Originally published at: https://decentered.co.uk/equality-impact-assessment-for-communications/
An Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) is a vital process in ensuring that social and public organisations have policies, and operate programs or projects that do not purposefully or inadvertently discriminate against any group, particularly in light of the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998 in the UK. This process is especially pertinent in the field of social communication, which encompasses various modes of media and public interaction.
In the context of the UK, the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998 provide the legal backdrop for EIAs. The Equality Act 2010 requires public bodies to consider how their policies and decisions affect people who are protected under the Act (based on what are known as protected characteristics, like age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation), but also religious and philosophical beliefs. The Human Rights Act 1998 also plays a role in ensuring that public bodies respect and protect individuals’ human rights in their operations and decision-making processes. Beliefs such as humanism, pacifism, vegetarianism, gender-critical views, and the belief in man-made climate change are all protected.
Equality Act 2010
- The Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998 in the UK both play a crucial role in protecting freedom of belief and freedom of speech. Understanding these protections is important when conducting an Equality Impact Evaluation (EIA) to ensure that policies or actions being assessed do not infringe upon these rights.
- Protected Characteristics: The Equality Act identifies ‘religion or belief’ as one of the protected characteristics. This means that people are protected from discrimination because of their religious beliefs or lack thereof.
- Workplace and Service Provision: The Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against individuals in employment and when providing goods and services based on their religion or belief.
- Reasonable Adjustments: The Act also requires employers and service providers to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate individuals’ beliefs, as long as these do not impose a disproportionate burden.
Human Rights Act 1998
- Article 9 – Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion: This Article, incorporated from the European Convention on Human Rights, provides a right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to change religion or belief and to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice, and observance.
- Article 10 – Freedom of Expression: This Article protects the right to freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority.
Equality Impact for Communications
In any work as communication managers or providers of information and communications services, operating thorough EIAs is crucial. An optimised EIA will ensure that an organisation’s strategies are inclusive and respectful of diverse groups, aligning with pluralistic and democratic values that seek to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard in public discussion and information gets to those people who may otherwise be overlooked. This approach not only adheres to legal requirements of the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act, but also fosters a more equitable and inclusive communication landscape.
When developing a media campaign for social action purposes, especially when considering the social differences between mainstream population groups, and marginalised or underprivileged groups, a nuanced and inclusive communication strategy is essential. Some key strategic issues to consider include:
- Targeted Messaging: Developing messages that resonate with specific groups will involve understanding the unique challenges, cultural nuances, and communication preferences of different communities. Tailored messaging can be more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach.
- Diverse Media Channels: Utilising various media channels will be necessary to reach different audiences. Mainstream media might be effective for the general population, but community radio, social media, local newsletters, and grassroots networks can be more effective in reaching marginalised groups.
- Inclusive Language and Imagery: Ensuring that the language, tone, and imagery used in a campaign are inclusive and sensitive to the experiences of underprivileged groups will help to avoid stereotypes, and ensure representation of diverse groups in a respectful and empowering manner.
- Collaboration with Community Leaders: Engaging with influential and prominent people within underprivileged communities can provide valuable insights into effective communication strategies, and help the process of disseminating messages more effectively within each set of communities and networks.
- Participatory Approach: Involving members of the target communities in the planning and execution of the campaign enhances the level of support that a communications approach has. This participatory approach ensures that any campaign is grounded in the real-life experiences and needs of those it aims to reach.
- Accessibility: Making sure that all campaign materials are accessible to people with disabilities is essential, including using clear, simple language, providing captions for videos, and ensuring website accessibility.
- Feedback Mechanisms: Establishing channels and processes for feedback from the target audience will help in gaining a more in-depth understanding of the impact of the campaign, providing feedback that will be useful when making any necessary adjustments.
- Cultural Sensitivity: Being aware of, and respectful towards, the cultural norms and values of different groups is part of the essential trust-building process of any social communications practice. This includes being mindful of religious beliefs, cultural practices, and historical contexts, but must also include issues faced by people such as discrimination, displacement, or misrepresentation in popular culture.
