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Aug 8, 2016

In Episode 9 of The Rights Track, Todd talks to professional lawyer and human rights researcher Professor Meg Satterthwaite from New York University about human rights advocacy. They discuss what it’s like working across academia and practice, the challenges around evidencing impact and the role of data visualisation in communicating findings effectively.

0.00-04.10 mins

  • Meg’s dual role as lawyer and researcher - what it means to have a foot in both camps
  • The sort of research Meg is looking at - which methods are most likely to create change - why there is a gap in knowledge and understanding around the outcomes and impact of human rights advocacy work. The increasing pressure from funders of NGOs etc to evaluate and show impact. The importance of quantitative research in the context of achieving and demonstrating impact.


  • Meg discusses work she is involved with on the right to water in gold mining areas in Haiti. She explains how local people get involved and ‘own’ the research, and the importance of balancing that with ensuring rigorous, robust methods that can be trusted.
  • Why ‘comparable’ questions from other household surveys are used so that results from the project can be used in wider research in this area.
  • The challenges of setting up this type of survey in a country like Haiti.

08.15 - 12.30

  • How can human rights research be communicated most effectively to different audiences?
  • The role and process of visualising data. The importance of making sure you don’t accidentally mislead people so making sure you have the right visualisation set in clear context to enable them to understand the data
  • Meg gives an example of a data visualisation she used in research in Haiti on water use to make the issue relevant to her audience and help them understand it better
  • Todd talks about how comics have been used to communicate injustice in Brazil.


  • The dangers of misleading people - how Meg and data visualisation colleagues have designed an online experiment to look at how people can be deceived with data visualisation - see the project website
  • Discussion of how some media outlets have distorted data deliberately but also how some misleading representations of data are used unwittingly by human rights groups for example

15.15- 22.20

  • Tips on what advocates should think about to try to avoid pitfalls. Important to have someone who knows how to work with data either on the team or as consultant
  • Meg refers to recent Rights Track episode with Patrick Ball on the importance of knowing when a data visualisation might be inherently misleading perhaps because the data isn’t good
  • Question the data before using it. Understand target audience and how they like to consume data - Meg shares interesting findings from her research on this. Wider discussion about the different ways of presenting data, what can work/not work with a general audience. The importance of accompanying narrative/additional information, clarification of what a data visualisation tells us.
  • Mention of a book by Edward Tufte which is a great starting point for non academics interested in using data visualisation effectively


  • Meg’s new work on the negative impacts that human rights work can have on human rights workers’ mental health