practice

Given that the report deals with a large volume of literature and such a broad topic, there are space and subject constraints, and in some instances a 'summary treatment' is necessary. For example, although there is an abundance of literature on how prejudice develops, space does permit an account of this here. The purpose of the report however is to outline the key ideas and debates, and further information (e.g. details of specific programmes) may be found in the original sources.


Email: Ben Cavanagh

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