- Storytelling and Relatability: The use of storytelling techniques to make a campaign more relatable is vital. Stories can reflect a wider range of experiences of underprivileged groups, and can create a stronger emotional connection, while fostering more profound understanding among the wider audience because stories resonate on multiple levels.
- Transparency and Accountability: Being clear about the goals and intentions of the campaign is essential. Maintaining transparency builds trust, particularly in communities that may be sceptical of external initiatives. Community media, for example, is said to travel at the speed of trust, and if no one trusts our media, then the work of communications teams is made more difficult.
- Monitoring and Evaluation: Continuously monitoring any campaign’s effectiveness, and making adjustments based on real-time feedback and data, will help to determine where a communications campaign is actually making a difference. If it’s not making a difference, why is it being undertaken? Evaluating the impact on different groups will provide insights for future campaigns, especially targeting those in most social need.
- Educational Component: Including an educational aspect to a campaign, that informs and raises awareness about the issues facing marginalised groups, is useful. Even better, is having the direct involvement of those groups at the earliest stage of the campaign. This can help in building empathy and understanding among the mainstream population and between people of different protected characteristics.
- Advocacy and Empowerment: Ensuring that the campaign not only raises awareness, but also advocates for change and empowers underprivileged groups is a core function of social-action communications. The ultimate goal should be to create a positive and lasting impact.
These strategies align well with a social action purpose of public communications, especially when they are developed by non-professional media makers, acting in a decentralised media environment, with the aim to foster personal and social growth. By considering the diverse needs and preferences of both mainstream and marginalised groups, a media campaign that uses these principles can effectively contribute to social actions and community development, resonating with the principles of social democracy and inclusive social provision.
Process Underling an EIA
Public service organisations, charities, and civil society groups, when considering a communications strategy centred on equality, diversity, and inclusivity (EDI), would want to understand several key aspects to ensure the effectiveness and appropriateness of the strategy:
- Identifying the Scope: The first step is to determine the scope of the policy or project under assessment. In social communication, this could include public information campaigns, social media strategies, or community media projects. The aim is to understand how these initiatives could potentially affect different groups within the community.
- Gathering Data: Collecting relevant data is crucial. This includes demographic information, feedback from stakeholders, and any existing research on the potential impacts of the proposed communication strategy. Data should be disaggregated to identify how different groups (based on race, gender, disability, etc.) might be affected.
- Assessing Impact: This involves analysing the collected data to determine whether the policy or project could have differential impacts on various groups. For social communication, it is vital to consider accessibility, inclusivity, and representation. For instance, does a public information campaign adequately reach and resonate with all segments of the community?
- Consultation: Engaging with stakeholders, including community groups, experts, and potentially affected individuals, is a key part of the EIA process. This consultation helps to gather diverse perspectives and insights, particularly from those who might be directly impacted by the communication strategy.
- Mitigating Negative Impacts: If the assessment identifies potential negative impacts on any group, steps must be taken to mitigate these. This could involve redesigning the communication approach to be more inclusive or providing additional support to ensure equitable access to information.
- Monitoring and Reviewing: After implementation, it is important to monitor the outcomes of the policy or project to ensure that it does not adversely affect any particular group. Regular reviews can help in making necessary adjustments and in learning for future EIAs.
- Documentation and Reporting: Keeping detailed records of the EIA process, including the findings and decisions made, is essential for transparency and accountability. This documentation should be made available to stakeholders and the public, demonstrating the organization’s commitment to equality and human rights.
Audience, Platform, and Process
An Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) process for social action communications is intrinsically related to considerations of audience expectations, platform use, and the process of engagement. It entails a thorough understanding of the audience, not only in terms of demographics but also regarding their cultural sensitivities, accessibility needs, and communication preferences, ensuring that the chosen platforms – be they digital media, print, community radio, or social networks – are apt and effective for reaching and resonating with diverse groups. Moreover, the EIA process must scrutinise the engagement methods to guarantee they are inclusive, allowing for meaningful participation from all community segments.
