Behind the scenes: The HRMI annual human rights survey

Do you ever wonder what goes into producing HRMI’s data on civil and political rights?

On our Rights Tracker, you see simple and clear charts, scores, and summaries of a country’s human rights performance. To produce a simple product that can be easily understood, aesthetically appealing, and accessible, here at HRMI, our days are anything but simple.

We started with a detailed 8-month project plan, but we also live day-to-day dodging unforeseen bumps in the road, working through ethical concerns, and executing logistical planning. We are happy to work hard to provide the most accurate data, because this leads to positive progress in human rights.

The first exciting numbers

Numbers are the end product, but well before we publish our finished data, there are numbers along the way that we get pretty excited about.

Over February and March 2019 we reached out to 771 human rights experts in 9 languages, in 19 countries, inviting them to complete an online survey about human rights in their country. We received responses from 32% of those invited, giving us 247 sets of survey responses, an average of 11 per country.

Only a year after releasing our pilot survey data in 2018, we managed to more than double the amount of total survey responses and increase the average survey responses per country from 7 to 11.

Our civil and political rights metrics team are now at work, converting the 2019 survey responses into scores for each country for 7 civil and political rights, and information on who is at most risk of violations of all 12 rights we measure in each country.

We launched this new data, along with updated economic and social rights metrics for 160+ countries at our HRMI Data Release event in New York City in early June 2019.

We successfully expanded to new countries

Our cutting-edge human rights survey is a tool that amplifies the voices of human rights defenders around the world, so that their knowledge of human rights abuses can be shared with a global audience who can help to advocate for change. It was co-designed by many of the human rights defenders who are using it, so – like everything HRMI does – it is a product of collaboration.

This is only the second time we have run this survey and we were happy to expand our coverage from 13 countries in 2017 to 19 countries in 2019.

The original 13 countries:

  • Angola
  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Fiji
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Liberia
  • Mexico
  • Mozambique
  • Nepal
  • New Zealand
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Kingdom

The new ones added in 2019:

  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Jordan
  • South Korea
  • United States
  • Venezuela
  • Vietnam

It was encouraging to find this year that we could successfully collect data from experts in countries experiencing considerable crises, such as Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We are particularly grateful to those respondents, and we hope that the data they provided will help those countries as they rebuild stable, rights-respecting societies.

As well as adding new countries to the 2019 survey, we also added a new module to capture information on economic and social rights.

Expansion plans for 2020 and beyond

Our goal is to expand coverage to all countries in the world as soon as our funding permits, so if you’d like to help us expand coverage in your region, please get in touch.

We will have a big announcement to make shortly about a major expansion we are planning for the 2020 survey. Watch this space!

We couldn’t do this without: our marvelous HRMI Ambassadors

Directing the survey is a big job and we couldn’t have done it without our HRMI Ambassadors.

A voluntary position created for this year’s survey, the Ambassador’s role is similar to that of a diplomat: acting on behalf of HRMI in their country in order to raise awareness of all things HRMI and to seek out potential survey respondents. Our ambassadors have been crucial in achieving the amount of success we have had this year. You can find out more about our Ambassadors and what it means to take on the role here.

We couldn’t do this without: our 247 survey respondents

One of the major contributions of Ambassadors is identifying and inviting human rights practitioners to participate in the survey. To be a survey respondent, we looked for these kinds of people:

  • Human rights workers (researchers, analysts, other practitioners) whose job is to monitor civil and political rights in a survey country. They could be working for an international or domestic NGO or civil society organisation.
  • Human rights lawyers.
  • Journalists covering human rights issues in a survey country.
  • Staff working for the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) of a survey country, if that NHRI is accredited with ‘A status’ – meaning that it is fully compliant with the Paris Principles.

We take the anonymity and security of our respondents very seriously – even our staff do not know who has or has not participated in the survey.

What might be new this year?

Participating in the HRMI survey isn’t a small task – it takes around an hour to do and can be emotionally draining, as a respondent contemplates the human rights situation in their country deeply.

We would love to find a way of rewarding survey respondents for their participation in the survey.

One idea we’re considering is giving each survey respondent a chance to nominate a charity to receive a donation from HRMI. Charities would be nominated anonymously within the survey and go into a draw at the end of the survey period.

We would like to seek corporate sponsorship to fund the donations. If you might like to sponsor the survey in this way, please get in touch.

We’ve now conducted a thorough review of the 2019 survey process and have made plans for various other improvements for 2020.

Do you have other ideas to improve the survey process? We would love to hear them. Or do you have a country that you’d like to nominate to have the survey expanded to? We’d love to hear that as well.

We are looking forward to the 2020 survey, expanding the survey to more countries, increasing participation in the survey, and equipping people and nations with the knowledge they need to improve people’s lives.

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