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Questions to Interrogate Human Rights Issues With Data and Visualization

Considering your data, what are some questions you would like to illuminate with your data visualization? How does your data illustrate the respect for, protection of, or fulfillment of specific human rights? What elements of the rights you are examining are reflected in your data, and what is left out? Is your data better suited to function as structure, process, or outcome indicators? And what kinds of questions would best suit advocacy around your human rights issue?

Since human rights issues have many dimensions worth exploring, try to come up with a long list of questions, particularly questions that do not have just one single answer.

For this step, it will always be important to have a clear sense of how your data might relate to the legal norms you are exploring. A number of frameworks have been developed to relate quantitative and qualitative data to human rights legal standards. Some of these are generic frameworks, potentially applicable to any right. Others are rights-specific, and still others are better suited to some kinds of rights than others. These rubrics might be helpful as you develop questions that you seek to answer through data analysis. Some examples include:

  • The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has published Human Rights Indicators: A Guide to Measurement and Implementation, which includes a standard format for constructing human rights indicators. This framework recommends that you first identify the various attributes of a given right, then develop indicators to measure structure, process, and outcome for each attribute. The different types of indicators will call for different kinds of data. This framework can be used for any human right.
  • The Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) has developed the OPERA Framework for monitoring the fulfillment of economic, social, and cultural rights. This framework recommends that you identify quantitative indicators to measure Outcomes, or the level of realization of a given right; qualitative and quantitative indicators to assess Policy Efforts taken by a state to realize the right; budget and other data relevant to analyzing whether the state is devoting adequate Resources to the right; and methods for undertaking a contextual Assessment of any constraints on the state before drawing conclusions about the state’s overall compliance with the relevant human rights standard. This framework was developed for use with data relevant to economic, social, and cultural rights.
  • The “Who Did What to Whom” framework was developed by Dr. Patrick Ball while he was at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It is aimed at helping human rights workers design projects aimed at “the representation of acts of violence in a way that allows human rights researchers to make systematic, comparative analyses of patterns of violation in time, space, and social structure.” While the model is set out as a how-to guide for researchers, it can also be used by those seeking to understand the possibilities and limits of a given events-based data set. Although it was developed for civil and political rights (especially violent acts), the model is relevant for any rights in which specific acts count as violations (e.g., extrajudicial executions, forced evictions, and unjustified water shut-offs).

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