January 14, 2010 - CDDRL News
Elizabeth Eagen on human rights, evidence-based policymaking, and donor support for technology innovation
Elizabeth Eagen introduced the Human Rights Data Initiative at the Open Society Institute - a project to support human rights organizations in using technology to further their goals.
The management of information is crucial to human rights work but the majority of organizations are at a very early stage of being able to utilize new technologies. For organizations tracking human rights violations, the stream of work is continuous and leaves little time for strategic thinking about the adoption of new tools.
When thinking about the role of technology, there has been a tendency for human rights organizations to focus on the way that they communicate their work more widely; for example, investing in a better website design. This neglects more fundamental issues around the management of the core databases and information flows that drive human rights work. Many of the current developments in the field of technology for development enable organizations to communicate issues in a powerful way. Visualizations using satellite data - for example to show the extent of damage resulting from conflict in Georgia - are an effective way of conveying a situation quickly. But they lack the details human rights organizations require: who was attacked and when; are the buildings civilian or military targets? There is really no substitute for the kind of human evidence required to build a convincing case that human rights violations have taken place. Often much of this case is paper based. This presents a real challenge of how to capture all of this history and make it manageable.
The Human Rights Data Initiative project is in the process of giving human rights organizations in the Open Society Institute network the opportunity to think about what kind of technology tools might contribute best to their work. This project requires gaining a better understanding of how the organization operates and what barriers might exist to utilizing technology. This might be something as basic as poor internet connection or as complex as an overall organizational culture. The goal is for human rights groups in the network to reach a position where they better understand their technology needs and how best to fill them.