University-based researchers produce knowledge that is critical in advancing human rights protections, especially in an era of human rights retrenchment. Partnerships with practitioners can deepen understanding of complex human rights challenges, leading to more relevant and valuable research. Yet, the slow pace of scholarship production and dissemination is often at odds with the needs of human rights defenders who face immediate challenges and must make rapid decisions in response to changing local, national, and international circumstances. Further, the extractive practices of some academic researchers or their positioning as ivory-tower critics of the human rights movement diminishes trust and undermines collaboration between practitioners and academics, despite the presence of shared goals.
What common ground can we find between these two rights-concerned communities -- researchers and practitioners -- especially in this era of backlash against human rights protections? How can academic researchers adapt their practices to produce high-level scholarship that is also useful to human rights defenders? Who should set the research agenda in these partnerships, and who should participate in making, advancing and sustaining agendas? Who “owns” the research data and publications? This series of articles, which grew out of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Lab, explores possibilities and barriers to building effective research and practice collaborations. It examines ethical and practical concerns and ways of evaluating the success of such partnerships.