Equality and diversity monitoring – should we be concerned?

Equality and diversity monitoring – should we be concerned?

I wonder what it is about Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs), Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) and other Quangos that somehow feel compelled to monitor and report on socio-demographic data that is not part of their brief?

I encountered this first hand when I was contracted by LSC and DIUS last year to set up the Information Authority. This afforded me some brief (albeit heady) power over the Individual Learning Record (ILR), which is the process by which schools, colleges, universities and employers working in the further education (FE) sector report on courses they’re running, the trainees on the courses and the training outcomes. I am reminded of one particular request from the LSC to modify the ILR for 2008/9 to start collecting information from the FE sector about age, ethnicity and sexual orientation of trainees. When probed about why they wanted this information, it was “to ensure compliance with equality and diversity legislation”. Fortunately I was in a position at the time to reject this request, mainly on the grounds that the LSC had no statutory right to monitor and report on this data. They were there as a funding body – full stop! It’s the duty of the schools and colleges etc. to comply with the legislation, not for some other self-appointing authority to report and regulate.

I was therefore mildly alarmed when I heard that the IDeA wanted to start collecting data on ‘equality and diversity’ of users of the Community of Practice platform. I understand this only extends to age and ethnicity of users, which is not quite as pervasive as the LSC example. The main concern here though is opaqueness of purpose, i.e. what the data is needed for and what would happen to it once it became available to other organizations working in the local government sector. I’ve so far managed to head off a proposal whereby this data would be compulsorily provided as part of the CoP platform registration process, but I don’t think the requirement has quite gone away.

It may be that the motives are entirely innocent, but I don’t understand why there is this perceived need to categorise and label people when there is no distinction made as to who and how they use the CoP platform. It’s the same interface, the same applications, the same support procedures etc. I remain suspicious of any organization that wants to start putting people into pigeon holes, particularly when this is done under the banner of ‘equality’. After all, isn’t this an oxymoron?

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