By doing so, the EIA ensures that communication strategies not only comply with legal standards of equality and non-discrimination but also effectively meet the varied expectations and needs of the audience, thereby enhancing the impact and reach of social action initiatives. This holistic approach underscores the commitment to inclusivity and diversity, which is essential for building trust and fostering a sense of community ownership in social action projects.
Questions that socially focussed communications managers and producers might ask include:
Audience Understanding: How well does the strategy recognise and address the diverse needs and perspectives of the target audience? To what extent are these strategies informed by research and objective accounts of different social groups and people? Does the depth of research and understanding of different community segments, especially those that are typically underrepresented or marginalised, enable appropriate adjustment?
Message Framing: How are the messages framed to promote EDI? To what extent is a communications strategy able to employ language and imagery that are inclusive, respectful, and non-discriminatory? The nuances in message framing can significantly impact the effectiveness of communication in diverse settings, but they can themselves exclude others. How is a balance achieved?
Channel Selection: Asking which channels are chosen for communication, and why, is essential? Any strategy should be able to justify the selection of specific media channels (such as social media, community radio, print media, etc.) based on their accessibility and relevance to diverse audience segments, and see past perceptions of competency and professionalism, which may not be appropriate.
Cultural Sensitivity: How does a community communications strategy ensure cultural sensitivity and appropriateness? Understanding and respecting cultural differences is vital in EDI-focused communications, so considering how linguistic diversity, cultural norms, and historical contexts are accommodated, is vital.
Participation and Engagement: Does the strategy facilitate active participation and engagement from diverse groups? Strategies that include mechanisms for two-way communication and feedback are often more effective in ensuring inclusivity, so what forms of participation are being built-in to the communications development process?
Representation: How are different groups represented in the communication materials? Representation is not just about visibility, but is also about the depth and authenticity of portrayal. The strategy should aim to depict diverse groups in a manner that is empowering and free of stereotypes, but which also is representative of the social norms and democratic values of the wider society in which everyone interacts an mixes.
Compliance with Legal and Ethical Standards: How does the strategy align with relevant legal frameworks like the Equality Act 2010? Compliance with legal standards is a baseline; ethical considerations often go beyond legal requirements, and may sometimes conflict. How are differences of opinion and view accommodated so that diversity of belief does not become subsumed under one homogenised viewpoint?
Training and Awareness: What training or awareness programs is it possible to include for staff and volunteers to support the implementation of the strategy? Understanding and implementing EDI principles often requires ongoing education and sensitisation, not only within the professional networks of communications managers, but also within social groups and citizens in the wider public.
Accessibility: How accessible are any proposed communications to people with disabilities? This includes considering visual, auditory, and cognitive accessibility in all forms of communication. Are some forms of communication inherently more accessible? Are some forms of communication valued because they are established, despite not being exciting from a technological viewpoint?
Accountability and Evaluation: How will the impact of the strategy on promoting EDI be measured and reported? A robust mechanism for monitoring, evaluation, and reporting ensures accountability and continuous improvement, though as an inclusive process of development it may also need to include co-creative input from the communities being served.
Inclusivity in Content Creation: How inclusive is the process of content creation? Are diverse voices included in the planning and creative process? How are participatory forms of engagement built-in to the process of content creation? Are the messages co-created with representative people who may be affected by the concerns that are raised?
Budget and Resources: How are budget and resources allocated to ensure EDI in communication? This includes funding for translation services, accessible materials, and outreach activities in diverse communities. Are budgets for participation and co-creation provided at the origination point of the project, as simply seeking community consent at the distribution point would not be inclusive.
Crisis Communication: How does the strategy address potential backlash or misunderstandings related to EDI issues? Having a plan for cohesion and cultural differences is essential in handling sensitive issues effectively.
Utilising Community Media
Recognising the role that legacy forms of media continue to play in socially focussed communications is essential in ensuring that no members of a community are overlooked. For example, community media platforms, like community radio and neighbourhood newspapers, can play and essential role in a community-focused communications strategy because it enables consideration to be given to the unique strengths and attributes of platforms that have been around for a long time, which have demonstrated that they work.
