Data

Sourcing and applying data for evidence-based human rights practice

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The global human rights community has access to more data, from a wider range of sources, than ever before. A growing number of scholars and activists are applying public opinion polls and experimental research methods to inform advocacy strategies and explore the impact and efficacy of human rights work. This section highlights key data-based research and explores questions about the methods, tools, and application of data for evidence-based practice and evaluation.

 

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Public Opinion Research

 

 

Who thinks human rights are respected in the United States, and why does it matter?

By: James Ron
Español

Based on a representative sample, researchers found that respondents’ assessment of current human and civil rights conditions was strongly correlated with their ...

Realising the promise of SDG 16 to promote and protect civic space

By: Deirdre de Burca
Español

There is an urgent need for the international community to extend the scope of the SDG 16 civic space indicators that promote and protect civic space.

Democratizing data is key for addressing inequalities during COVID-19

By: Francesca Feruglio & Maria Silvia Emanuelli & Imogen Richmond-Bishop & Brian Omala
Español | Français | العربية

Exclusion in data—which often reflects society’s values and biases about who and what counts—means exclusion in reality when it comes to crises and public policy.

Our post-COVID future should be as much about welfare as it is about tech

By: Beatriz Botero Arcila
Español

Surveillance thrives in unequal environments, and the pandemic has increased inequality. We need a welfare state for our digital information economy.

Budgets are political documents: can they help control the pandemic and fight for justice?

By: Ana Cernov & Iara Pietricovsky & Nathalie Beghin
Português | Español

Budgetary decisions are always political, and these documents are a crucial tool for civil society to protect rights and demand justice.

Can an online platform increase state accountability on women’s rights?

By: Ramona Vijeyarasa
Español | Français | العربية

Quantitative approaches such as the Gender Legislative Index offer advantages compared to using resource-intensive qualitative approaches alone.

Systemic bias in data models is a human rights issue

By: Isabel Laura Ebert & Thorsten Busch
Español | Français

The tech industry must engage with those affected by data errors and embedded discrimination to avoid systemic bias in data models.

How can human rights impact assessments contribute to responsible business conduct?

By: Nora Götzmann
Español | Français

It's time to ask important questions about the integrity of human rights impact assessments and their application.

How data is improving justice for gender-based violence in Fiji

By: Erin Thomas
Español | Na Vosa Vakaviti

To advance equity for girls and to improve faith in the justice system, combatting biases that privilege the interests of perpetrators of gender-based violence ...

Global Rule of Law Index reveals worrying trends for human rights protection

By: Elizabeth Andersen & Alicia Evangelides
Español

The rule of law is the foundation for human rights, and a global index shows respect for this fundamental principle is declining worldwide—a persistent trend evident ...

Can mapping human rights help in the global fight for equality?

By: Ilia Savelev
Español | Français

Human rights mapping has been key to global advocacy for LGBT+ and can be used elsewhere to flag issues of concern and provide empirical data on rights violations.

Jews and Muslims in America could find unity through a common adversary

By: James Ron & Howard Lavine
Español

Homegrown nativists in the U.S. dislike both Jews and Muslims, which could help both groups work toward mutual understanding.

Why do high-income Brazilians distrust human rights?

By: Alexandre Abdal & Andréa Pineda & Fernando do Amaral Nogueira & Juana Kweitel
Español | Português

The existing rejection and distrust of human rights among high-income Brazilians result mostly from lack of knowledge and reflection, rather than populist or radical ...

To protect human rights abroad, preach to Trump voters

By: Howard Lavine & James Ron
Español

Religious leaders can help convince the most ethnocentric and authoritarian American voters to oppose Washington’s backing of abusive dictators.

No, Americans don’t support airstrikes that kill civilians, even when they target terrorists

By: James Ron & Howard Lavine & Shannon Golden

Polls that show Americans support airstrikes against suspected terrorists ignore some very large caveats.

