Essex Human Rights Summer School

Summer School 2016

Photo's from last years summer school are available via our Facebook page

The Human Rights Centre will offer its five day summer school in Human Rights Research Methods from 3 – 7 July 2017.

We will be putting together an exciting teaching team of some of the leading Essex and external human rights academics and practitioners, all with extensive experience of researching and working on human rights issues in a wide range of contexts. The summer school is ideal for human rights professionals working in NGOs, government and international organisations; lawyers; academics and postgraduate students.

More information will be announced during the first week of December, if you are interested to find out more about the programme please have a look at last years below. You can always follow us Twitter to keep informed on all our latest news & events.

We hope to see you at Essex next summer!

“An improved approach to human rights” from University of Essex on Vimeo.

2016 Human Rights Summer School programme

Human Rights Research Methods

  • Overview

    The Human Rights Centre is pleased to announce the 2016 programme of its pioneering summer school on Human Rights Research Methods. Launched in 2014, the motivation for the summer school is the recognition that very little attention has been paid to methodology in human rights, while academics, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and intergovernmental organisations such as the United Nations carry out vast amounts of research. The methodology of human rights research has a direct impact on the strength, persuasiveness and legitimacy of research findings and, in turn, on its ability to influence policy and practice.

    Run over 5 days, this summer school provides the core methods and skills needed to carry out human rights research whether for academic scholarship, bids for large research projects or reports for NGOs, governments and international organisations. Participants will learn how to design research projects and carry them out both in a headquarters environment or while working in the field. 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 research methods in specific research contexts. The summer school not only focuses on documenting human rights violations using qualitative and quantitative research methods but it also addresses questions of how to measure the impact and effectiveness of policies and practices based on human rights. It is an essential course for postgraduate students, academics, lawyers and human rights professionals working in NGOs, government and international organisations. Participants in previous years have expressed strong satisfaction with the content and the delivery of the programme and the demand for places has remained high.

    "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 outcomes

    Taught by an international faculty of experts in the field, all sessions will focus on research design, methodology and impact and will examine relevant examples and case-studies. The programme also includes dedicated sessions on particular projects to develop the themes of research design, methodology and impact in greater depth. As an interactive summer school, it will afford participants many opportunities to apply the theory they have learned, including through dedicated sessions in which participants will be given a problem ahead of the session and asked to prepare the research questions, methodology and impact strategy. Participants will have the opportunity to receive feedback on existing research plans in one-on-one clinics throughout the school.

    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 and researching in closed and challenging societies;
    • how to design and carry out comparative country research; and
    • how to measure the impact of policies and practices based on human rights.

  • Teaching team

    The summer school will be taught by a combination of Essex and external human rights academics and practitioners. The team includes:

    • Associate Professor Başak Çalı, Koç University, Turkey
    • Dr Cosette Creamer, Visiting Assistant Professor, Boston University School of Law Benjamin E. Lippincott Chair in Political Economy and Assistant Professor (starting Fall 2016), Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota
    • Dr Simone Dietrich, Department of Government, University of Essex
    • Dr Anita Gohdes, Human Rights Data Analysis Group
    • 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,FRSA Pro Vice Chancellor Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nottingham
    • Esther Major, Researcher on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Amnesty International
    • Professor Lorna McGregor, Director of the Human Rights Centre, School of Law, University of Essex and former International Legal Advisor to REDRESS and the International Bar Association
    • Dr Eadaoin O’Brien, School of Law and Human Rights Centre, University of Essex
    • Dr Róisín Ryan-Flood, Human Rights Centre and Department of Sociology, University of Essex
    • Associate Professor Nora Sveaass, Member of the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture and Department of Psychology, University of Oslo
  • Teaching sessions

    Sessions on the summer school include:

    Introductory Session
    This session will provide an overview of the week, focusing on project design and the choice of methods available and commonly used in scholarship and in practice.

    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 presented and discussed.

    Interviewing Women and Girls
    Interviewing survivors of abuses and human rights violations throws up a myriad of "best practice" ethical and safety issues which must be taken into account and considered. This session will focus on the existing standards and guidelines, as well as drawing on experience documenting human rights violations and abuses by both state and non-state actors. In particular, attention will be paid to documenting violence against women and girls and violations of sexual and reproductive rights. Some discussion will also take place on obtaining and use of images and some particular ethical and other considerations when seeking and using audiovisual materials. How to seek and obtain consent, how to ensure the work does not contribute to re-affirming pre-existing stereotypes will feature amongst the issues covered. At the end some time will also be given to conducting interviews with officials, as well as victims. The session will aim to be a mixture of presentation and open discussion, with questions and interaction positively encouraged.

