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What Does a 'Rights-Based Approach' Look Like in Practice? A New Oxfam Guide

Duncan Green's picture

Sometimes it seems like the devil has all the best tunes, while the angels struggle to get their message across. In development, some of the most interesting and important concepts are rendered impenetrable to non-specialists by a morass of jargon.

Take human rights for example. Yesterday was the International Human Rights Day, but I for one, find that the dry, legalistic and jargon-filled language of the ‘human rights community’ often seems depressingly, well, inhuman. One example is, alas, Oxfam’s new ‘Learning Companion to the Right to be Heard Framework’, published yesterday to coincide with this year’s International Human Rights Day’s focus on ‘voice’.

But please read it, because under all the jargon-laden sentences about ‘governance components as mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability in delivery of quality essential services’ there is some real and useful substance. Trust me.

What the document is really about is how to render power visible – sprinkling magic dust over a community or a process to reveal their underlying power relations – the alliances and coalitions the keep the haves in the driving seat, and keep the have nots in their place; the hidden and invisible forms of power as well as the more obvious kinds; the discontinuities and moments of opportunity for rapid change (whether good or bad). Only when you can ‘see’ power can you really start thinking about how to help poor people redistribute it in their favour.

Oxfam’s framework for doing so is summed up in a simple diagram, (above) covering accountability’s supply (strengthening institutions), demand (strengthening people’s organizations) and supporting people’s movements to demand accountability from the state.

The learning companion then spells out just how to go about that, with lots of case studies from on-the-ground accountability work around the world, plus guidance on how to conduct a power analysis and signposts to the best sources of further info (even if – shock – they’re written by other NGOs).

The companion is part of a welcome move to publish more of Oxfam’s internal thinking (stylistic warts and all). We’ve done the same thing with our internal research guidelines, which are proving a minor download hit. If you’re interested in how Oxfam goes about its work , or in making human rights a human reality, take a look.

More background from Oxfam governance guru Jo Rowlands here.

This post was originally published on From Poverty to Power

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