Americans to Trump: If war comes, follow the Geneva Conventions

By: Alexander H. Montgomery & Charli Carpenter

Recent studies argue that Americans are relatively insensitive to the laws of war. There’s only one problem: that conclusion is wrong.

Brain research suggests emphasizing human rights abuses may perpetuate them

By: Laura Ligouri
Español | Français | العربية

Capitalizing on the brain’s capacity to simulate events, messages of positive behavior – instead of repeated exposure to accounts of abuse – could better lead to ...

New year, new human rights narratives?

By: James Logan
Español

Within the human rights community, there is a growing enthusiasm for new narratives to build public support for human rights. But creating a new narrative is about ...

Better data can counteract soft repression

By: Katrin Kinzelbach & Janika Spannagel
Español | Français

Changing the way we document human rights abuses—such as paying more attention to soft repression—could correct our understanding of what is really happening.

Advocacy, meet academia: connecting disciplines to improve human rights research

By: Molly Land & Theresa Harris
Español

Human rights researchers are seeking new ways to establish facts, creating new opportunities for collaboration between researchers, scientists, and academics.

Assessment tools can strengthen social movements by bringing activists together

By: PeiYao Chen & Natalia Karbowska
Español | Français | العربية | Русский | Українська

A new measurement tool helps social movement actors identify where they are progressing and where they can improve—but what comes after the assessment is the most ...

Measuring what matters: a new database to track human rights performance

By: Anne-Marie Brook & K. Chad Clay & Susan Randolph

The launch of the Human Rights Measurement Initiative dataset promises to provide comprehensive overviews of how countries are performing on human rights commitments.

Community participation in the face of gatekeeping: lessons from Kenya

By: Collins Liko
Español

Cartels in Kenya are controlling public resources and access to information, but community mobilization is starting to change this power dynamic.

Collecting, preserving, and verifying online evidence of human rights violations

By: Enrique Piracés
Español

The amount of digital information available online presents human rights practitioners with a valuable opportunity to document abuses and address a broad scope ...

Methodological choices in human rights research are political, not just technical

By: Allison Corkery 
Español | العربية

The methods human rights researchers and advocates use determine what injustices we see and prioritize, making methodology far more than just a technical choice.

Survey: most believe women’s rights are human rights

By: James Ron
Español

Have feminists made traction in campaigning that “women’s rights are human rights?" We interviewed thousands of people to find out.

Scientists and activists collaborate to bring hard data into advocacy

By: César Rodríguez-Garavito
Español

A new collaboration in Colombia is bringing together activists, scientists, physicians and other experts to collect hard evidence on the human rights impacts of ...

Is the UN a friend or foe?

By: Charles T. Call & David Crow & James Ron
Español | Français | العربية

Many Republicans believe that the UN curbs America’s interests, but people in the global South often view the UN as a tool of the United States. Why?

Using community-led activism and public opinion to stop harmful development

By: John Mwebe & Preksha Kumar

Several investment banks recently withdrew from a project in Malawi due to community-led activism and research on the inherent risks of the proposed plan.

What makes a human rights campaign effective?

By: Cosette Creamer & Amy Hill Cosimini & Yagmur Karakaya & Suzy McElrath
Español | Français

Marketing and public health provide useful lessons about framing and pre-testing messages and good media relations to deliver effective human rights awareness campaigns.

Measuring globally, surveying locally: A new global effort to measure civil and political rights

By: K. Chad Clay

Help nominate countries for a pilot study aiming to produce cross-national human rights data on a comprehensive list of internationally recognized human rights.

The legitimization of violence to solve social problems in Brazil

By: Samira Bueno & Renato Sérgio de Lima
Español | Português

Many Brazilians indicate that they would accept authoritarianism and government violence to solve social problems.

Why an anti-ICC narrative may help Kenyan leaders win votes

By: Geoff Dancy

Anti-ICC narratives resonate with a crucial minority of Kenyan citizens, but not with victims of political violence.

