August 2015 Discussion: Ensuring a Participatory Process to Human Rights Documentation

Publish Date: 
Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Nazdeek is a capacity building organization that works with communities, activists and lawyers, to seek justice for ESCR violations in India. As a legal empowerment organization, Nazdeek seeks community participation at the core of every area of work, such as litigation, advocacy, and campaigning. As to documentation, we do so by building community capacity to document ESCR violations.

In very simple terms, once a relationship is established with a community the joint documentation process looks as follows:

  1. Deciding the issue(s) to document and who will document them
  2. Looking at existing laws, translating it into rights and entitlements and discussing them at workshops/training session
  3. Developing documentation tools – such as questionnaires, checklists and ICT solutions.
  4. Conducting field research
  5. Compiling and analyzing the findings
  6. Using existing grievance redress mechanisms to address violations – while this is not part of the documentation per se, it is essential to ensure that documentation is focused and meaningful.

Have other practitioners worked with communities to conduct joint documentation? If so, it would be interesting to know how your processes have worked, where they are similar or different from the approach of Nazdeek in this regards.

Nazdeek’s approach has demonstrated how community-led documentation is not a mere information collection exercise. In fact, it bears a much deeper impact on the community’s ability to drive the advocacy process, and claim their rights. In our experience, community ownership over the documentation process has been crucial to ensure solid outcomes. Over the past year we’ve been working with about 40 women who report about reproductive rights violations occurring in tea gardens in Assam, and with a group of 25 community members who document access to healthcare, food and water and sanitation in their slums in Delhi. The process lead to significant improvements in access to services such as food, water and healthcare, particularly through the filing of administrative complaints and/or litigation by community members.

We welcome comments addressing the effectiveness of working in partnership with communities on documentation and monitoring for overarching advocacy goals.

We have also found that a number of challenges exist in ensuring community participation at every stage – here’s a non-exhaustive list:

  • Deciding the issue(s) to document: Who identifies what’s worth documenting? And how? In our experience, applying a human rights lens may change the way community members identify issues they face in their daily lives.
  • How can community members provide feedback/inputs during the documentation stage? How does decision-making take place?
  • How will the documentation process impact existing power-dynamics? More specifically, how do we ensure the documentation process does not reinforce existing inequalities within the community?
  • Accuracy and consistency of the information: The notion of adequacy is a core component to many ESC rights (e.g. right to adequate housing), yet it may have different declinations in people’s lives. How do we ensure consistency and accuracy of the information collected?
  • The documentation process is truly empowering if community members are able to use the information, or decide over its use. This should be discussed at the onset of the documentation, along with a discussion on the expectations community members have over the scope of the project.

Are these issues that other organizations/activists face in their work? We’d love to hear from other experiences around the world.

Francesca Feruglio (Nazdeek)
Working Group(s): 
Related Members: