Three years of openGlobalRights

June 2016 marks the third anniversary of openGlobalRights, an online, multilingual space dedicated to debating human rights work and thinking. It has cultivated new and established authors, highlighted disagreements and published articles by advocates, practitioners and scholars worldwide, in 21 languages. It has published nearly 1,000 articles and translations, and runs social media in Spanish, French and Arabic. It curates 14 active debates, including religion and human rights, the international refugee regime, and much more.

Recently, the Ford and Open Society Foundations asked me to conduct an evaluation of openGlobalRights to gauge whether it has become a key reference and resource for the global human rights community. I interviewed 33 key stakeholders, asking them how they access and engage the website’s content, and how they use it in their own work. I asked how they perceived the value of openGlobalRights for themselves, their organizations, and for the broader human rights movement as a whole.

The feedback I received was positive. Many interlocutors already see openGlobalRights as a reference point for the human rights movement. Others see it as well on its way to becoming that reference. Many activists, scholars and funders said that the biggest contribution of openGlobalRights’ was in creating an online space that helped almost any actor in the human rights movement express their unique views. The forum also provides a platform for this diverse readership to engage with each other on issues challenging the human rights movement.

Respondents said that openGlobalRights also facilitates critical thinking. As one participant said: “The human rights movement tends to be very self-referential. openGlobalRights is providing an enormous service by consciously trying to surface new perspectives and voices…It helps us question our assumptions, and challenges our frame of reference.” In other words, openGlobalRights conducts a “sustained conversation with skeptics,” and this has enormous value.

Respondents were also impressed by the diversity of openGlobalRights’ contributors in the geographic, ideological, and organizational sense. Many of its writers come from very different places, perspectives and positions in the human rights movement, offering a critical diversity of opinions.

Still, some said the website was—like the human rights movement overall—overly suffused with North American and Western European perspectives. As one said, “More needs to be done to fully integrate African and Asian voices into the debates. We would all benefit from hearing more from these regions.”

Some said this problem was “insurmountable”, however, because it reflected “an imbalance in the human rights movement” as a whole. As one of my respondents pointed out, “openGlobalRights accepts submissions in other languages and translates a lot. It is the only space that includes lesser-known activists. But it is nevertheless affected by the inequalities of the [broader] human rights field.”

Many said they wanted more written contributions “from the front lines.” Getting well-written, clear, and persuasive articles from busy frontline activists is no easy task, but the website needs to try and do more on this count.

Some respondents also questioned openGlobalRights’ focus on big picture “theoretical” debates, rather than on the more newsworthy “here and now.” As one respondent said, “openGlobalRights has a less-than-ideal mix between medium-term debates and contemporary topics that will resonate right now with a wider readership.” The website, in her view, needs to do more to “engage with current affairs.”

Several respondents urged openGlobalRights to convene face-to-face meetings. The website has done some of this, including its contribution to the Surveys and Human Rights workshop in Mexico City in 2015. Although face-to-face meetings are expensive, there is often real value in bringing people together physically. After all, some things, including the building of trust, cannot be easily done online.  

In the wake of my evaluation, openGlobalRights is seeking additional feedback from its readers. What do you think? What is the website doing well? What could it do better? How can it reach more people, at more levels, on more topics? What new issues should it cover?