Developing Principles on Data and ESCR
The monitoring Working Group is developing a collective position and set of principles on data collection, analysis and use.
Why is data so important for human rights?
Data plays a crucial role in informing public policies and decision-making around key economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) such as the rights to education, health, food, housing, access to water and sanitation, and a healthy environment. Management of natural resources, service delivery, public spending, and the assessment of development projects etc. are key public policy processes that rely on some form of data. Having representative and inclusive data is particularly important because if individuals and groups are not represented in data, any policy made or decisions taken on the basis of that data will not be able to address specific issues that they face and will exclude them from equal enjoyment of human rights. This is even more important in the context of COVID-19, where the lack of data on specific groups, particularly marginalized ones, has resulted in gaps in the development and implementation of measures that meaningfully address the needs of all.
In addition, access to relevant and useful information is essential for individuals and groups to exercise their rights, as well as a key tool for exposing patterns of systemic abuse and oppression in order to hold accountable states and other powerful actors.
What’s wrong with the data currently used to make decisions about ESCR
The data used for decision-making by governments often does not reflect the lived realities and the perspectives of those affected by the decisions, particularly more marginalized communities. Instead, public narratives and decision-making processes often rely on ‘hard evidence’ developed by power-holders like States and corporations, thereby serving their interests. Dominant narratives on what counts as ‘valid’ data tend to see data generated by states and powerful actors as objective and credible while disregarding data based on communities’ experiences of a certain issue as biased and not legitimate. Furthermore, the lack of data--especially when related to already underrepresented communities or populations--can make it hard to reveal, and therefore dismantle, discriminatory policies and practices. Exclusion in data therefore means exclusion in reality. In this sense, ‘who’ conducts the data collection (and how) are as important as the ‘what’ is being monitored, and grassroots groups and communities need to be seen as legitimate voice and the main experts over the issues that affect them such as inequality, poverty and injustice.
What are we doing:
In January 2019 we held a strategy meeting in Mexico City to discuss key challenges in using data to advance socioeconomic rights, develop a shared analysis of how data should improve. The meeting brought together 20 members of ESCR-Net who analyzed gaps in the way existing data on socio-economic rights (whether produced by states, private actors or civil society groups) is collected, analyzed and used, towards articulating an alternative narrative grounded on human rights.
Members agreed on the urgency of re-thinking what kinds of data are needed and relevant for decision-making, in line with a human-rights based approach. Indeed, human rights law mandates states to gather and make available data on economic, social and cultural rights. Official data should therefore help assess the progress made in fulfilling these rights and inform public policies accordingly. Members also called on the need to overcome the hierarchy between different types of data and give legitimacy and recognition to (often qualitative) data, which reflects the lived experiences and analysis of individuals and communities.
On this basis we have begun to develop a collective position on data and ESCR. The position draws from human rights law and from the analysis and experiences of our members, particularly social movements, to identify principles for how data (particularly official data) should be gathered, analyzed and used.
The position will provide legal arguments and practical recommendations with respect to collection, analysis, and use of official data, with a view to:
1) improving the representativeness of data collected - including by ensuring adequate levels of disaggregation, inclusion of different perspectives and realities, and involvement of different groups in the design of methodologies and categories of disaggregation, allowing individuals to chose how to self-identify;
2) enabling the participation of affected communities - including by recognizing the legitimacy and validity of community data and involving communities in setting the agenda about what data should be collected and how it should be used;
3) improving the accessibility of data so that communities can effectively use data to hold powerful parties accountable - including by establishing effective regulations guaranteeing access to information, promoting transparency and improving people's ability to understand data;
4) protecting the security and privacy of those affected by the data, understood broadly to include physical security, mental wellbeing and digital security; and
5) ensuring that data is relevant to ESCR and of high quality - including by combining quantitative and qualitative methodologies and meaningfully addressing the substantive content of ESCR standards.
This position will be a tool for ESCR-Net members and broader civil society to advocate for data that reflects people’s lived experiences and foregrounds human rights, and in so doing, enables more democratic decision-making. This position also encourages civil society to re-think their own practices in gathering data and using it to advance human rights. For instance, our recent initiative Altavoz provides practical guidance and experiences in applying an intersectional gender approach and promoting community participation in the context of parallel reporting to United Nations Treaty Bodies. We have also launched a community-led research project to work with grassroots groups in gathering data that informs their advocacy and campaigning.
We have developed a draft collective position which is being reviewed and refined by our members and will be available for public dissemination soon. Meanwhile we've begun to apply our analysis across our work, see for example:
- A piece for the UNESCO Institute of Statistics SDG4: Making human rights count, calling for a rights based approach for development data
- A briefing on data and monitoring in the context of Covid-19
- An amicus submission to the Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation in a successful case seeking the inclusion of informal settlements in Mexico’s official census: Un Techo para mi País México vs. Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI), amparo en Revisión 635/2019.
To get in touch about this work please contact the Monitoring Working Group Coordinator, Francesca: email@example.com
 A crucial reason for this is the influence of the private sector in funding research institutions and media, see: https://www.escr-net.org/corporateaccountability/corporatecapture/manifestations