CHRGJ Co-Hosts Skills-Building Workshop on Numeracy for Human Rights Practitioners
April 28, 2016


On Wednesday, April 27, Roy Germano (NYU) and Brian Root (Human Rights Watch) introduced students and practitioners in the field of public interest and human rights to the core concepts of statistics and discussed how they can be used by human rights defenders. The workshop was the last session of a series of inter-disciplinary skill-building workshops jointly organized by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) and the Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights. The series was organized in response to a request by students pursuing careers in public interest, for more hands-on skills training that would increase their chances on the job-market.

The workshop built on the basic statistic course that forms part of the standard academic curriculum for law students, and focused on the potential benefits and pitfalls of statistics when working in a field as complex as that of human rights or public interest.  

After introducing some of the basic concepts of statistical analysis, Roy Germano, Research Scholar at the NYU School of Law, walked participants through several strategies for producing high-quality statistical data, as well as for assessing the quality of existing statistics. He provided several examples of how statistical analysis can help practitioners make sense of a situation, but also discussed examples – such as the recent publication by the Chamber of Commerce regarding Intellectual Property laws – where the use of statistics can, intentionally or unintentionally,  blur our understanding of an issue, when, for example, correlation and causation are not analytically distinguished from one another. Participants were also instructed on evaluating raw data that they gathered themselves, and received guidance on how to translate research questions into concrete measurable hypotheses and survey questions that can guide the process of data gathering and analysis.

Brian Root, a Quantitative Analyst at Human Rights Watch who is responsible for the data analyses in the organization’s reports,  built on Germano’s presentation to raise some red flags about the use of statistics in the field of human rights. He highlighted, amongst others, challenges in data gathering and interpretation. He also warned for simplified claims about causation that do not acknowledge the complexity of the systems to which they refer, and discussed the risks of working with data that is almost by definition incomplete and subject to human error .

In the Q&A following the presentations, Root explained the potential effects of data coding on evaluation and outcomes, and stressed the importance of working together with data experts, particularly when working on sensitive data that has policy implications that may directly impact the lives of people around the world.


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