Tailoring the message: How the political left and right think differently about human rights

By: Joe Braun & Stephen Arves

Effectively motivating people to care about human rights depends largely on where they fall on the political spectrum.

International recognition and public opinion towards conflict and violence

By: Yael Zeira

Experiments show international recognition of statehood could change popular support for violence in self-determination conflicts.

To strengthen digital security for human rights defenders, behavior matters

By: Michael Caster
简体中文 | Español

When approaching digital security for human rights defenders in hostile environments, we need to think more about practical behavior.

Discrimination in action: the value of experiments in human rights

By: Ana Bracic

A video game experiment in Slovenia reveals discriminatory practices against the Roma—what else might experiments teach us about human rights?

Monetizing the human rights “brand”

By: David Crow & José Kaire & James Ron
Español

Marketing research can help Mexican rights groups monetize their “brand” and boost public donations.

The human rights lab: using experiments to craft effective messaging

By: Michele Leiby & Matthew Krain
Español

Framing issues in different ways can undermine or bolster support of human rights, and experiments can help to explain why.

Using experiments to improve women’s rights in Pakistan

By: Gulnaz Anjum & Adam Chilton

Experiments on support for women’s rights in Pakistan could improve the implementation and enforcement of UN treaties.

How new data can—and can’t—support academic research

By: Merrill Sovner

Human rights practitioners and researchers often ask very different questions when collecting data—how can we bridge these gaps?

Human rights datasets are pointless without methodological rigour

By: Lawrence Saez

Existing datasets on human rights have methodological weaknesses that can make them useless for any meaningful statistical analysis.

Ethics, technology and human rights: navigating new roads

By: Danna Ingleton

When we incorporate new technologies into human rights work, we need to be acutely aware of agency, participation and consent.

The fine print: seeing beyond the hype in technology for human rights

By: Zara Rahman

With all the hype about new technologies for human rights, activists must think critically and strategically.

Ordinary people will pay for rights. We asked them

By: James Ron & José Kaire & David Crow
Español

New research suggests that if human rights organizations use evidence-based fundraising strategies, the public will donate.

Cohesion in the chaos: uniting human rights methodologies

By: Katie Kraska

With the range of options available to document and analyze human rights, it’s important to help researchers and advocates use data responsibly and appropriately.

How we talk about mass violence: the cultural effects of Darfur campaigns

By: Joachim J. Savelsberg 

When NGOs alter their narratives of mass violence depending on the cultural characteristics of each country, which version dominates?

Missing torture amongst the poor

By: Steffen Jensen & Tobias Kelly
Español | Français

Documenting torture has always been problematic, but the experiences of the poor are continually left out of the picture.

Is public opinion an effective constraint on torture?

By: Will H. Moore
Español | العربية

Americans’ support for torture increases depending on who is involved and how it is framed.

Human rights and public opinion in Israel: anger vs. pragmatism

By: Dahlia Scheindlin
Español | עברית | العربية

In Israel, public support for the term, “human rights,” is falling; support for actual human rights policies, however, is strong.

No single dataset is sufficient for understanding human rights, nor should it be

By: K. Chad Clay

Yes, cross-national datasets are inappropriate for understanding the lived experience of those suffering from human rights abuse, but that’s not why we need them.

Yes, human rights scholars conceal social wrongs—when they miss the point

By: Todd Landman 

To suggest that relying on cross-national analyses perpetuates human rights abuses is simply fallacious.

How human rights scholars conceal social wrongs

By: Neve Gordon & Nitza Berkovitch

Using cross-national data in human rights research helps perpetuate social wrongs.

No data, no accountability: solving racial violence in the United States

By: Samuel L. Myers Jr.
Português

Without adequate data, the US racial divide remains a matter of perception, rather than of careful empirical analysis.

Dogs, pigs, and human rights: South Korea’s uproar

By: Jeong-Woo Koo 

A recent political uproar in South Korea has exacerbated the public’s diminishing trust in government officials.

