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Colchester Campus
Saturday 20 September 2014 (booking now)
Saturday 25 October 2014 (booking now)
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Saturday 11 October 2014 (booking now)
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Wednesday 5 November 2014 (booking now)

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Essex Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods

The Human Rights Centre is running a pioneering six-day summer school on methods for human rights research:

  • Dates: 30 June to 5 July 2014
  • Location: Colchester Campus

Keynote lecture

Professor Harold Hongju Koh, 22nd Legal Adviser of the U.S. Department of State and Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale Law School

About the Summer School

Despite the level of research on human rights that is carried out by academics, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and intergovernmental organisations such as the United Nations, very little attention has been paid to the methodology used. Yet, methodology has a direct bearing on the strength, persuasiveness and legitimacy of research findings and their impact on policy and practice. The absence of a strong methodology can also affect ability to attract funding even to the most innovative of proposals and activities.

The Essex Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods provides the core methods and skills needed to carry out human rights research, whether for academic scholarship, bids for large research projects, reports for NGOs, international organisations and governments, or to support litigation.

It is an essential course for postgraduate students, academics, lawyers and human rights professionals working in NGOs, government and international organisations, and the legal profession.

"These are exactly the types of skills needed by researchers in NGOs and in the UN and other international organisations. Knowing the Human Rights Centre, I am confident that it will deliver a summer school that is not only strong in academic content but very relevant and applicable to practical contexts."
Ian Martin, former Secretary General of Amnesty International and head of UN human rights missions and peace operations in Rwanda, East Timor, Nepal and Libya

Learning and teaching

  • Learning outcomes

    Participants on the Essex Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods will learn how to design research projects and carry them out anywhere in the world. They will learn about the range of tools and methodologies for human rights research (whether academic or practical) and when, why and how to employ particular methods in particular research contexts. All sessions will address research design, methodology and impact and will draw heavily on examples and case-studies.

    In taking this course, participants will:

    • have a strong understanding of the key methods used in human rights research and the way in which they can be used on their own or in combination (mixed methods);
    • learn to design research projects with a strong methodology, including for grant applications and to have optimal impact on policy and in practice;
    • have a strong understanding of how to ensure that the research meets ethical standards including in NGOs without ethics committees;
    • gain a strong appreciation of qualitative interviewing techniques including issues involved with interviewing victims and affected communities and carrying out research on sensitive human rights topics;
    • learn how to interpret data gained through interviews;
    • become ‘literate’ in carrying out quantitative research and collecting, processing and using data;
    • understand how to do research in different countries, including using ethnographic techniques and researching in closed and challenging societies; and
    • how to design and carry out comparative country research.

  • Teaching team

    The Essex Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods will be taught by a combination of leading Essex and external human rights academics and practitioners. The teaching method will draw heavily on examples and case-studies, including the academics’ and practitioners’ own research and practice in the field, and draws on multidisciplinary strengths of the teaching team, which includes:

    • Julie Broome, Head of Human Rights, Sigrid Rausing Trust
    • Associate Professor Dr Başak Çalı, Koç University, Turkey
    • Professor Andrew Canessa, Human Rights Centre and Department of Sociology, University of Essex
    • Dr Phil Clark, Reader in Comparative and International Politics, SOAS, University of London
    • Professor Paul Hunt, Human Rights Centre and School of Law, University of Essex and former Senior Human Rights Advisor to the World Health Organization Assistant Director-General; UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and Rapporteur of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
    • Professor Todd Landman, Human Rights Centre and Department of Government, University of Essex
    • Greg Mayne, Programme Officer, Oak Foundation
    • Lorna McGregor, Director of the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex and former International Legal Advisor to REDRESS and the International Bar Association
    • Joanne Mariner, Interim Director of Law and Policy, Amnesty International and formerly Human Rights Watch
    • Dr Éadaoin O’Brien, Human Rights Centre and School of Law, University of Essex
    • Dr Nicola Palmer, Lecturer in Criminal Law, King's College London
    • Professor Sir Nigel Rodley, Chairperson of the UN Committee on Human Rights, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Human Rights Centre and School of Law, University of Essex
    • Dr Róisín Ryan-Flood, Human Rights Centre and Department of Sociology, University of Essex
    • Professor Margaret L. Satterthwaite, Professor of Clinical Law and Faculty Director, Center for Human Rights & Global Justice, New York University School of Law
    • Dr Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran and Clinical Lecturer, Human Rights Centre, University of Essex
    • Professor Nora Sveaass, Member of the UN Committee against Torture and Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo

  • Teaching sessions

    Teaching sessions on the Essex Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods will include:

    Qualitative interviewing

    This session will provide an introduction to qualitative interviewing: theory and method. It will look at how to do an in-depth interview; the strengths and weaknesses of this approach; how to develop interview questions and how to engage with your participants.

