in mind, however, that such organisations may have limited capacity and resources and may need support to develop their capacity to engage with the process.
Overcoming consultation fatigue
One problem that has been faced in the implementation of positive equality duties in Northern Ireland is 'consultation fatigue', with community and voluntary groups being overloaded with lengthy consultation documents. In its review of the implementation of the duties, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) stated that there was "consensus that blanket mail shots to everyone on a public authority's consultation list are rarely appropriate and should not be routinely advocated".
One means of tackling 'consultation fatigue' is to ensure that consultation is 'joined-up' within organisations, so that there can be one consultation exercise on related policies with affected groups. The ECNI has also recommended that "a number of public authorities should consolidate consultation exercises where possible on the same, or similar, policies".
Health authorities in Northern Ireland undertake a region-wide equality impact assessment (EQIA) timetable so that each policy area is subject to equality impact assessment by all health authorities at the same time. This joined-up approach enables one consultation exercise for each EQIA.
Prioritising and setting gender equality objectives
The purpose of producing the scheme is to bring about change. It is therefore important that public authorities focus on achieving outcomes – specific identifiable improvements in policies, in the way services and functions are delivered and in the gender equality outcomes for employees. Focussing on outcomes rather than processes will be of benefit to smaller public authorities, which may not necessarily have the resources to undertake large-scale processes.
The specific duties require listed public authorities to ensure that their schemes set out overall objectives that the authority has identified for meeting the duty.
The duty does not prescribe which objectives should be chosen and it is up to the authority to select the priorities for action, in consultation with service users and employees, and taking into account all relevant information.
In deciding priorities for action, public authorities will also need to consider the resource implications – a major deep-seated inequality may take significant staff and cash resource to correct. It may be, however, that it is so clearly a significant gender inequality issue that not to address it could lay the public authority open to enforcement action by the EOC or CEHR.
The priorities are intended to cover a three-year period. It will clearly not be possible to address and resolve all issues of gender inequality in that 3 year period, but the requirement to have due regard means that public authorities are expected to begin to address the most significant problems.
Appropriate weight must be given to the three elements of the duty, as set out in Chapter 2, across all of the authority's functions. In determining priorities, therefore,