Teaching sessions on the 2014 Essex Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods included:
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.
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
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.