    Qualitative data analysis

    Data analysis is far more than simply providing a summary of interview transcripts. This session will cover: how to transcribe interviews; how to identify patterns in the data; and how to make sense of research material using discourse analysis.

    Interviewing survivors of human rights violations

    Looking into the situation of survivors of gross human rights violations when they are seeking justice and reparation, often many years after the traumatic events, losses etc., represent major challenges for a researcher. A number of conditions must be dealt with, such as, creating a relation of trust, present the research interest in ways that engage, at all times respect the boundaries of the person and always be attentive to problems in relation to the interviews. One should always be in contact with persons or professionals that may be supportive in case informants need this. These issues, ethical dilemmas and other challenges will be dealt with and examples from ongoing research in the field will be presenter and discussed.

    Carrying out sensitive research

    Research into areas such as intimate life, equality issues, or with minority groups, can generate difficult research quandaries. This session explores how to manage these research moments during the data collection process, analysis and writing up.

    Research ethics

    Ethics are an area of considerable importance, particularly in today’s research climate. This is equally true for academics as it is for NGOs and International Organisations. This session will explore the ethical guidelines provided by social science bodies, such as the British Sociological Association. It will cover: understanding research ethics; incorporating ethics into research design; how to get ethical approval for your project; and ethical dilemmas. It will also address how to deal with ethical issues in the absence of an ethics committee as is common in NGOs as well as how to deal with ethical issues particular to researching in different countries, such as whether or not to enter a country and under which circumstances.

    Reflections on research from the perspective of donors

    This session will take the form of a panel discussion by different donors that fund academics and NGOs to carry out human rights research, litigation and advocacy. The donors will discuss the different approaches they take to supporting human rights work and provide advice on how to write strong applications.

    Ethnographic research methods for human rights

    In this session we look at some human rights issues from the perspective of anthropological research and, in particular, the tension between cultural rights and individual rights. Focusing particularly in Latin America and Africa we will be looking at issues including legal pluralism, indigenous rights, domestic violence, and female genital cutting. We will look at some of the methods that might be used to investigate such issues and discuss some of the problems that arise from looking at rights cross-culturally.

    Applying ethnographic methods for short term field research

    This session will focus on how to use social science qualitative methodologies in human rights research. It will concentrate particularly on the adaptation of ethnographic methods; methodology most closely associated with the discipline of anthropology, to law-based human rights research projects. It will outline the advantages of transposing ethnographic methodology to human rights legal research, where the choice of methodological tools can be limited, and explore how engaging in field research can enhance understanding of legal problems. Conversely, the session will reflect on the limitations and challenges of this approach to interdisciplinary legal research.

    Fact-finding, investigations and research: convergence and divergence in the human rights field

    This session will begin by providing an empirical overview of human rights fact-finding and advocacy reporting trends since 2000. It will then turn to recent developments in human rights fact-finding, investigations, and research, including the embrace of metrics and measurement, lessons for fact-finding from social science, and the use of technology and social media. The session will conclude by engaging participants in a search to identify principles, investigatory procedures, and methodological strategies common to the diverse range of human rights research methods.

    A conversation with UN Special Rapporteurs

    Through an interactive dialogue, Professor Paul Hunt, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and Rapporteur; Professor Sir Nigel Rodley, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the current UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran will reflect on their approach to research in these posts.

    Professor Hunt will offer an additional session examining the research design and methods and how they had an impact on policy and practice through a recent project he worked on for the World Health Organization on women’s and children’s health.

    NGO research methods

    This session provides an introduction to the research and fact-finding methodologies used by international human rights organizations, including specific methodologies used for visits to prisons and other closed institutions, as well as for research on "closed" countries (where on-site visits are barred). The sessions will discuss interviewing techniques, the collection of forensic, visual and documentary evidence, and the challenges of conducting research on difficult issues such as sexual violence.

