Building block 2: Timing and Capacity to influence decisions

Timing: Impact assessments need to be undertaken sufficiently early so that the results of an assessment are able to influence the decisions being made.

Capacity to influence decisions: A clear and transparent process for serious consideration of EQHRIAs by those who are making decisions about current and future policies should be articulated.

Reflections on the importance of timing and capacity to influence decisions from pilot:

You definitely need to look at the timing of it all, you can’t just assume that because you have gone to a board and you’ve had something reviewed then you start an impact assessment: you need to look at it the moment you start to think about any kind of proposal or policy that is to be developed then you should be thinking about an impact assessment.Yasmeen Khan, Senior Policy Officer, Renfrewshire Council

I think in this current climate, we have to take the opportunity to demonstrate to people that this isn’t an additional burden and actually by considering these issues at the start, you have the potential to look at more innovative ways of developing services, and develop services more effectively because they are actually based on what people need, not on what policy makers or planners think is the right thing to do.Alastair Pringle, Director, EHRC

What you actually need to create meaningful and robust equality and human rights impact assessment processes that really can drive decision making is to start the process early when you’re trying to devise your budget and do it at a stage when it really can affect the outcomes.

"Timing is absolutely vital. If you’re only doing these kind of processes at the last minute just before your final budget has to be approved it’s unlikely then that you’re going to make decisions to re-apportion budgets in particular ways. If, however, you’re making your assessments early enough in the budget cycle to allow you to debate and think through thoroughly the way in which you’re apportioning your finance then it can be a really powerful tool for making, still hard decisions, but sensible, evidence-based thought through decisions and that would be the starting point for then building up an impact assessment process that can be meaningful". Professor James Harrison, University of Warwick


  • Why is timing and capacity to influence decisions important?

The business case

Conclusions and recommendations of EQHRIAs should have the potential to lead to actual policy change or mitigation of any negative impacts on service users. If senior managers do not ensure that EQHRIAs have a real influence on key decisions, they are likely to:

  1. Waste considerable staff time and effort

  2. De-motivate staff involved in EQHRIA who will not take them seriously in future and

  3. Be unable to use equality and human rights analysis to ensure better outcomes for people, to improve performance, demonstrate accountability, and ensure compliance with the law.

Legal case

The Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012 require listed authorities, where and to the extent necessary to fulfil the equality duty, to assess the impact of applying a proposed new or revised policy or practice against the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations. A listed authority must take account of the results of the assessment in respect of the policy or practice.

  • What are the practical considerations?

Timing: To take it seriously you have to do it early: A robust and meaningful EQHRIA takes time and effort to complete (see building blocks 4-10 for guidance on the key elements of the process). Where impact assessments appear to be little more than ‘tick box’ exercises it is often because they are undertaken at the last minute and read like what they are - an attempt to justify or minimise the impact of a decision that has already been made. EQHRIAs then become a final bureaucratic hurdle to be overcome rather than a useful tool for developing and improving policy. Senior managers need to think about this issue at a strategic level and consider when EQHRIAs need to be started and finished in order to ensure that there is sufficient time to make a proper assessment, rather than leaving issues of timing to individual assessors. This will ensure each assessment can produce conclusions and recommendations to feed into policy-making processes.

Capacity to influence decisions: Different organisations will have different decision-making processes for different policy issues (e.g. by elected Council members, by a senior board, by an operational director etc.). Senior managers must set out a clear process so that decision-makers know when and how they take into account EQHRIAs when they are making relevant decisions. This process should be transparent so that assessors understand how their assessments feed into an organisation’s decision-making and can see how their assessments have had an impact on decisions that have been made.

Additionally, in City of Edinburgh Council ‘A Framework to Advance Equality and Rights’ was introduced for 2012 to 2017. It specifically aims to embed a rights based approach into the work of the council and considers when impact assessment should be undertaken and the process for embedding in decision making. In the framework it is outlined that the Council’s approach to mainstreaming equality and rights (i) identifies all of the Council’s main relevant areas of business, (ii) sets mainstreaming objectives that indicate what will be done to integrate equality and rights as core elements of this business, (iii) clarifies who will take responsibility for implementation with specific reference to the leaders in the organisation (e.g. elected members, chief officials and senior managers) and (iv) provides an ongoing assessment about whether or not the mainstreaming objective has been met, partially met or not met. The full details of this approach are described within the Council’s ‘Mainstreaming Equality and Rights Plan 2012 /17’.

Pilot practice examples:

In Fife an EQHRIA was carried out on the impact of welfare reform legislation on lone parents with a view to inform future policy interventions in a proactive rather than responsive way, ensuring that the results of the assessment would meaningfully inform actions taken.

In Renfrewshire guidance on impact assessment was updated as part of the pilot and a new template to ensure that impact assessment results are reported in a standards format and submitted with board reports was devised. Additionally, the “Equal Opportunities” implications in the standards Council Board report template has been updated to ensure all decisions makers are able to pay due regard to equality and human rights.

For further information on the steps taken by the pilot Councils to influence the timing of impact assessment and their capacity to influence decision making see the pilots reports here.