Earning the trust of human rights supporters

By: James Ron
Español

Human rights groups have lost—or never gained—the trust of roughly half their (potentially) strongest supporters.

Human rights data used the wrong way can be misleading

By: Meg Satterthwaite

While data is important for human rights advocacy, the risks of misleading people are also very real and advocates must insist on rigor.

The political strategy for peace

By: Diana Isabel Güiza Gómez 
Español

After 50 years, the Colombian government has signed a historic ceasefire agreement. But how can we get more Colombians on board?

The promises and pitfalls of mobile polling

By: Michael Bear Kleinman 
Español

Mobile polling could revolutionize how civil society and human rights groups operate—if it’s done right.

In southeastern Europe, data helps bolster LGBTI rights

By: Marko Ivkovic 
Español | Српски

Using polling data, the National Democratic Institute is helping LGBTI groups in southeastern Europe build their activist base.

Naming crimes: genocide and public opinion in the United States

By: Benjamin A. Valentino & Ethan Weinberg 

Debates about the label “genocide” distract from the substantive discussion about whether and how to stop the killing.

Local funding is not always the answer

By: Hussein Baoumi
Français | العربية

In some countries, relying on local funding gives human rights defenders even less freedom.

Discrimination, cooperation, and building communities

By: Ana Bracic
Español

New research shows that people who experience discrimination are less likely to contribute to the common good.

It’s about politics: why public opinion matters for movement organizing

By: Lauren Kitz
Español

For countries in democratic transition, using public opinion research to inform the strategy of social movements has added value.

Activists get creative in their push for Moroccan women’s rights

By: Rachel Schmidt

Partnering with a comedienne and taking to social media, Human Rights Watch is getting creative to gain traction on women’s rights in Morocco.

Quantitative data in human rights: what do the numbers really mean?

By: Will H. Moore

Everyone loves numbers, but when we use them in human rights, how often are we misrepresenting the data?

Business lessons for human rights: borrowing evidence-based practices

By: Bill Mawby & Theresa Harris

The human rights field could learn a lot from evidence-based practices developed in business and medicine.

Using budget analysis to confront governments: what practitioners need to know

By: Ian Allen & Megan Manion & Thandi Matthews & Robert Ralston

Millions of dollars that could address socio-economic disparities are lost through illicit financial flows, but budget analysis could help.

Running the numbers on ICC deterrence: when does it actually work?

By: Hyeran Jo & Beth A. Simmons
Español

Systematic assessments reveal that the ICC can deter intentional civilian killing, but only under the right conditions.

Violence data: what practitioners need to know

By: Amelia Hoover Green
Español

The demand for numerical data on human rights has never been higher, but no data can be taken at face value.

Grounds for (a little) optimism? Russian public opinion on human rights

By: Theodore P. Gerber 
Español | Русский

Despite Putin’s clampdown on Russian civil society, public opinion trends point to growing support for civil liberties.

Why some human rights groups avoid public opinion research—and why they’re wrong

By: Dahlia Scheindlin
Español | Français

There are many reasons to avoid public opinion research, but there are even more reasons to invest in it.

Adapt or perish: the new normal for civil society

By: Shannon N. Green
Español

As space for civil society closes, donors and civil society leaders are realizing they cannot take public support for granted.

Ignore public opinion at your own peril

By: Colin Irwin 

Why have global leaders continually been ignoring the views of Muslims—and especially of Syrians—on conflict?

To discredit victims, call them terrorists

By: Ana Bracic & Amanda Murdie
Español

Repressive governments can damage the effectiveness of human rights action by attempting to discredit a prisoner of conscience.

What do South Africans really think about sexual orientation and gender identity?

By: Carla Sutherland 

South Africa stands apart from the criminalization of homosexuality in Africa, but without surveys, we still don’t know the public’s opinion.

Strategic, data-driven human rights advocacy: the Israeli experience

By: Dahlia Scheindlin

Winning the public’s trust requires that NGOs be open to understanding, and respecting, the public’s perspectives.

