Summer Schools

Human Rights

Essex Human Rights Summer School

Our Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods will resume in 2021.

For enquiries relating to our 2021 event please contact 


Human Rights Centre on social media:

“It is remarkable to have the opportunity to hear from practitioners how different research methods can make an impact in their work and real people’s lives.”
Ana Maria Essex human rights summer school participant, 2019


Making robust claims about human rights, whether in examining violations, or in formulating responses, or in assessing impact, requires methodological rigour, especially in age of disinformation and misinformation. Our popular one-week programme on Human Rights Research Methods caters to this growing demand for greater attention to methodology in human rights research.

Taught by an international faculty of leading academics and practitioners, the Summer School is held in July at our Colchester campus. It covers a range of qualitative and quantitative methods in human rights research that are essential for human rights professionals, researchers and postgraduate students, with an opportunity learn about human rights advocacy from both international and Essex-based experts.

Three books in a stack on a desk
"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

Teaching programme

The programme includes the following sessions: 

Overview of Research Methods

As the introductory session of the research methods summer school, it will provide an overview of various qualitative and quantitative research designs and methods, drawing on human rights-related research projects as illustrations. The session will also examine the rationale underpinning the choice of qualitative and quantitative methodologies, distinguishing between interpretive and positivist approaches. 

Measuring Human Rights: Reliance on 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 researchers 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.

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 analysis 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 continue to provide a review of existing human rights databases and explore the types of questions that databases can help us answer. In addition to probing their purpose and utility, this session will also consider critiques of an increased reliance on data and explore alternative methodologies to understanding human rights outcomes.

Socio-Economic Statistics and Administrative Statistics

This session will examine the use of socio-economic and administrative statistics, which involves using existing or creating new indicators for governmental activity that has a bearing on the implementation and enjoyment of 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 kinds of human rights project work.

Types of Indicators: Survey - and Standards-Based Measures 

This session will look at ‘standards-based’ measures of human rights practices 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.

Big Data Methods for Monitoring Implementation

This session will examine the use of big data to monitor human rights implementation. By linking deidentified administrative (government) data sources, combined with geo-coded neighbourhood deprivation indices, it is possible to undertake research that provides insight into the characteristics and circumstances of deprivation within a country. The session will focus on a research project that identified pockets of deprivation in New Zealand by using these data sets. It assessed whether people living with multiple deprivations were able to enjoy the uptake of their social rights. In particular, it examined government initiatives responding to Universal Periodic Review recommendations, to determine whether the UPR process helped reduce inequities.

Overview of Qualitative Techniques and Data Practices 

Qualitative methods are varied but largely adopt three broad approaches: qualitative interviewing, ethnographic method and qualitative text analysis. This session will discuss these methods in detail. In addition, qualitative approaches are generally informed by a particular understanding of how knowledge and ‘evidence’ can be generated. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘epistemology’, or ‘how we know what we know’. This session will offer background on these debates before introducing some landmark studies that have adopted these techniques.

Qualitative 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.

Single Case Study

The session will focus on how to carry out legal and qualitative single case studies, its effects and impact. The focus will then shift to: Why choose a single case study in human rights? How to select such a case? How to justify such a selection? Participants will be invited to consider the design and findings of a comparative (both country and thematic) funded research project. The purpose will be to prompt participants to suggest how a single case study could have been more illuminating? What would have been lost in a single case study?  Attention will then shift to a single case study to assess the richness it can offer, and the selection justification it requires.  The session will end with writing case-selection justification exercises and the evaluation of these justifications.

Comparative Case Studies

Comparative case studies method is a popular research method that involves the examination of similarities, differences and patterns across two or more cases to generate knowledge that enables insights about causal questions. This session will examine methodologies for comparing case studies, depending on both the purpose of the comparison and the number of cases being compared.  It will draw on legal, qualitative, and quantitative comparative human-rights related projects to provide examples of these approaches.

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.

Interviewing Survivors of Torture

Survivors of human rights violations will understand their experiences differently and will have different goals when seeking to speak with a lawyer or human rights advisor. This session will explore how to carry out interviews which 'do no harm' while at the same time elicit the necessary information about what happened, what the survivors' wishes are, and put the interviewer in the position to provide preliminary advice (if that is what the interviewee is seeking). Some of the challenges to be explored include: the impact of trauma and the passage of time on memory; how to deal with persons in vulnerable situations; interpreters; how to avoid interviews from negatively impacting subsequent official investigations; and what constitutes responsible follow-up.

Focus Groups

How suitable are focus groups for human rights research and research on discrimination in particular? This session will discuss the use of this method in researching groups living on the margins of society. Starting with practical examples of research on discrimination of Roma in East-Central Europe, the session will address some of the key methodological issues including framing the questions, consent, selection of participants, language of the discussion, and confidentiality when talking about sensitive issues in a group. The session will critically examine the use of the method of focus groups in relation to other conventional research methods such as interviews or surveys. We will also explore the method’s potential for individual or community empowerment and its limitations.

