Communities telling their own stories: a report on our experiences
Data and evidence can play a crucial role in advancing social justice and human rights. Yet ESCR-Net members have recognized that too often data production does not reflect the lived realities of peoples who face poverty, inequality and injustice.
Many “traditional” data collection methods fall short of capturing the perspectives and experiences of community members, especially those of marginalized individuals and groups who face multiple, intersecting types of discrimination (e.g., based on gender, socio-economic status and ethnicity). Instead, public narratives and decision-making processes on socio-economic issues often rely on “hard evidence” developed by power-holders, like States and corporations whose interests are not always aligned with human rights defense.
Through several collective discussions within the Monitoring Working Group (MWG) of ESCR-Net, members highlighted that, when it comes to monitoring ESCR, “who” monitors and “how” they chose to monitor are just as important as “what” gets monitored. In other words, grassroots groups and communities need to be at the center of how monitoring is designed. They must be seen as legitimate voices, and the main experts, on the issues that affect them disproportionately, such as inequality, poverty and injustice. This requires communities to frame research questions, gather their own data, make sense of it collectively and use it to support their visions of social justice.
MWG members believe that community-led monitoring is vital to ensuring that communities are at the center of monitoring and documentation. Whether via monitoring State compliance with the delivery of public services, budget allocations and expenditures, “development” projects or other issues, community-led monitoring is a process through which people collect and analyze data on issues that affect them, in order to organize, campaign and advocate for their rights and broader structural changes. The data produced by community-based monitoring has been used to argue for accountability for violations via litigation and non-judicial grievance mechanisms, conduct policy advocacy and campaign to shift narratives, among other purposes.
Throughout the coming year, members of the MWG will connect with fellow ESCR-Net members to collectively reflect on how best to center the perspectives of people directly affected by ESCR violations and engaged in resistance to those violations, such as grassroots groups and social movements. Members will also explore ways to integrate community-led monitoring and documentation into Network-wide collective actions. The report described below is a first step in that direction.
What the report is about:
Eight member organizations from ESCR-Net reflected on their own work and engaged with the question: What does it mean for monitoring processes to be “community-led” in practice? Following an overview of the approach of community-led monitoring, the report examines the role played by community members at various stages of the monitoring process (e.g., designing the monitoring process, collecting the data, analyzing and using it). It concludes with members’ reflections on short-term and long-term impacts as well as opportunities and challenges for using community-led monitoring to advance social justice.