We’re going to measure what matters

As Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz said: “In this world in which we are so centered on metrics, those things that are not measured get left off the agenda…. You need a metric to fight a metric“.

The aim of the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) is to create a comprehensive and reliable set of metrics for monitoring the human rights performance of countries.

“We believe that excellent measures of human rights performance will provide a new tool for advocacy, decision-making, and learning, and help to bring about a paradigm shift.”

But human rights metrics are not an end in themselves. Ultimately, we are motivated by the fact that there are billions of people who – right now – don’t have sufficient access to basic human fundamentals like food, education or health care, or who live in a country where they can’t critique their country’s policies, or advocate for change, for fear of jeopardising the safety of themselves or their families. This is what a lack of enjoyment of human rights looks like. Obviously this is a complex problem and the solutions are not simple. But we believe that excellent measures of human rights performance will provide a new tool for advocacy, decision-making, and learning, and help to bring about a paradigm shift.

Measuring human rights performance is both complex and sensitive. So it requires excellent methodology, and far-reaching inclusivity. Two guiding principles underpin the development of our metrics. First, we are building on existing expertise wherever possible. Second, we have committed to a user-centred design process.

“HRMI is a collaboration of many of the world’s leading experts in the human rights field.”

HRMI is a collaboration of many of the world’s leading experts in the human rights field. In the area of civil and political rights, for example, we are combining the expertise of human rights practitioners who monitor events around the world, and academics who have a lot of experience in measuring human rights. Using our expert opinion survey, and advanced statistical techniques, we will produce consistent cross-country metrics. Metrics will cover things like arbitrary arrest, torture, freedom of expression, and the right to participate in government. This will help fill a critical data gap. It will also overcome the problems of under-reporting and the inability to compare countries that plague existing objective measures of human rights violations across countries. Pilot metrics for 13 countries will be released in the first few months of 2018.

In the area of economic and social rights we have also partnered with some of the world’s leading experts. The Economic and Social Rights Empowerment Initiative has developed an innovative and world-leading approach to measuring country performance on the Rights to Food, Education, Health, Housing and Work. These metrics are already available for between 140 and 180 countries (depending on the right), and are highly regarded by the human rights academic community. But they are not yet well-known, or widely used. We aim to change that by releasing some state-of-the-art data visualisation tools. We are also working with NGOs and development organisations to help them figure out how these data can be useful in their work. Our new data visualisation tools will be available in early 2018.

Underpinning the development of our metrics is a user-centred design process. This means running regular co-design workshops where we work alongside human rights practitioners and other data users to test prototypes for new measures and learn about what people want from our metrics.

“We aim to produce the best and most comprehensive set of human rights data on the planet and to keep improving on those measures over time.”

We aim to produce the best and most comprehensive set of human rights data on the planet and to keep improving on those measures over time. We welcome approaches from other human rights experts who wish to use our platform for collaboration to develop new metrics in their areas of expertise. But we also know that our measures will always be an incomplete summary of progress. The 12 dots on our logo represent our initial data offering of 12 measures of human rights, and the “gap” or “missing dot” tells a story about how our data offering will never be fully complete, even after our offering expands well beyond 12 metrics.

“We want to encourage people to pay attention to the details and nuances of each country’s performance.”

For now we have decided not to aggregate our suite of metrics into a composite index of human rights. This is because we want to encourage people to pay attention to the details and nuances of each country’s performance. A single number would gloss over this. For example, Colombia performs quite well on the Right to Education, but quite poorly on the Right to Housing. Averaging Colombia’s total score together would give a middling score which would tell people very little about what Colombia’s doing well, or where they could focus their reform priorities.

We are not undertaking this project lightly. Our goal is to focus more of the world’s attention on one of the things that matters most: how to ensure that people can live their lives with dignity. By measuring what matters, we will produce a tool for decision-making, for learning, and for accelerating positive societal progress. We encourage you to work with us towards that end!

 

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