These media platforms are particularly effective due to their local relevance, accessibility, and ability to foster community engagement. Several action-points relevant to community media can help to maximize the potential of different platforms:
- Local Content Creation: Encourage the creation of content that is locally relevant and resonates with the community. This could include stories about local events, issues, and achievements. Tailored content helps in building a strong connection with the audience.
- Community Involvement: Actively involve community members in content creation, such as through community journalism programs, local interviews, and community forums. This provides diverse perspectives and fosters a sense of ownership and engagement among community members.
- Collaborations and Partnerships: Partner with local civic organisations, schools, and charities to create content and programs. Such collaborations can broaden the reach of the media and provide varied content that caters to different segments of the community.
- Training and Capacity Building: Offer training and workshops for community members in media production, reporting, and broadcasting. This can help in developing skills and capabilities, while ensuring the sustainability of the community media projects.
- Diverse Programming: Ensure that the content and programming is diverse and inclusive, representing different groups within the community. This includes programs in different languages, addressing issues of various demographics, and showcasing diverse cultural practices.
- Interactive Platforms: Use these media as interactive platforms where community members can express their views, share stories, and participate in discussions. This can be facilitated through call-in shows, letters to the editor, and social media interactions.
- Promoting Local Initiatives: Use community media to promote local initiatives and events. This can help in building a sense of community and encouraging active participation in local activities.
- Accessible Formats: Ensure that content is accessible to all community members, including those with disabilities. This may involve providing content in multiple formats, such as text, audio, print, and accessible digital formats.
- Building Digital Presence: While maintaining the traditional formats, also build a digital presence to reach younger and more tech-savvy audience segments. This can include online versions of newspapers, podcasts, and social media engagement.
- Fostering Community Identity and Pride: Use community media to foster a sense of identity and pride within the community. Highlighting local history, achievements, and unique aspects of the community can contribute to this.
- Feedback Mechanisms: Establish effective feedback mechanisms to gauge community response and adapt content accordingly. This can be done through surveys, social media, and direct community engagement.
- Emergency Communication: Utilise community media as a reliable source of information in relation to identified social need criteria, providing timely and accurate information relevant to the local community, and building trust between the audience and the public services that are addressing these needs.
- Sustainability and Funding: Develop sustainable funding models, which can include local publicity, grants, community fundraising, and membership models, to ensure the longevity of the community media platforms.
As a communications professional, developing better community media is one way to ensure that the objectives of each public and civic organisation are met. These strategies can be instrumental if they are brought into alignment with the principles of community media, which includes DIY, decentralised, and non-professional media. The aim of community media is to significantly contribute to personal and social growth within communities. By maximizing the potential of community media, it is possible to effectively support the development of a more engaged, informed, and cohesive community.
Participatory and Volunteer Driven Media
Involving volunteers in community-focused communications, despite their lack of professional communications training and their diverse cultural, social backgrounds, and non-conforming media practices, offers numerous benefits. This approach aligns well with the ethos of community media which values diversity, grassroots participation, and democratic expression. Here are some key benefits:
- Diverse Perspectives and Authenticity: Volunteers from various backgrounds bring a wealth of diverse perspectives. This diversity enriches the content and ensures that it resonates with a wider audience. Authentic stories and viewpoints from different community members can make the communication more relatable and inclusive.
- Increased Community Engagement and Ownership: When community members are involved as volunteers, there is a greater sense of ownership and engagement with the media produced. This participatory approach fosters a stronger community connection and can lead to higher levels of trust and credibility in the content.
- Grassroots Insights and Local Knowledge: Volunteers often have intimate knowledge of local issues, concerns, and cultural nuances. This local insight is invaluable in creating content that accurately reflects and addresses community needs and interests.
- Innovation and Creativity: Non-professionals, unbound by conventional media norms, can bring fresh, innovative approaches to media creation. Their non-conforming practices can lead to creative and unique content that stands out and captures the audience’s attention.