Myth-busting human rights awareness

By: Joel R. Pruce
Español

Broad public support for human rights is a false front—not a mass movement but a loosely bound herd.

Wanted in Israel: democratic leadership

By: Tamar Hermann 
العربية | עברית

Israeli public opinion is not nearly as anti-democratic as is often depicted. Israeli leadership, however, is another story.

Morocco’s “soft” repression of human rights activists

By: Zine El Abidine Meknassi 
Français | العربية

Moroccan authorities still use old methods of oppressing opponents. Without popular support, can human rights groups fight back?

In Israel, public opinion matters more when it’s against you

By: Dahlia Scheindlin
Español | العربية | עברית

Backed into a corner, Israeli human rights groups are trying to better understand and utilize public opinion.

Know thy audience: effective messaging in human rights campaigns

By: Laurence Janta-Lipinski
Español

Knowing your audience, and tailoring messages accordingly, will make or break a human rights campaign.

For human rights, majority opinion isn’t always important

By: Kenneth Roth
Español | Français | العربية

If polls don’t target relevant publics, they misinform activism.

“Small places, close to home”: successful communication on human rights

By: Neil Crowther
Español | Français

Effective counter-framing is crucial to improve public opinion on human rights.

Perceptions on human rights can help—or hinder—state building

By: Khalil Shikaki 
Français | العربية

Public perception on human rights in the Middle East can provide important insights on state building.

Making peace through polls

By: Colin Irwin 

Public opinion polls can help bring forward the voice of the silent majority, who mostly favour peace in situations of violent conflict.

It’s all in the frame: winning marriage equality in America

By: Kevin Nix 
Español | Français

Was there a magic messaging bullet that helped change American public opinion on same-sex marriage?

In Israel, intense combat spurs peace activism

By: Erica Weiss 
עברית | العربية

Experience of intense combat not only turns Israeli soldiers against conflict resolution, it can also spur them to become anti-occupation activists.

When it comes to drones, do Americans really care about international law?

By: Tanisha M. Fazal
Español | Français

Is American public opinion on drones influenced by international law, or is it the low-to-no American casualties that have more sway?

Human rights evaluation—who is it really for?

By: Claire Thomas
Español

The human rights community should embrace evaluation not for our donors, but for our beneficiaries.

Why framing matters—and polls only give you so much

By: Nat Kendall-Taylor 
Español

Understanding how people think about human rights, not just what they think, is critical to effective communication.

In Myanmar, polls are the beginning of a larger conversation

By: Kathy Frankovic 
မြန်မာဘာသာ

Many activists in Myanmar (Burma) are very skeptical of public opinion polling. But these polls are a key starting point for a larger conversation on democracy.

Paying for human rights violations: perceptions of the Colombian peace process

By: Ryan E. Carlin & Jennifer L. Mccoy & Jelena Subotic
Español

New research shows that providing context for human rights issues yields a broader range of responses to peace talks in Colombia.

For Moroccan rights groups, good reputations aren’t enough

By: Rachid Touhtou  & James Ron & Shannon Golden
Français | العربية

Without building a strong popular base, the Moroccan human rights community cannot capitalize on its good reputation.

Can rights organizations use low-burden self-reflection for evaluation?

By: Brian Root 
Español | Français | العربية

Human Rights Watch generally avoids burdensome evaluations; instead, we’re looking for “light and agile” reflections on our work.

Partners in prayer: women's rights and religion in Morocco

By: Meriem El Haitami & Shannon Golden & James Ron
Français | العربية

Pundits say that religion and human rights are opposing forces in Morocco, especially around women’s rights. Our Human Rights Perception Polls suggest a more nuanced ...

Public opinion on human rights is the true gauge of progress

By: Jeong-Woo Koo 
Español | 한국어

External, “objective” measures of South Korea’s human rights progress will only take us so far. What we need now are the opinions of the people.

