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What actually works when tackling racism and prejudice?

black woman and white woman talking in cafe

With 2021 behind us, Australia’s Scanlon Foundation, in research conducted by Monash University, has released its annual Mapping Social Cohesion Report.

This year, in answer to the question, “How big a problem is racism in Australia?”, it found that 60 per cent of Australians think it’s “very big” or “fairly big”.

This is a “significant aspect” that “seems to challenge the positive indication of the national mood”, the report stated.

It explained:

“In 2020, the proportion indicating that it was a ‘very big problem’ or ‘fairly big problem’ was stable: 39 per cent in July and 40 per cent in November. In 2021, however, it was substantially higher at 60 per cent. An increase of 20 percentage points in response to a general question of this nature is almost unprecedented.”

The timing of the “substantial” shift in prejudice is “difficult to explain … [as it was] registered in July 2021, but not in the earlier surveys in 2020 when discussion of racism was at least as prominent, brought to attention by a number of events, including the Black Lives Matter protests, which were at their peak in May-June 2020”.

It says the distinction between overseas-born Australians and Australian-born people did not provide a clear answer.

We found that out of the thousands of studies looking to reduce prejudice, only 69 “interventions” were tested in real-world settings.

“While a higher proportion of overseas-born see racism as a big problem, including 69 per cent of respondents born in an Asian country, 57 per cent of Australia-born agree, an increase of 20 percentage points since November 2020.”

Moreover, it’s not surprising that Australians of non-English-speaking backgrounds reported the highest level of discrimination.

In November, The Guardian reported on a new incident of racism involving African-born customers being racially profiled in a suburban convenience chain store.

Prejudice is a pervasive and significant issue

To tackle this, it’s important to start with an understanding of what really works to reduce prejudice in the real world. A significant amount of research on tackling prejudice is conducted in settings that don’t resemble the everyday settings where prejudice might occur. Instead, they’re tested in controlled environments.

Only a small subset of research involves field experiments and trials conducted in the real world, and can therefore identify what works in real-world settings.

With my co-authors, Monash’s Professor Rebecca Wickes and BehaviourWorks/Monash’s Dr Nicholas Faulkner, I reviewed the available evidence from prejudice reduction interventions that have been tested in field experiments in our recently published paper. Our meta-analysis covering more than 24,000 participants is published in the British Journal of Social Psychology

We found that out of the thousands of studies looking to reduce prejudice, only 69 “interventions” were tested in real-world settings and used experiments, or “randomised control trials”, which give us the best indication of what actually works.

The most effective interventions

Our review indicated where there’s the most evidence on effective prejudice reduction interventions for certain cohorts using certain approaches.

The most common approach tested in the real world is based on “contact theory” – this is an intervention to reduce prejudice by creating opportunities for being in contact with someone from a different group.

This includes all forms of contact, such as direct or face-to-face contact, extended contact through film or books, and virtual contact through non-face-to-face channels, such as instant messaging.

The next most common approach is what we call “awareness”. These are interventions where the mechanism for reducing prejudice is by improving someone’s understanding of what prejudice is, the errors of stereotypical views, and the negative consequences.

Much of what we found using these two approaches was with primary and secondary school students.

Perhaps equally interesting was what our review did not find – there was little evidence of interventions being tested with adults in general community settings.

Given how little we’re learning about how to reduce prejudice among adults, it’s perhaps not surprising at all that there are ongoing reports of prejudice and discrimination.

Also important was that we found that discussion was almost universally absent regarding the scalability of interventions, or the capacity of programs and interventions to increase in reach and impact.

For interventions to have a sustained impact in the real world, implementation science research indicates it’s not enough only to consider effectiveness; it’s also necessary to consider scalability.

We believe that to truly have an impact on prejudice in the real world, more effort needs to be placed in investigating what works to reduce prejudice among adults in community settings, and in ways that are likely to have good scaling potential – and those investigations need to be tested in settings as close to the real world as possible.

This article was first published on Monash Lens. Read the original article

Have you experienced racism or prejudice in your life? What steps did you take to address the problem? Let us know in the comments section below.

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