- Building Capacity and Skills within the Community: Involving volunteers provides opportunities for skill development and capacity building within the community. Training and experience in media production, storytelling, and communication can empower individuals and enhance community resilience.
- Expanding Reach and Accessibility: A diverse group of volunteers can help in reaching different segments of the community, including those that are often marginalized or overlooked by mainstream media. This can include language diversity, catering to different age groups, and ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities.
- Cost-Effectiveness: Utilising volunteers can be a cost-effective way of producing content, especially for community media initiatives that often operate with limited budgets. It allows for a wider range of content and activities than might be feasible with a solely professional staff.
- Fostering Social Cohesion and Understanding: By bringing together people from different backgrounds and perspectives, community media volunteering can promote social cohesion and mutual understanding. It provides a platform for dialogue and exchange among diverse community members.
- Empowerment and Voice for Underrepresented Groups: Community media volunteering can empower underrepresented or marginalised groups by giving them a platform to share their stories and perspectives. This can be particularly impactful in fostering a sense of belonging and representation.
- Responsive and Adaptive Content: Volunteers, being part of the community, can quickly identify and respond to emerging issues and trends within the community, making the media more responsive and relevant.
By focusing on developing a community media set of values and mindset, it’s possible to diversify the number of unique strengths and perspectives that volunteers bring. Using an asset-based approach (such as ABCD – Asset-Based Community Development) can be a key strategy. It not only enriches the content and outreach of community-focused communications, but also aligns with the principles of DIY, decentralisation, and non-professional media practices. This approach can significantly contribute to building a more vibrant, inclusive, and participatory media landscape in communities.
Working With Communications Managers
Convincing professional communications managers of the efficacy of a participatory community communications strategy, especially in the context of public, civic, and social priorities, requires a well-structured approach that highlights the tangible benefits, aligns with their objectives, and addresses potential concerns. To present this approach effectively, consider:
Defining Clear Objectives and Align with Managerial Goals
- Understand Their Priorities: Start by thoroughly understanding the specific goals and priorities of the communications managers. What are their key performance indicators? What does success look like in their view?
- Align Objectives: Demonstrate how a participatory community communications strategy aligns with their objectives. Emphasize how this approach can enhance reach, engagement, and impact in the context of public and civic communication.
Present Research and Case Studies
- Showcase Success Stories: Provide examples of successful participatory community communication projects, preferably with quantifiable results. Highlight how these projects achieved significant impact in terms of audience reach, engagement, and meeting communication goals.
- Research-Based Evidence: Share research that supports the effectiveness of community-based approaches in communication, especially in enhancing trust, relevance, and engagement.
Highlight the Benefits
- Enhanced Community Engagement: Stress the increased engagement and stronger relationship-building that a participatory approach fosters within communities.
- Diverse Perspectives and Innovation: Point out how involving community members can bring diverse perspectives and innovative solutions, leading to more creative and effective communication strategies.
- Authenticity and Trust: Emphasize that messages crafted with community participation are often considered more authentic, enhancing trust and credibility.
Risk Management and Professional Integration
- Address Concerns: Acknowledge potential concerns about maintaining professional standards, message consistency, and brand image. Explain how these can be managed effectively within a participatory framework.
- Professional Oversight: Describe how professional communicators can still guide and oversee the process, ensuring quality and alignment with overall communication goals.
- Budget Efficiency: Illustrate how participatory strategies can be more cost-effective, leveraging community resources, and volunteer contributions.
Propose a Pilot Project
- Suggest a Pilot: Recommend starting with a small-scale pilot project to demonstrate the effectiveness of the participatory approach. This reduces perceived risk and allows for tangible evaluation.
- Define Metrics for Success: Establish clear metrics to evaluate the success of the pilot project, aligning these with the managers’ key performance indicators.
Provide a Detailed Implementation Plan
- Step-by-Step Plan: Offer a detailed plan for how the participatory strategy would be implemented, including timelines, resource allocation, and roles.
