Impact: How can data from monitoring be used to improve a situation?

13 posts / 0 new
Last post
Impact: How can data from monitoring be used to improve a situation?

How have you been able to use the outcomes of your monitoring to bring about positive change for a community?  How do you report on your findings and to whom do you report?

  • What are the outcomes of monitoring?  How do these outcomes bring about long-term change?
  • How are these outcomes used for documentation, advocacy, legislation and other efforts for change?
  • Is monitoring inherently a political process?  How do you negotiate the politics?  After your documentation, how do you make this monitoring relevant in the political context in which you are working?
  • What are the actions you take to bring about the change that you want based on your monitoring findings?
  • How do you carry out the community-building and relationship-building with stakeholders that is needed to bring about the change that you seek?
  • How can data from monitoring be used to have desired outcomes to improve the situation?
  • What more can be done?

Share your thoughts, ideas and stories to this discussion thread by adding your comments below, or responding to existing comments.

Measuring Impact

In advocacy and impact assessment, “data” are critical to persuasive and effective campaigning. Not only does it make for a great tool, but, without data how do you know whether you have made an impact? Donor relations and reporting have sometime rendered the concept of concretely measuring impact a frustrating afterthought, but the process of data collection, indicators, and even dreaded outputs and outcomes are essential for implementing a project effectively, to reach a goal, and even to tailor a project to make sure it is hitting its stride. For larger organizations it can be an effective way for managers to have a grasp of how a project is going and it can be used to establish milestones that provide a sense of accomplishment and more importantly a series of mini-successes that keep a program officer excited rather than daunted by the abyss of on-the-ground issues.

For advocacy, a clear picture of a situation can draw attention to aproject, dumbfound an uninitiated public with the scope of a problemthat perhaps it had not really considered before, and mobilize actorswith the capacity to proactively support initiatives. If used effectively, it can also keep volunteers (and donors) in tune with program progress and more likely to continue engaging in an activity. Be it for management, documentation of success, or effective advocacy,the issue isn’t how to use the data once you get it, its setting up systems to make sure that data collection is embedded in the program implementation itself.

- Alix, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Sharing the outcomes and understanding the impact

Thanks for bringing this up, Alix!  Yes, data is super important for human rights work.  Campaigns use data to understand the impact of their campaign in order to raise more money, in order to gain more support from volunteers, etc, and most importantly - to understand if what they are doing is actually working. 

This makes me realize that it will be important, in this discussion thread, to talk about two important aspects of outcome & impact:

  1. How do you, as monitors, share your findings and data with stakeholders in order to make a change, and
  2. How do you measure the impact of the monitoring project? 

I'm glad that Alix started this discussion on the importance of measuring and understanding a project's impact (something I am still struggling to understand and carry out myself, here at the New Tactics project). 

If the goal of human rights monitoring is to identify systemic failures to protect, respect, or fulfill human rights obligations and recommend possible solutions to those problems - does a success monitoring project rely on a success advocacy campaign to actually move these recommendations forward?  Or is the impact of monitoring measured by the accuracy and integrity of the information that is produced?  What other ways is the impact of monitoring measured?

Like always - I look forward to hearing (reading) your thoughts and ideas!

Impact assessment

Human rights impact assessment is quite an extensive topic, and could certainly be the theme of a whole Online Dialogue.

You can find a very good collection of relevant material (tools, case studies, publications, actors) at the Human Rights Impact Resource Centre:


Impact assessment

Impact assessment of human rights monitoring is always very delicate. For instance, we are regularly asked about the number of victims we "saved" through our various activities, which always sounds very awkward. Indeed, how to establish indicators to determine whether a victim was "saved" or not? And what does this mean, to "save" a victim? To start with, such a language is completely inappropriate and misleading. At best you can improve the situation of the victim through for instance better conditions of detention, an access to a lawyer or a doctor, the authors of an extra-judicial killing being brought to justice, compensation being obtained etc. Moreover, to assess in such a way our work can only be frustrating: to establish whether our activities do have an impact, should we gather statistics about the number of persons who were tortured or subjected to ill-treatment and if such numbers do not decrease, then it means that our work has no impact? How to assess the impact of our interventions when they do not bring any change? Would that mean that we should stop monitoring human rights in countries that are closed to all criticism such as China or Uzbekistan for instance? That would be a shame, as this is where victims need even more support. The rationale behind human rights monitoring is also - and maybe first of all - about expressing solidarity. For instance, I remember we were called by Tunisian prisoners who had been detained arbitrarily for several years and who have been just released - although our actions did not have an immediate impact (their release), they called us to thank us for following their situation, as to know that the international community was aware of their case, that they were not alone, enabled them to support a bit better their detention. Happily, on some occasions our actions do have an immediate impact, and we can only congratulate ourselves for this outcome. But for other cases we do not see the immediate impact and this can be very frustrating. Yet, impact of human rights monitoring is also about making sure that violations are not kept silent and cannot be committed in full impunity.

Sharing assessments


Impact of monitoring projects is assessed through internal and external evaluations, that are shared in priority with network members in order to fine-tune our activites and therefore respond in the most appropriate manner to the needs expressed. OMCT’s philosophy is one of collaboration, networking, NGO empowerment and solidarity. The SOS-Torture network is formed by independent grass-roots, regional and international organisations, which bring a combination of approaches, specialisations and expertise to OMCT’s work. OMCT’s activities and services are designed in accordance with the needs of the network or any other NGOs active in the field, with the organisation’s structure and programmes being engendered by a “bottom-up” approach. In each of its activities, OMCT fosters South-South networking.