    Conducting In-Country Research
    How we do our work and conduct research into human rights violations is (or should be!) as important as what we produce at the end of an investigation. This session will focus on research methodology development and factors to consider when planning to research and document human rights violations and abuses. The idea will be to be as practical as possible, highlighting the key stages of research methodology development, why and how each of these stages is crucial to contribute to the success of the research and or campaign, as well as to guarantee accountability and transparency in our work. Some of the key ethical and safety issues that may need to be considered from the outset as well as during a research project will also be aired and opened up to discussion.

    Single and Comparative Case Studies
    These sessions will address how to carry out single and comparative case studies of human rights law, its effects and impact. The sessions will focus on how to carry out legal and qualitative single case studies and comparative case studies and justification of case selection in qualitative and legal research design. The sessions will distinguish positivistic and interpretive case study and comparative design, but will focus in detail into interpretive case study designs and the relationship with research questions, literature review and case-selection justification. The sessions will then look at the design and implementation of two successful ESRC and QNRF funded research projects, both with multiple case-studies. The sessions will conclude with writing case-selection justification exercises and evaluation of these justifications.

    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.

    Ethnographic Methods
    This session will focus on the adaptation of ethnographic methods--a methodology most closely associated with the discipline of anthropology-- to human rights research projects. It will outline the advantages of transposing ethnographic methodology to human rights research, where the choice of methodological tools can be limited, and explore how engaging in field research can enhance understanding of human rights problems. Conversely, the session will reflect on the limitations and challenges of this approach to interdisciplinary human rights research.

    Experimental methods is a field of growing importance in the social sciences and policy/impact evaluation. Experiments enable social scientists and applied researchers to draw valid inferences about cause and effect. This session will provide an introduction to experimental methods. It will discuss different experimental methods including field, survey, and lab experiments using applications from the study of human rights.

    Choosing between Research Approaches: Qualitative and/or Quantitative
    This session examines the rationale underpinning the choice of a qualitative and quantitative approach, demonstrating the possibilities and limitations of both. It also considers the possibilities of combining qualitative and quantitative approaches and the impact that might have on research outcomes.

    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.

    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.

    Socio-Economic 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.

    Human Rights Indicators
    Does human rights law "work"? Have government efforts led to improved outcomes? How can we determine whether human rights advocacy efforts are having an impact? Researchers, advocates, and international bodies have increasingly turned to human rights indicators to answer questions like these. This session will consider the major approaches to human rights indicators and examine the difficulties researches face in trying to create valid measures of human rights outcomes. Finally, this session will assess the promise and perils of embracing this approach to evaluating human rights progress.

    The Role of Databases
    Do human rights treaties make a difference? This question has plagued human rights scholars and advocates for decades and spurred a turn to quantitative analyses and the creation of human rights databases. Some human rights databases attempt to track human rights outcomes on the ground, while others seek to identify, classify, and quantify implementation of human rights obligations. This session will provide a review of existing human rights databases. In addition to probing their purpose and utility, this session will also consider critiques of an increased reliance on indicators and explore alternative methodologies to understanding human rights outcomes.

    Measuring the Impact of the Right to Health
    This session will explore a WHO project (2012-2013) that investigated whether or not there is evidence that human rights contribute to health gains for women and children. First, participants will learn a little about health rights, such as the OHCHR-WHO understanding on a human rights-based approach to health; participants are asked to read at least one of the readings (see list below) before the session. Second, they will be provided with some basic information about human rights and women’s and children’s health in a country and asked to reflect on how to approach a project to investigate the impact (if any) of human rights on women’s and children’s health in that country. Which research questions might be asked? Which methods might be used? Which disciplines? What are among the key challenges/obstacles confronting such a study? This exercise will be conducted in small groups which report back to the whole group. After discussion, Paul Hunt and the participants will look at the report of the WHO project and consider how it approached these issues.

    Bringing the Methods Together: When to Use What
    A wrap-up session that discusses the most appropriate methods or combinations of methods for specific purposes.

    One-to-One Clinic (Gary Williams, University of Essex)
    On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the summer school, a one-to-one clinic will be run over lunchtime where students can receive feedback on a one-page research methodology plan submitted ahead of the summer school.

How to get here and campus access

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

Contact us

For more information about the Essex Human Rights Summer School, please email


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