Research credentials

Until now, the human rights performance of countries has not been comprehensively measured. The Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI, pronounced ‘her-me’) is filling this gap with robustly designed research and analysis.

HRMI is an independent, global research collective, funded by grants and donations.

HRMI is not an advocacy organisation. It exists to amplify the voices of human rights defenders by providing reliable, cross-nationally-comparable human rights data for civil society, researchers, and states to use to improve the lives of people around the world.

Co-design processes are central to HRMI’s methodology, ensuring our data accurately reflect the experiences of human rights practitioners and meet the high standards of academics.

How will the data be useful?

HRMI is filling a measurement gap with robust, cross-nationally comparable data measuring the human rights performance of countries. These data are useful in several sectors:

  • Civil society can use HRMI data in reporting and advocacy, particularly for highlighting trends over time, specific areas for improvement, and comparisons with peer nations.
  • Journalists and human rights monitors can use the data as ‘hard numbers’ to provide a richer context for case studies and stories about particular people.
  • Governments can use the data in negotiating with other countries, particularly in trade, aid, and development.
  • Firms can use the data in deciding how to direct capital flows ethically, and how to manage their own risks.

Who is conducting the research and analysis?

Economic and Social Rights Lead: Dr Susan Randolph

Dr Susan Randolph is a co-founder of HRMI and the economic and social rights lead. Susan is a development economist and co-director of the Economic and Social Rights Empowerment Initiative, and an emerita associate professor of economics at the University of Connecticut.

Her book describing the methodology HRMI now uses, Fulfilling Social and Economic Rights, written with Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Terra Lawson-Remer (Oxford University Press, 2015), won the 2016 best book of the year award from the American Political Science Association’s Human Rights Section, and the three authors were awarded the 2019 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.

Susan has a PhD in economics from Cornell University. Her full CV is available here.

Civil and Political Rights Lead: Dr K Chad Clay

HRMI co-founder Dr K Chad Clay leads the design and development of our Civil and Political Rights metrics. Chad is a political scientist who researches and teaches classes on human rights, international relations, and political economy in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia, where he is the Director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues (GLOBIS).

Chad has published widely in leading journals, and brings with him more than a decade of experience in the area of measuring human rights, including as co-director of the (now archived) CIRI Human Rights Data Project.

Chad received his PhD in political science from Binghamton University in 2012. His full CV is available here.

Co-design participants

HRMI uses co-design processes to make sure the experiences of human rights practitioners from all over the world are reflected in the methodologies and data presentation. Each stage of the initiative has been co-designed by a wide range of participants at international workshops, and thoroughly tested in a variety of settings. Many civil society organisations have sent staff to these workshops and contributed their expertise to the development of HRMI’s methodologies.

The result is that our findings have been widely accepted by both the practitioner and academic communities.

Headquartered in New Zealand

HRMI is a global collective of human rights practitioners and academics, headquartered at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research in Wellington, New Zealand, one of the top ten economics think tanks, and one of the top ten climate change think tanks in the world.

HRMI co-founder and development lead Anne-Marie Brook is a Motu Policy Fellow, and an Edmund Hillary Fellow.

HRMI also has a base of operations at GLOBIS, the Center for the Study of Global Issues, at the University of Georgia, in the United States.

Independent of our funders

HRMI has a strong commitment to independence, and requires an independence clause in all funding agreements. All funders are disclosed on the HRMI website.

HRMI’s Economic and Social Rights data

The unique and important contribution of HRMI’s economic and social rights data lies in the SERF Index methodology developed by Susan Randolph and her colleagues Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Terra Lawson-Remer. The SERF Index compares a country’s performance on key indicators against a benchmark of what other countries at its level of income have been able to achieve. HRMI is thus able to measure how well a country is using its resources to ensure the progressive realisation of its people’s rights.

This methodology has been thoroughly peer-reviewed over several years, and its creators have won two prestigious awards: the American Political Science Association’s Human Rights Section’s award for the best book of 2016; and the 2019 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.

As well as the award-winning book, Fulfilling Social and Economic Rights, two important peer-reviewed journal articles on this methodology are:

Economic and Social Rights Fulfillment Index: Country Scores and Rankings” Susan Randolph, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Terra Lawson-Remer, in Journal of Human Rights, volume 9, No 3 (2010), pp 230-61.

Measuring the Progressive Realization of Human Rights Obligations: An Index of Economic and Social Rights Fulfillment” Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Terra Lawson-Remer, and Susan Randolph, in Journal of Human Rights, Volume 8, No 3 (2009), pp 195-221.

For economic and social rights, HRMI has published 10 years of data for up to 195 countries, depending on the right. Time trends are graphed on the HRMI data website.

For the countries that are also part of our civil and political rights data collection, there is also data collected on which groups of people are particularly at risk of economic and social rights violations.

HRMI’s Civil and Political Rights data

Abuses of civil and political rights tend to be hidden and undercounted. To address these challenges, HRMI gathers information using a detailed multilingual expert survey, asking human rights practitioners for each country for their appraisals across a range of human rights. HRMI then uses these data to construct measures that include a great deal more information than has previously been available, including data about human rights abuses that go unreported in public.

One of the strengths of this approach is that it gives access to information from global, regional, national, and local organisations, giving us a diverse pool of perspectives. Another strength lies in the use of advanced statistical techniques for combining, and ensuring comparability across, responses. This produces data on civil and political rights that are comparable across countries, and transparent information on statistical uncertainty, in the form of an uncertainty band around our measures.