Anne-Laurence Lacroix - World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

impact assessment

We have been involved in countless efforts to "measure" or "demonstrate" the "impact" of CEDAW. It has been a key element of the US ratification discussion because opponents claim that it has no effect--witness the awful things that still happen to women. Donors want to know, to target funds at "effective" projects. The World Bank wants to know, as part of its effort to move forward on gender equality issues.  Even the friendly requests are frustrating because there is a certain fallacy in asking about the impact of a document that is only a collection of words until people and political process make it work.

Consequently accounts of impact, particularly as to systemic issues, tend to be lists-- of litigation in which CEDAW is cited; of advocacy successes in which a Committee review plays a role; of policy actions in which the State cites its international obligations. A few quantitative studies have made some headway in crystallizing t impact factors, and few surprises there--for example, one study found that democracy is a critical factor. But all of the success stories, if they are honest, must include reference to the multiple factors that make for the success at a particular place and time.

The thread of the discussion thus far confirms that human rights principles are "effective" only when people make them so. In a recent conversation, a former chair of the CEDAW Committee put it succinctly: CEDAW, she said, is a process, and the success of CEDAW is its process. What that means for all human rights work is that impact is not only a matter of policy change, but also of transformative engagement. What do individuals and organizations learn from engaging? what are the long- and short-term consequences of coalition building and documentation efforts? is the documentation or monitoring an educational experience for the (forgive the expression) subjects of the inquiry?

And none of this is for the impatient. 

measuring impact

During my time in Sri Lanka, this was a huge topic of conversation. As a monitor, how did we know we were making an impact - the numbers of people not kidnapped? the number not abused? it was quite frustrating.

In my current job, we have a great research division that does a number of public opinion surveys and surveys surrounding elections in various countries. We have even done one on the status of women in the middle east and north africa. I believe that this is one way to measure impact -- in certain countries we have done annual surveys (18 years in a row) -- and trends such as feeling safe, believing in one government, the level of impact a citizen feels they have are important trends to track -- especially when attempting to monitor human rights.

It is possible through surveys to offer donors some type of number and something against which to measure...

Re:  Bella's response. Yes,

Re:  Bella's response.

Yes, it is possible to show donors the trends that seem to be progressive. But the fundamental question of causation is never resolved. Let's not confuse correlation and causation. If people believe more in their government, or feel safer, etc.--that is indeed positive, but many factors will have been involved in this change.  Establishing a direct causative link between human rights monitoring and advocacy, and progress in governance or nondiscrimination or any other issue, is just about impossible.  The best we can say is that the work we do is a factor in change, but instances of being able to claim direct causation are few and far between. This is why we cherish and repeat the stories about clear successes for many, many years after they occur.

How do we know when what we're doing is not working?

marshafreeman wrote:

Establishing a direct causative link between human rights monitoring and advocacy, and progress in governance or nondiscrimination or any other issue, is just about impossible.  The best we can say is that the work we do is a factor in change, but instances of being able to claim direct causation are few and far between.

A great point, Marsha, that we all should remember.  Thanks for highlighting the reality of our ability to claim direct causation.  Often, the best we can do is show that what we're doing is somehow contributing to a positive change.

A question for everyone - are there indicators that help you to know when what you're doing is not working? 

OMCT - another monitoring tool

One concrete example of the outcomes of the monitoring work carried out by OMCT is the Annual Report of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of OMCT and FIDH. The Annual Report presents an analysis by region of the situation in which human rights defenders operate. The analyses are followed by country fact-sheets, which provide for the political context that prevailed at the national level during the year, and the most prevalent forms of repression against defenders, which are duly illustrated by concrete cases. The cases presented in the regional analyses and country fact-sheets reflect activities of alert, mobilisation and support carried out by the Observatory on the basis of information received from member organizations and partners of OMCT and FIDH. The Observatory’s Annual Report could be a useful instrument for advocacy at national and international level, including governments and human rights mechanisms, as it is a valuable source of information regarding the situation of human rights defenders by country or by region.

Andrea Meraz - World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

Examples of groups using the OMCT reports?

Andrea Meraz wrote:

The Observatory’s Annual Report could be a useful instrument for advocacy at national and international level, including governments and human rights mechanisms, as it is a valuable source of information regarding the situation of human rights defenders by country or by region.

Thanks for sharing this example, Andrea!  Do you know of any specific examples of organizations using the Observatory's Annual Reports?  How do you follow up with groups to know if they are using these reports?  Does OMCT make strategic partnership in order to put these reports into action by NGOs?  Thanks!

Re: What other ways is the impact of monitoring measured

A interesting impact of an international presence here in the West Bank, Palestine (beyond the most obvious of increased attention) is the increase in resource distribution to the areas that we are currently located.  While I’m not exactly sure how to measure this, what I can attest to is that the village of At-Tuwani, a current project of CPT, now has access to clean water and electricity.  I’m not able with exact certainty to connect the existence of internationals in an area with the increase in resources, I can say that the neighboring villages that do not have this monitoring presence have not experienced the same increase in resources.

This does however draw attention to the large impact an international presence can have on a community.  While one village continues to strive and increase access, others do not.  This does raise the question; does an international presence create conflict between have and have not communities?  What are the consequences of this?

Topic locked