Building block 7: Involvement of Communities

EQHRIAs should include effective consultation and/or participatory processes which allow those who are (potentially) affected to have a voice, and their views to be taken into account in the assessment process.

Reflections on involving communities from practice pilot:  

You can do an impact assessment by getting a group of professionals round the table and you all go through your view of what’s happening. If you want to do a tick box exercise then do it like that. But if you want to really find out what it’s like for people in the communities, what it’s like for their life, what it’s like struggling with your children then speak to them.Rhona Cunningham, Manager, Fife Gingerbread on involving communities

 “It helps you to build relations with members of the community out there who are going to be impacted, because they feel valued, they feel that if they have been consulted the council or any organisation is serious about what this is going to mean in terms of an impact on the communities or on the individuals.Yasmeen Khan, Senior Policy Officer, Renfrewshire Council

The council is committed to working much differently with communities to the way we have in the past. It’s more about working jointly, doing things with people rather than, arguably, to people.David Martin, Chief Executive, Renfrewshire Council

The more that people are involved in making decisions about their lives, the more they are empowered, then the more they take responsibility for making sure that these policies and decisions work as effectively as they are intended to.Professor Alan Miller, Chair, Scottish Human Rights Commission

It was about giving voices to people who don’t get heard, sharing experiences in their own words, and knowing that these are going somewhere.Council officer, Fife Council (ODS consulting evaluation report)

Traditionally, professionals sit round the table with a gridded sheet, using a tick box approach. This approach means there is a face to the situations, and encourages a focus on real impact on people.” Council officer, Fife Council (ODS consulting evaluation report)


Why is involvement of communities important?

The business case

The involvement of affected groups and the gathering of evidence from these groups will ensure stronger relationships are built and it will be easier to demonstrate fairness, transparency, accessibility and accountability thereby improving public ownership and demonstrating the legitimacy of policy and decision making.  

EQHRIAs undertaken without consultation may miss potentially serious impacts. Assessors may also make inaccurate assumptions about how those affected will respond to a policy.  For example they might believe that affected groups could use another service which may not be appropriate or they may fail to understand the impact of a policy when combined with other policy changes affecting the same group (see also Building Block 8 on Assessing Combined Impacts).

The legal case

 A human rights based approach to the design, development and delivery of public services requires a high degree of participation, from all communities, civil society and others.  The participation of individuals in decision making and where appropriate the design of services is also a core procedural component of the human rights framework referenced in many of the international treaties such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Participation must be active, free and meaningful and give due attention to issues of accessibility, including access to information in a form and a language which can be understood.

There is no legal requirement under The Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012 to involve communities in assessment of impact. However a court could consider non-statutory guidance published by the EHRC, including Involvement and the public sector equality duty when deciding whether the actions of an authority have been reasonable. This guidance explains how involvement of communities can support assessment of impact which is robust.

What are the practical considerations?

Consultation processes should be genuinely participatory and have the potential to influence the conclusions of the assessment. Most importantly this means that assessors need to think about:

  • The timing of consultations – Consultations need to start as early as possible in the assessment process, so that they can help assessors to make decisions about the scope of the assessment process (see Building Block 6 on Evidence). If consultations take place too late in the process, there will be a momentum behind policy that makes it difficult to change.

  • Barriers to consultation - Consultation processes therefore have to be designed with a view to overcoming barriers to participation. The particular barriers to any consultation process will depend on the context in which that consultation is taking place but may include language barriers, literacy problems, time constraints (e.g. as a result of caring responsibilities), access issues (e.g. meetings in venues that cannot be entered, lack of computer access for online consultations) and lack of faith that the consultation is genuine. Assessors therefore need to ensure that they are creating accessible assessment processes generally, and pay particular consideration of the needs of groups and individuals identified as important to the consultation.

  • Explaining how consultation processes have affected the EQHRIA - There needs to be a transparent procedure whereby responses to consultations are discussed and assessors demonstrate how the outcomes of the EQHRIA are affected.

Read further resources on the involvement of communities.

Pilot Practice examples:

In Fife, council officers worked closely with Fife Gingerbread, a group representing lone parents and conducted a series of interviews directly with lone parents. The independent evaluation of the pilot found that “there was a clear feeling that the evidence gathered from the five interviews with lone parents provided a richness and flavour to subsequent work, reminding participants that impact assessment is related to people and has an impact on real lives.” Fife Gingerbread also participated in the impact assessment workshop day.

In Renfrewshire, the evidence gathering process involved two focus group discussions with people who shared protected characteristics (or represented those who did), as well as wider community consultation work undertaken as part of the Review of Advice Services. The focus groups involved participants from the Diversity and Equality Alliance Group, and others with an interest in equality and advice – such as the youth service, CAB and an advocacy organisation. This qualitative information about experiences and perceptions was particularly important, because there was a lack of good statistical and research evidence to inform the impact assessment.