Research-based messaging changes public support for human rights

By: Rachel Krys
Español | Français

Amidst widespread negative views on human rights in the UK, public opinion research can help improve outreach strategies.

International law and US public support for drone strikes

By: Sarah Kreps & Geoffrey Wallace
Español | Français

When it comes to public opinion on drone strikes, the UN and NGOs may have more influence than we think.

More than smoke and mirrors: citizen perceptions of human rights

By: Dona-Gene Barton & Courtney Hillebrecht & Sergio Wals
Español

Study finds that Mexicans’ perceptions of human rights protections are linked to individuals’ evaluations of their leaders, their government and democratization.

Mapping human rights skepticism in Mexico

By: David Crow
Español

Most Mexicans don’t associate human rights with protecting criminals, but surveys show this varies depending on region and political affiliation.

Let the pollsters pick? Navigating public opinion in Israel

By: Jessica Montell
Español | العربية | עברית

Polls help identify wedge issues, but what happens if human rights activists only pick fights they can win?

In Israel, implementing human rights feels wrong

By: Dahlia Scheindlin
Español | עברית | العربية

Polls indicate that Jewish Israelis generally support the concept of human rights, but are less supportive of Israeli human rights organizations – especially those ...

Does it matter when polls go wrong?

By: Kathy Frankovic 

When political polls go wrong, many people start to doubt polling entirely. But that’s a costly mistake.

Doubling down on human rights data

By: Sarah E. Mendelson
Español | Français | Русский

NGOs have often resisted social science methods, but random sampling and public opinion survey data can help us understand what people actually think and want.

Data-driven optimism for global rights activists

By: James Ron & Shannon Golden & David Crow & Archana Pandya
Español | Français | العربية

Opinion polls across four world regions suggest that human rights activists can be cautiously optimistic—the public likes and trusts them.

When evaluating human rights progress, focus also on the journey

By: Emma Naughton & Kevin Kelpin
Español | Français | العربية

Yes, human rights work must be measured, but we need to focus on the small steps as well as the “big picture.”

Human rights and results-based management: adopting from a different world

By: Vincent Ploton
Español | Français

Human rights groups are understandably reluctant to use “results-based management”, but embracing this approach can boost their impact.

Where’s the evidence? Moving from ideology to data in economic and social rights

By: Octavio Luiz Motta Ferraz
Español | Português

To advance the polarized openGlobalRights debate on economic and social rights, we need more empirical research, and less ideology.

Open budgets, open politics?

By: Dan Berliner
Español | Français

Budget transparency has the potential to make governments more accountable, but research shows that it occurs most often where it is least needed.

Winners and losers: how budgeting for human rights can help the poor

By: Helena Hofbauer
Español | Bahasa | Français | 简体中文

Recent research reveals the impact that international covenants could have on government taxation and expenditures. Based on civil society organization (CSO) campaigns ...

Is the emerging middle class our best hope for global rights activism?

By: Doutje Lettinga
Español | Français | العربية

A global poll into perceptions of human rights confirms there is hope for international human rights organizations to build alliances within Southern civil societies ...

The state of global human rights philanthropy

By: Christen Dobson & Lucía Carrasco Scherer & Emilienne de León
Español | Français | العربية | Português

Using the first-ever data-driven effort to track global human rights funding, representatives from two major global funding networks based in the U.S. and Mexico ...

Universal values, foreign money: local human rights organizations in the Global South

By: James Ron & Archana Pandya
Türkçe | Español | Français | Português | العربية | עברית

Despite enjoying a fair bit of local support, local human rights organizations (LHROs) in the Global South are still largely dependent on foreign funds. To better ...

The struggle for a truly grassroots human rights movement

By: James Ron & David Crow & Shannon Golden
Español | Français | العربية | Português | Türkçe

Using cutting-edge human rights perception polls, the authors explore links between social class and domestic human rights movements in Mexico, Colombia, Morocco, ...

 
 
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