Case study ● Research

Technology Tools in Human Rights

We researched how human rights defenders are facing the new possibilities, challenges, and expectations of using technology tools for human rights documentation.

How do human rights defenders use technology tools?

Over the past few years, we have been witnessing a wave of new technology tools for human rights documentation. Along with the arrival of the new tools, human rights defenders are facing new possibilities, new challenges, and new expectations for human rights documentation. With the support of the Oak Foundation, we researched how human rights defenders are navigating in this fast-paced environment, and how the use of technology tools is affecting their work.

Our research is a first attempt to detail the available technologies that are designed for human rights documentation, understand the various perspectives on the challenges human rights documentation initiatives face when adopting new tools and practices, and analyse what is and is not working for human rights documentation initiatives seeking to integrate new tools in their work.

Mapping the environment

Gathering stories
We interviewed human rights defenders (HRDs), intermediaries who support HRDs, and tools developers.

Looking into the available tools and applications
We created an overview of tools and applications built specifically for HRDs.

Identifying challenges
We pinpointed the main obstacles that HRDs using technology tools are facing and identified the major pitfalls for HRDs seeking to implement technology tools.

What were our main findings?
  • Traditional methods still apply: The environment in which HRDs are working has not dramatically inherently changed due to technology and data.
  • Unreliability and unknown risks provide huge barriers to engagement with technology.
  • The lifespan of technology tools is a big barrier to long-term use: Sustainability of tools and maintenance is a big barrier to engaging with them and can cause fatigue among users having to change their practices often.
  • HRDs understand their context best: Tools recommendations coming from external parties sometimes do more harm than good.

We wrote and added a shortened version of the report in our Library, where you can scroll through our findings easily. We interviewed three main groups of actors: human rights defenders, intermediaries, and tools developers. While our sample size for this scoping study is far too small to make claims about the sector as a whole, we hope to carry out future research that enables broader conclusions about the use of technology tools in human rights.

Questions or feedback? We’d love to talk about to you. Contact us at research@theengineroom.org. If you are curious to read the full report, we invite you to read the full report in a PDF (5.4MB), or read the abridged version in our Library.

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