Posted 15 February, 2016 by Zara Rahman

Investigating data & technology’s connections to human rights documentation

Image by ENOUGH Project, CC-BY-SA
This blog post was written by Danna Ingleton and Zara Rahman.

This year, we’re kicking off two new projects investigating the options, opportunities, and challenges data and technology present for human rights documentation initiatives.

Both projects concern the way in which new and emerging technologies and data flows are affecting human rights documentation – are traditional research methods changing, and if so, how? In reality, how -if at all- are new technologies affecting the way in which human rights violations are being documented?

The first of these projects, with collaborative support from Amnesty International and Benetech, seeks to examine the usage of and processes surrounding data as part of human rights documentation and research.

We are particularly interested in datasets and data flows that are relatively new, or emerging, in order to think about how they could complement traditional or typical human rights documentation methods.

The project aims to better understand how data becomes part of the universe of human rights documentation, how it can enhance documentation processes and how currently it is (and is not) used or understood. We want to understand what kinds of data types, data streams and formats human rights researchers and organisations are currently working with, and gather information about related challenges.  The broader aim is to work out what would be needed for these new data streams and types to complement traditional methods of documentation, and to gain a better understanding of what guidance and support human rights researchers or activists need to work effectively and efficiently in this new data environment.

Another objective of this project is community building amongst human rights documentation groups, generalist as well as those working specifically with new data types and streams, to ensure that the outcomes of the project are relevant, actionable, and contribute to our collective knowledge on the topic.

The second project, supported by the Oak Foundation, looks into how different technology tools are being used to document human rights violations.

We will be looking at the current status of tools and systems being used within the human rights community, focusing on the challenges faced in using such tools, and reasoning behind choosing specific tools. We’re particularly interested in knowing when certain tools become most useful – and how these tools could help push the boundaries of human rights documentation.

As with the data environment described above, we’re especially interested in tools that are making it faster and safer to transmit data on human rights violations, potentially allowing for more thorough and better-informed human rights documentation to be produced.

We’re also very aware that there are a number of other efforts being undertaken to map this new data environment, and we are very keen to join forces to contribute to our collective understanding of the space. So, throughout these projects, we’ll be working as much “in the open” as we responsibly can.

We’re very keen not to duplicate work, and to avoid this, we want to share our findings early and often, and actively collaborate with other organisations and individuals who are thinking about similar issues. We’ll be keeping a regular ‘research diary’ sharing latest developments, and we’ll be holding regular public calls to share what we’re finding as we go along, and learn from other activities in the community. The first of these will be on March 2nd, at 6pm CET– anyone with an interest in the project is welcome to join us, by joining a call on Uber Conference and following online, and we’ll be sharing more information on how to join the call via Twitter @engnroom, and on this blog.

If you’re working on a project with related aims, would like to present your project on our first call, or just want to chat about what we’re working on, please get in touch, on – we would love to hear from you!

For more information, read Amnesty’s blog post on the project.

3 thoughts on “Investigating data & technology’s connections to human rights documentation”

[…] new collaboration between Amnesty International, Benetech and the Engine Room seeks to examine the usage of and processes surrounding data as part of human rights documentation […]

[…] As we announced last week, we’re embarking on a couple of new projects on the use of technology and data in human rights documentation. […]

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