- Training and Support: Outline any necessary training or support that would be provided to ensure a smooth implementation.
Ongoing Evaluation and Adaptation
- Feedback Mechanisms: Propose robust mechanisms for ongoing evaluation and feedback, ensuring the strategy remains aligned with objectives and adapts to changing needs.
- Continuous Improvement: Stress the commitment to continuous improvement based on feedback and results.
Conclusion and Follow-Up
- Summarise Key Points: Conclude by summarizing the key benefits and how they align with the manager’s goals.
- Offer to Discuss Further: Invite them for further discussion or to address any specific concerns, showing readiness for collaboration and adaptation.
By presenting a well-rounded and evidence-backed case, it should be possible to effectively persuade professional communications managers of the value and efficacy of a participatory community communications strategy, demonstrating its alignment with achieving impactful, engaging, and socially relevant communication outcomes.
Recognition in Equality Impact Evaluation
To ensure that an organization’s communication practices and processes are informed by a meaningful equality approach, communications managers must strategically implement a comprehensive and inclusive communication plan. This involves embedding equality considerations at every stage of the communication process, from planning and content creation to dissemination and feedback.
Key steps include conducting thorough audience analysis to understand the diverse needs and preferences of all stakeholders, selecting accessible and appropriate platforms for message delivery, and crafting content that is respectful and representative of different perspectives and experiences. Managers should also foster an organizational culture that values diversity and inclusivity, providing training and resources to staff to enhance their understanding and ability to communicate effectively with all segments of the community.
Regular monitoring and evaluation of communication strategies are crucial to ensure they remain responsive and effective in promoting equality. This strategic approach not only aligns with legal requirements and ethical standards but also enhances the organisation’s reputation, engagement, and impact by demonstrating a genuine commitment to equality in all aspects of its communications, including:
- Assessing Impact on Freedom of Belief and Speech: When conducting an EIA, it’s crucial to assess whether the policy or action might disproportionately affect individuals’ freedom of belief or speech. For instance, does a new policy in a workplace inadvertently restrict employees’ rights to express their beliefs?
- Consultation with Diverse Groups: Engaging with a broad range of stakeholders, especially those from various religious or belief backgrounds, can provide insights into how different groups may be impacted by the policy or action.
- Balance and Fairness: The EIA should consider how to balance the rights of individuals to express their beliefs with the rights of others to be protected from discrimination, harassment, or harassment.
- Reasonable Accommodation: Consider whether and how the policy or action accommodates different beliefs and expressions. The EIA should identify potential adjustments that could be made to ensure inclusivity without imposing undue hardship or uniformity on any person or groups of people who may hold minority beliefs or be recognised for their protected characteristics.
- Legal Compliance: Ensure that the policy or action is compliant with the protections afforded by the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act. This includes avoiding direct or indirect discrimination based on religion or belief and protected characteristics.
- Training and Awareness: Part of the EIA could involve recommendations for training and awareness-raising activities to ensure that staff and stakeholders are aware of the rights to freedom of belief and speech and how to respect these in practice.
- Monitoring and Review: Recommend mechanisms for ongoing monitoring and review to ensure that the policy or action does not negatively impact freedom of belief and speech and is adaptable to changing circumstances or insights.
The role of community media is pivotal in the successful implementation of a communications strategy that has undergone a thorough, critical, and meaningful Equality Impact Assessment (EIA). Community media, with its grassroots orientation and focus on local audiences, acts as a powerful conduit for ensuring that communication strategies are truly inclusive and reflective of diverse community voices.
By incorporating insights gained from a comprehensive EIA, community media can tailor content to address the specific needs, preferences, and contexts of various groups within a community, thereby enhancing relevance and resonance. Furthermore, community media platforms, often characterized by their close engagement with local audiences, provide an ideal space for fostering dialogue, participation, and feedback, essential elements for any communication strategy aspiring to be equitable and inclusive. In essence, community media not only amplifies the reach of a well-assessed communication strategy but also imbues it with the authenticity and sensitivity needed to genuinely connect with and impact diverse communities.