A Collaborative Space for Innovating Human Rights Research
The Human Rights Methodology Lab is a joint initiative of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice with Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute and Human Rights Watch, three organizations uniquely suited to build the methodologies needed to address complex human rights violations.
The Lab brings together leading human rights practitioners with experts from diverse disciplines to discuss concrete human rights research problems in order to build knowledge about, and encourage discussion of, innovation in human rights research methodologies. It seeks to expand the toolbox of methods available to practitioners to gather and present evidence regarding human rights violations and will serve as an incubator for improvements and innovation in advocacy-oriented research on human rights.
The human rights movement is in a period of exciting methodological innovation. In recent years human rights investigation and research methods have become increasingly sophisticated and interdisciplinary. Traditionally, human rights researchers have relied primarily on interviews. While gathering first-hand testimony will always be a core tool, human rights researchers are seeking to expand their methods, and are increasingly reaching into disciplines such as forensics, anthropology, environmental science, public health, communications, economics, data science, and statistics to improve how human rights violations are identified, analyzed, and understood.
The main business of the Lab consists of in-person multidisciplinary human rights research workshops designed around advocacy-oriented human rights research proposals for new projects in early stages of development. Each human rights research workshop focuses on an investigation that requires a multidisciplinary approach to generate the data and information most needed to effectively conduct advocacy. The workshop participants provide advice, critiques, and concrete suggestions for improving the research methodologies for each project. Each year the Lab hosts an annual review meeting. At the annual review meeting, members of the core expert group discuss promising avenues, articulate lessons learned, and identify prospects for advances in the human rights movement’s use of broadened research methods.
The first workshop reviewed the research plan for Human Rights Watch’s Make it Safe: Canada’s Obligation to End the First Nations Water Crisis. The second workshop examined research design for the Global Justice Clinic’s collaborative project to create a community-owned baseline study of the right to water in a mining-affected area in Northern Haiti. The third workshop brought together experts to provide advice on a project of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic, and the Mailman School of Public Health, which resulted in a study entitled The Impact of War on Mental Health in Yemen: A Neglected Crisis. The Lab’s fourth workshop reviewed research methods to examine the impacts of mining in communities in Kenya by the Nairobi-based Economic and Social Rights Centre Hakijamii.
The Human Rights Methodology Lab aims to function as a generative space where collaborations can flourish across disciplines. The Lab is made up of a core expert group and a set of rotating experts. While the core expert group remains constant, a broader advisory group of rotating experts provide focused advice on particular projects. Through a collaborative, multidisciplinary, reflexive, and iterative approach to human rights methods, the Lab aims to foster continuous learning within the human rights movement. Some of the lessons stemming from the Lab have been published in blog posts authored by core expert group members on openGlobalRights. The Lab was launched through the generous support of the Open Society Foundations’ Information Program.