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Data Types & Collection Methods

Based on your human rights issue, consider a few different kinds of data you might acquire. To help with your data selection, see our list of a few different data collection methods. You don’t necessarily need to be limited by this list of methods.

Should you use primary or secondary data? Primary data is data you gather through direct observations, interviews, surveys, and other tools. Secondary data is gathered by someone else (e.g. researchers, government institutions, NGOs, etc.) or for some other purpose than the one currently being considered or often a combination of the two.

What are the challenges of working with these types of data, and what questions should we be asking when using this data?

  • With primary data, you can gather the data that best fits with the human rights issue you are exploring. Plus, you know what you are getting—there is no mystery concerning the methods used to gather information, how it has been categorized, and what limits it contains.
  • On the other hand, gathering primary data often requires expertise, and it can be expensive and time-consuming. Secondary data is often available online, is frequently presented in neat and clean formats, and may have been gathered by experts. It may be standardized, making comparisons across space and time easy and reliable.
  • However, secondary data may not be available for some issues or some locations, and it could contain hidden biases or assumptions. Looking “under the hood” at the data-gathering process is important. It is also crucial to acknowledge that some aspects of rights may not be quantifiable.

What kind of data is available? Beyond the question of primary and secondary data, it is important to think about the type of data available to you. Some of the most prevalent types of data relevant to human rights include:

  • Event-based data: data concerning specific events that have human rights relevance, such as extrajudicial executions, cases of torture, forced evictions, or illegal water shut-offs. These are specific events that are in themselves violations of human rights.
  • Administrative or service data: information about the users of government or other services such as health care, water and sanitation services, electricity, or education. This data may be relevant when asking about a variety of dimensions of human rights norms.
  • Census, household, or other survey data: data drawn from randomized, representative samples allow you to assess the enjoyment or deprivation of some rights within an entire population, or—in the case of opinion or perception surveys—the views of an entire population about rights-related issues. There is a wide variety of survey data that is relevant to human rights, though it may not be presented as rights data per se (for example, data about child malnutrition or under-5 mortality is relevant to children’s rights and the right to health, though it may not be discussed as such; similarly, data about perceptions of corruption reveal a great deal about rights related to participation and civic life but may not be presented as such).
  • Big Data: large unstructured datasets created as a byproduct of recent technological innovations and/or used for purposes other than those for which the data was originally collected. Big Data can be used to create statistical predictions concerning human rights violations, potential victims, and possible perpetrators. These applications remain at the nascent phase.

What are some structural indicators, process indicators, or outcome indicators you can measure or have access to?

  • Structural indicators measure the existence of institutions, legal rules, and other mechanisms needed to implement human rights. Basic counts of things like laws, constitutional provisions, or accountability mechanisms might be useful structural indicators.
  • Process indicators measure the efforts of governments and other duty-bearers to implement human rights laws and make their enjoyment real. Some examples include opinion data about trust in courts, data about the proportion of complaints of police misconduct that are satisfactorily resolved, and the proportion of those accessing food aid who are members of a national minority group.
  • Outcome indicators reflect the attainment—or lack of enjoyment—of rights by all. Quantitative data about prevalence rates for preventable illnesses, literacy rates, and rates of access to potable water are some examples of outcome indicators. (See more in relation to questions to interrogate human rights data.”.)

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