HRMI’s method also collects information on which people in a country are particularly at risk of each type of violation, and qualitative responses giving more detail on the context of abuses in each country.

HRMI carries out the expert survey annually, expanding each year to include more countries. In 2020 HRMI plans to cover over 30 countries.

This world-leading methodology is outlined in a peer-reviewed journal article in the Journal of Human Rights:

Human rights data for everyone: Introducing the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI)” Anne-Marie Brook, K Chad Clay, and Susan Randolph, in Journal of Human Rights, Volume 19, No 3 (2020), pp 67-82, available as a free PDF download.

A more technical article about this new methodology is currently under review for publication in the Journal of Peace Research.

Civil and Political Rights Methodology: Frequently Asked Questions

Why does HRMI use a survey to collect data for Civil and Political Rights?

For most of the civil and political rights HRMI measures, there are no data currently being collected that are objective, reliable, and comparable across countries.

These rights violations tend to happen out of sight. Governments are often in the best position to know about violations, but have a conflict of interest in publishing accurate data on them.

The people who are the best sources of information are the human rights experts whose daily work is to pay attention to rights violations in a country: human rights monitors for local or international NGOs; journalists; human rights lawyers. These are the people the HRMI expert survey seeks out.

Extensive research tells us that these people are reliable informants (Hill, Moore, and Mukherjee, 2013).

An expert survey methodology such as HRMI’s requires a minimum of three expert respondents. This is a bit like convening a panel of experts to advise a government minister.

HRMI sets the minimum at five respondents per country; below that number, we do not publish data for a country. In 2019, our numbers ranged from six to 19 per country, with an average of 11.

For each country that has participated twice, the numbers of participants rose in the second year.

Who are the ‘experts’ HRMI surveys?

In 2019 we collected data on what range of expertise our participants had. Participants could choose as many options as they wanted, from four options:

The survey also asked what area of human rights the participants focused on in their work. The mean number of options people selected was 5.2.

Is there a risk of bias?

The academic literature shows that human rights advocates and monitors do not tend to over-report human rights violations (Hill, Moore, and Mukherjee, 2013.)

The HRMI survey questions do not ask for value judgements, rather the questions are about the frequency of violations of human rights as defined in international law.

Below is an example from the 2020 survey:

Further, the use of the anchoring vignettes (see below) helps to take into account different respondents’ sensitivity to violations.

How does HRMI make sure the results are comparable across countries and participants?

One of the best reasons to choose an expert survey methodology is that the results can be compared across countries and across time.

The HRMI survey includes several features that allow this.

One important feature is the inclusion of ‘anchoring vignettes’. As well as answering questions on the frequency of human rights violations in a particular country they are experts on, participants are asked about three fictional countries, and asked to answer questions on exactly the same scale. The vignettes give short descriptions of the rights violations that occurred in these fictional countries. One fictional country has many serious violations, one has hardly any, and one is in the middle.

Participants’ answers on the fictional countries tell us what their personal scale is. Some people don’t like to use the ends of the scale and give all their answers in the middle. If they also rate our very high performing fictional country somewhere toward the middle, we can use statistical methods to ‘stretch’ their other answers and make them comparable with those of other respondents.

How are the expert survey participants recruited?

HRMI uses a combination of a ‘snowball’ methodology, trusted partner organisations, and local ambassadors, to ensure a range of qualified experts contribute to the data collection.

In each country, a local human rights practitioner is a HRMI Ambassador, responsible for helping recruit human rights experts. Respondents must be: human rights lawyers; journalists; human rights researchers working for a local or international NGO; or working for a National Human Rights Institute if that NHRI has A status. Ambassadors are also asked to ensure a range of different areas of expertise, in terms of geographical region (in large countries) and the kinds of human rights they focus on.

In each country, the first people invited to participate are the Ambassador, and other ‘trusted partners’, people working for respected NGOs such as Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. Each survey participant is then invited to recommend further participants who meet the criteria – and so the snowball grows.

How are the civil and political rights data useful before there is full global coverage?

Every year the survey has been conducted, HRMI has increased the number of countries covered. With increased funding, the rest of the world could be covered in the next 2 – 3 years.

While there is less than full global coverage, the data for each country are useful in several ways.

Each country that is included gets scores on up to 13 human rights (including up to 5 economic and social rights). These scores can be tracked over time, with the survey repeated each year.

These scores can be presented in human rights advocacy and journalism as a rare piece of quantitative data showing a country’s progress in realising its people’s human rights. Examples of press organisations using HRMI data for stories are collected on our website here, and below.

For each right, HRMI also reports which groups of people are at particular risk of violations. These insights can generate news stories and bolster advocacy by or on behalf of those people.

Here are some examples of news stories based on HRMI data:

Vox featured HRMI’s 2019 data on the human rights landscape in the United States in this piece by Lauren Wolfe, which was on the front page of its website.

Bhrikuti Rai reported on threats to civil liberties in Nepal in the Kathmandu Post, drawing on HRMI data.

Michael Taylor wrote this article for the Thomson Reuters Foundation about the United States scores and some of the other important findings in our 2019 data.

In New Zealand, for TVNZ’s flagship One News, Katie Bradford filed this report on human rights in New Zealand, with public figures including the Minister of Justice and the Chief Human Rights Commissioner responding on camera to HRMI’s findings.

The ABC’s Pacific Beat reported on HRMI’s scores for Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand. The coverage starts at 9 minutes.

Updated April 2020

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