Minimum standards for the documentation of anti-discrimination counselling


- Fact sheet on the research project -

Aims of documenting consultation and complaint cases

Firstly, the documentation of counselling and complaints cases is necessary for practical reasons to have all information about a current case at hand when needed. At the same time, an archive of counselling cases may provide references to potential strategies and options for action available in a given case constellation as well as information about which of those options have proven particularly effective. Secondly, the documentation can also serve as a basis for raising public awareness about current developments regarding discrimination. In many cases, such statistics are relevant not least to potential funders, too. Moreover, counselling information that is documented in a standardised manner could provide additional data to inform further research on discrimination. All these different aims of documentation must be seen as interconnected.

Minimum standards for documentation

The minimum standards that emerged from this process are not meant to replace the existing documentation systems of anti-discrimination counselling agencies. They can be used as an add-on or inspire the development of an individual system that is compatible with the minimum standards. In addition, substantive and methodological minimum standards for the documentation of counselling and complaints cases provide the opportunity of pooling data from different complaints and counselling agencies.

The development of the minimum standards was based on three evaluation criteria. Firstly, the individual categories must allow for anonymization. In rural areas, for instance, it may be necessary to expand the area indicated as place of discrimination so that no conclusions can be drawn to persons affected. Secondly, the selected categories must possess clear analytical power. This analytical power also requires a common understanding of the categories. Finally and thirdly, the usability of individual categories as well as of the documentation system as a whole is an important criterion for the development of the minimum standards.

The minimum standards are divided into seven overarching subject areas:

  • Free case description with structuring questions
  • Discrimination ground (grounds protected under the AGG or other grounds)
  • Sphere of life (setting, in which the discrimination takes place)
  • Form of discrimination (forms of discrimination under the AGG and beyond)
  • Perpetrators and causative mechanisms of discrimination
  • Process of counselling (time of discrimination, place of discrimination, steps of counselling, reflexion of the counselling process)
  • Socio-demographic data

Each subject area is sub-divided into two to three further levels with categories or sub-categories allowing for an accurate documentation of information. Of these, the top substantive level represents the minimum requirement for a systematic case documentation in anti-discrimination counselling. The aim is for documentation processes to always compile data in a way so as to allow for pooling at least at the top level.

Case examples

Based on five different case examples, the report illustrates how the documentation is applied in practice to complex cases. For each case, challenges are presented and suggestions made about a potential classification under the category system.

The following challenges to the documentation of counselling cases are discussed:

  • Intersectionality: How can multiple and intersectional discrimination be dealt with in case documentation?
  • Discrimination not related to the Equal Treatment Act (AGG): How can a case be classified that is not relevant under the AGG i.e. that cannot be proceeded with in accordance with the AGG?
  • Discrimination at different levels: How can cases be documented where a complaint from the person affected or an organisation providing support is ignored by the agency causing the discrimination?
  • Institutional discrimination: How can cases be documented where discrimination is caused by the underlying structure of an institution or based on legal provisions?
  • Cooperation with other parties: How can a case be dealt with where it is not the person discriminated against, who turns to the counselling agency, but an organisation providing support to this person?

The documentation of exemplary cases shows that cases can be hard to classify at times, but that a solution can always be found by combining different options (free case description, table options, space for adding further details).

Challenges to the practical implementation of documentation

The documentation of counselling requests and processes in the provision of anti-discrimination counselling requires additional time and personnel, which is often hardly available due to a lack of resources. To ensure a common quality standard for the documentation of counselling cases, additional internal meetings are needed as well as a shared understanding of the categories that must be established between all counsellors. A regular exchange on difficulties and challenges with regard to the documentation of counselling cases can serve to maintain and advance the documentation process as a learning system and to ensure that data can be generalised. Further support is also needed, according to the authors, with regard to the technological implementation of the documentation, i.e., the handling and provision of hard- and software. In this context, practical compliance with data protection requirements is of particular importance, especially when it comes to open case descriptions.