Human Rights Research in Countries Lacking the Rule of Law

How should human rights researchers respond to what academics and observers call “rule of law backsliding”? This session will focus on methodology considerations of research in situations when the constitutional order has been marginalized and will aim to address two main questions.  How to identify the absence of the rule of law?  What are the methodological implications of the absence of the rule of law?  It will discuss Turkey, Poland, Hungary, Brazil and the USA and also draw on the available research from the 1970s and 1980s on authoritarian regimes in Brazil, Argentina and Chile. 

Use of Open Source Data

This session will look at the added value and process of using open source data and remote sensing technologies for human rights research. Using practical examples and hands on exercises, participants will learn current best practices for establishing analytical questions, finding and securing open source data, triangulating information, and assessing veracity. The session will also provide an overview of and practice of using satellite images and other remote sensors for human rights investigations.

Documenting Harm and Claiming Reparations

Reparation remains the most victim friendly tool of transitional justice. Nevertheless, ensuring reparation in a transitional justice context is more than a challenge. The session will deal with how to document harm in such situations, where and when to claim reparations and how to submit strong claims without producing re-victimisation. The session will look into various forms of doing this while taking into account gender, cultural and religious issues.


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.

* Please note the teaching programme for 2021 is subject to final confirmation.

Teaching team

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

  • Dr Richard Carver, Senior Lecturer in Human Rights & Governance, Oxford Brookes
  • Barbora Cernusakova, PhD Candidate, University of Manchester & Researcher at Amnesty International
  • Dr Cosette Creamer, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota
  • Judith Bueno de Mesquita, School of Law & Deputy Director, Human Rights Centre Clinic, University of Essex
  • Sam Dubberley (tbc), Amnesty International and Member of the Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project, University of Essex
  • Dominik Duell, Lecturer, Department of Government, University of Essex
  • Dr Carla Ferstman, School of Law & Human Rights Centre, University of Essex, Former Director of REDRESS
  • Professor Pete Fussey (tbc), Research Director, Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project, Human Rights Centre and Department of Sociology
  • Dr Nazila Ghanea, Associate Professor of International Human Rights Law, University of Oxford
  • Professor Francoise Hampson (tbc), Emeritus Professor, School of Law & Human Rights Centre, University of Essex
  • Dr Lisa Handley, Visiting Research Academic, CENDEP, Oxford Brookes University
  • Esther Major, Fellow of Human Rights Centre, University of Essex and Amnesty International
  • Dr Elizabeth O’Casey, Advocacy Director, Humanist International, Brussels
  • Dr Rosin Ryan-Flood, Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Essex
  • Professor Clara Sandoval, Director, Essex Transitional Justice Network, School of Law and Human Rights Centre, University of Essex
  • Dr Ahmed Shaheed, School of Law and Human Rights Centre, University of Essex and UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

*Please note the teaching team for 2021 is subject to final confirmation. 

Learning outcomes

In taking this course, participants will: 

  • Acquire 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 practice
  • Attain 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
  • Learn how to design and carry out comparative country research
  • Learn about emerging methods such as experiments and the use of social media
  • Understand how to measure the impact of policies and practices based on human rights
  • Learn about advocacy strategies from expert practitioners


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

Fees and application details

Applications for our 2021 Summer School will open in early 2021.

Fees for 2021 have not yet been set but as an indication, the fees for 2020 were:

  Early Bird Standard

Full fee (i.e. commercial organisations)

£950.00 £1,100.00
Essex student discount £712.50 £825.00
Essex staff/alumni £760.00 £880.00
Non-Essex student discount £760.00 £880.00
Non-Essex academics £807.50 £935.00
Public sector/NGO/
£807.50 £935.00

Discounts are available for students at partner universities - please get in touch for details.

Also included within the course fee is tea and coffee, lunch refreshments during breaks on each day of the course, a welcome dinner on the first evening and a further dinner on the Wednesday before the evening panel.


You can book your place online via our Webshop

Paying by Proficio

If you are paying for your course fee using University of Essex Proficio funds, you will need to use the University of Essex Proficio platform.

Paying by invoice

If you specifically require payment via an invoice, please email us: 

After payment

Once you've paid, we will send you our welcome pack with instructions on how to finalise your place and book optional discounted accommodation. 

Please note that accommodation is not included in this fee. Please see below for more information.


Colchester Campus accommodation for our Summer School will need to be booked separately at a fee of £55 per night, bed and breakfast.

Instructions on how to book accommodation will be provided once your place on the summer school is confirmed.

"Human Rights Methodology is something that's been very much unattended to...this summer school closes a gap."
Professor Margaret Satterthwaite Professor of Clinical Law, New York University. 
Get in touch
Get in touch
Catherine Gentry Executive Officer - Events and Communications
Essex Law School