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Let's Talk Human Rights

SPHR19: A Call for Innovation and Creativity in Advocacy

By Lucas Paulson

As part of the 2019 Social Practice of Human Rights Conference, the University of Dayton Human Rights Center and OpenGlobalRights collaborated with JustLabs to facilitate creative prototyping workshops around the conference’s three main themes: Eco-Economic Transformation, Technological Transformation, and Social & Political Transformation. 


JustLabs is a global collective working to transform the human rights movement by creating spaces for innovating, testing, and sharing solutions. JustLabs approaches problem-solving by bringing together strategies from a variety of traditions and disciplines, including cognitive psychology, design-thinking, foresight, popular education, and contemplative practices. The lab methodology is designed to move participants from deep analysis of a problem to visualizing and bringing to life simple yet creative solutions. The Social Practice of Human Rights workshops were designed to push participants to produce solutions, while giving them a taste of the broader lab methodology that JustLabs uses to develop narrative campaigns around the world


Each lab began with dynamic activities to open participants up to thinking creatively, to encourage teamwork, and to help organize participants into smaller groups. Once in teams, groups worked to create problem statements that identified a specific challenge, without becoming so specific as to limit solutions. The teams gathered together to present their initial problem statements and collect feedback before returning to their groups to revise.

The next stage was to contextualize the problem by mapping actors on the overlapping spectrums of affected by issue, motivated to act, and influence. After a “sensing” break (where participants were encouraged to survey non-participants to bring outside knowledge into the room) and another dynamic activity, groups began solutions brainstorming. This started with a round robin writing exercise, where participants wrote their individual ideas for solutions, and provided each other with constructive feedback by passing their papers in turn for comment.

The final stage was prototyping, where groups were tasked with bringing their ideas to life their by communicating it in a way that conveyed the experience at the core of the idea. Prototypes varied from storyboards to skits to interactive playdough exhibits.


The SPHR labs provided a condensed version of what is usually the first step in a long iterative process of testing, revision, and implementation. Reinforcing the conference’s focus on the practice of human rights, these snapshots were planned for providing the experience of solutions-thinking. While challenged by the quick pace and the broad topic categories, participants were able to produce thought-provoking problem statements and solutions. These statements varied from deconstructing whiteness through visual mediums to developing technology for and with social movements.

Prototypes were equally diverse, including the How colorful is your city TOOLKIT of local indicators to help build movements for SDG implementation locally; Woke, INC., a company that funds pitches for engaging racism through multimedia; a campaign with the university basketball team to encourage action on the climate crisis; and a Corporate Capture Cartoon featuring stories of how corporate capture affects everyday people around the country. 

Together, both the products and the process of the labs speak to the broader aims of the conference: get participants thinking about creative, tangible solutions to the complex problems to which the SPHR space is devoted.

Highlights of problem statements and their corresponding solutions are:

“OUR STORIES / WHAT THEY SHOULD BE”dayton_soc_dorm3_small.jpgProblem Statement: How might we deconstruct whiteness through the use of visual culture, because the perpetuation of racism takes place in the visual realm.

Prototype: “Our stories / What they should be” pitched a semi-permanent multimedia installation in a dorm room helping to make visible and heard people of color’s experiences on university campuses, as well as their wishes/visions for a more just campus culture. Presented in playdough, this prototype envisioned an interactive space that localizes conversations about racism, complete with recorded, multi-generational stories, resources, and opportunities to contribute.



Problem Statement: Social movements use the technology that is currently available (kind of). How might we better design/adapt technology for and with social movements because existing technology is beholden to interests that can run counter to the aims/goals of human rights.

Prototype: The Student-Tech Development Competition pitched the idea of a regionally-sponsored national competition to develop technological tools for social movements. Leveraging the socially-conscious potential of mid-sized regional business, the competition would be sponsored by university departments and such businesses, and would call for students to put together a multidisciplinary team, seek expert inputs, and propose a design for unique technology made specifically for social movements. The campaign was acted out, and the team proposed a physical plug-in for a cellphone that allowed for users to easily communicate off-network, and which could be discarded quickly if needed. The pitch was designed for use in areas where social movements face intense repression and surveillance (Hong Kong, Climate Strike, etc). 




Problem Statement: How might we create a tool that anyone can use to connect/assess our decisions to solutions as consumers/changemakers for climate justice because changing our behavior as consumers will not solve the climate crisis. We need mobilization towards bigger solutions. Key concepts: tool, decisions, and assessment towards more radical approaches. 

Prototype: Solutions Harvest was an idea pitched to combat activism fatigue and  build a sense of local community within the university around big problems like the climate crisis. This prototype provides time off from university duties to work in a community garden that will help support the university dining service. It begins with the “Solutions Harvest”, a day where university members (at all levels) gather together for a meal to discuss environmental challenges they face in their work, and possible solutions/alterations that could address them. Iterations of this meal would continue to occur—through mixing the university community for cross-cutting conversations—as a way of continuing to build support and local action on climate. Concurrently, the university would begin a community garden, where everyone at the university would be given one day/month free to work. In this way, the university would actively build a space community, contribute to local climate solutions, and build in time for self-care.

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