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Status: Published

Assessing the impact of human rights work: Challenges and Choices (2012)



Assessing the impact of human rights workThe phenomenal growth of human rights interventions by NGOs as well as governmental and inter-governmental organisations has brought to the fore questions of assessing and measuring the extent of their effectiveness and impacts. By and large, despite the many different approaches and methodologies of assessment, the field is dominated by ambivalences and inconsistencies, especially over questions of how to apply measurement techniques to change processes informed by human rights. Advocates also point to donor preoccupations and suggest that measurement techniques often capture effects only partially or imperfectly, focusing on only the measureable aspects while perhaps missing those that are more important but less measureable. This, in turn, has led to fears of human rights work being oriented accordingly, especially by certain donors. Also, metrics have a strong political dimension, and approaches to them are loaded with assumptions about issues such as social change, the nature of rights, accountability, or the donor–grantee relationship. Therefore, an uncritical adoption or adaptation of methodologies or ‘good practices’ may not only be erroneous but also undesirable.

The project focuses on engaging challenging questions across 6 axes:
  • Axis I: Methodology – What are the underlying assumptions and logic pertaining to such issues as methodology, theories of change, or effectiveness underlying the choice of specific frameworks and approaches? To what extent are such methodologies shaping and influencing human rights practice?
  • Axis II: Human Rights and Impact Assessment – How can human rights shape thinking around impact assessment including underlying theories of change, notions of effectiveness, methodology, or conversations with stakeholders? How is impact assessment influencing the understanding and nature of human rights work and the subjective dimensions of qualitative behavioural change demanded by human rights and being influenced by them?
  • Axis III: Donor Practices – What factors are shaping donor interest in impact assessments of the human rights work they support? What are donor practices in this regard? How are they evolving? What does this imply for horizontal and social accountability both of donors and their partners?
  • Axis IV: Theories of change: What is change and how does it happen? What are our methods of predicting change? To what extent are these methods limited? How could they be improved? Can theories of change encapsulate the real complexities of change? Is it possible to remove our view of change from exclusively linear relationships of cause and effect? Whose theory of change is it? How are beneficiaries of change incorporated in the decision on whether change has taken place?
  • Axis V: Organisational learning : Can organisations learn? Why is learning important and how are the prominent conceptions of learning limited? How does organisational learning impact change? How is learning related to measurements of human rights impact? How can learning be reincorporated into the organisation at every level? What kinds of situations are preventing learning and change within organisations?
  • Axis VI: Power dynamics : What kind of power dynamic exists between people contributing to change and beneficiaries of change? How does this relationship of power influence change? How are beneficiaries involved in projects that will impact them? How do both the grantee and donor agendas play into these power dynamics? How do we move beyond the donor-grantee dichotomy?

  • Meaningful dialogues between different actors (donors, human rights organisations and experts)

  • A coherent analysis of impact assessment practices and their influence on human rights work

  • A framework for impact assessment of policy research in general and ICHRP’s own work in particular.

  • Establishing the relevance/role of human rights principles in impact assessment work

  • Better impact assessment policies/practices with respect to human rights

  • Increasing the impact of human rights work for rights holders.

Donors, human rights organisations and experts in evaluation and assessment.
Process and Outputs
The project was first discussed in detail at a meeting of the International Council in November 2010, which also included donors and some experts and representatives from human rights organisations and donors.

An Approach Paper highlighting the key issues and questions and surveying some current practices was prepared prior to the meeting and updated in July 2011. A series of open-ended guided interviews with practioners from human rights and development organisations, donor agencies and experts in evaluation methodologies was followed by a research workshop was convened by the ICHRP in October 2011, bringing together a range of relevant experts to discuss in detail the questions raised by the Approach Paper. The discussions and debates at the workshop were captured in the report No Perfect Measure: Rethinking Evaluation and Assessment of Human Rights Work. Examining questions of power and accountability, results-based cultures, the particularities of human rights work, the tensions between micro and macro narratives and other issues, the report also points to approaches that widen the frames of evaluation and assessment and place a greater emphasis on learning rather than judgement, including ideas such as peer review.

Why the ICHRP?
We as an organisation inevitably share many of the same dilemmas as other members of the human rights community regarding impact assessment. Moreover, our work on diverse human rights and policy issues, our multi-disciplinary approach and our history of making connections between human rights and other fields render us ideally placed to consolidate the fragmented and fierce debate on this topic. As in other projects, the ICHRP’s convening power can bring together diverse actors with different stakes, viewpoints and experience with regard to impact assessment theory and practice.