    Researching in post-conflict and repressive socities

    This session will focus on issues of research methodologies in the context of post-conflict and repressive societies. This will include discussion of handling state and other power structures, traumatised informants and ethical concerns around the role of foreign researchers in these contexts.

    Counting human rights violations

    This session examines events-based data on individual violations of human rights that has been developed in the work on truth commissions, commissions of inquiry, conflict research and other projects that utilise the ‘who did what to whom’ framework developed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Benetech Initiative, and Human Rights Data Analysis Group. It discusses the challenges around source material, event complexity, reporting biases, and making strong inferences.

    Standards and surveys

    This session looks at ‘standards-based’ measures of human rights practice that code country performance on ordinal scales for comparative analysis and survey-based measures based on perceptions and experiences of human rights practices. Standards-based scales are very popular in development work and policy analysis at a higher level of abstraction, and have formed a large part of the existing social science literature on explaining the cross-national and time-series variation in human rights protection. Survey-based measures rely on designing and administering questionnaire instruments to samples of the population within countries, and have been used to assess a wide range of human rights violations experienced by particular parts of the population. For both types of measures, discussion will focus on sources of information, types of samples, external and internal validity, and the limitations of each style of measurement and assessment.

    Socioeconomic and administrative statistics

    This session examines the use of socio-economic and administrative statistics, which involves using existing or creating new indicators for governmental activity that has a bearing on human rights, including input, process, output, outcome, and impact indicators. The United Nations has developed a framework for incorporating these kinds of measures into the work of treaty bodies, as well as other kids of human rights project work.

    Comparative case studies

    These sessions will address how to carry out comparative case studies of human rights issues. They will explore the types of projects that comparative case studies are suited to and the theory underpinning how they should be carried out. They will then look at the design and implementation of a successful Economic and Social Research Council-funded project involving a comparative study of human rights in five different countries.

  • Keynote lecture

    The Summer School's keynote lecture is being delvered by Professor Harold Hongju Koh, 22nd Legal Adviser of the U.S. Department of State and Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale Law School.

  • Continuing Professional Development accreditation

    The Essex Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods is accredited by the Solicitors Regulation Authority to provide Continuing Professional Development training. The Summer School is accredited for 15 CPD points in total. Attendance at the whole event is required to be awarded the points. For more details please contact Gail Howell, Executive Officer in the School of Law.

Fees, booking and accommodation

  • Booking deadline: Wednesday 4 June 2014
  • Fees

    The fee levels for the Essex Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods are:

    • Commercial - £1,200
    • Other academia and not-for-profit - £1,000
    • University of Essex postgraduate research students, staff and alumni - £800

    Eligible Essex postgraduate students are able to use their Proficio funding allocation towards the costs of taking part in the Essex Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods. The fee includes tuition, lunches and refreshments, and essential course materials. The fee does not include accommodation costs. Accommodation is available at our Colchester campus and can be booked separately.

  • Book a place

    The boooking deadline has now passed.

    For more information about the Essex Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods, please email Ville Karhusaari, Research & Business Partnerships Manager, hrcsummerschool@essex.ac.uk.

  • Cancellation policy

    Attendees who cancel a previously booked place on a Proficio course or event, including the Essex Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods, will be liable to the following cancellation fees:

    • Cancelling between 7-0 days before course date: 100% of course fee
    • Cancelling within 12-8 days before course date: 50% of course fee
    • Cancelling within 18-13 days before course date: 25% of course fee
    • Cancelling 19 days or more before course date: 0% of course fee (full refund)

    Attendees cancelling a course/event booking have the right to appeal against any cancellation fee charged to them by following the Proficio Appeals process. Please note that appeals against cancellation fees charged should be on the basis of mitigating circumstances only.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation is available at our Colchester campus in en-suite student accommodation with shared kitchen facilities at £40 per night on a bed and breakfast basis. Accommodation is available from 5pm on Sunday 29 June for the duration of the summer school only.

    Please use our online accommodation booking system, entering your arrival and departure dates, and the promotion code HRSS2014.

How to get here

The Essex Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods takes place at our University's campus in Colchester. Colchester is an hour away from London by train. See our information pages for further details of how to get here:

Contact us

For more information about the Essex Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods, please email Ville Karhusaari, Research & Business Partnerships Manager, hrcsummerschool@essex.ac.uk.