Skip to main content

Let's Talk Human Rights

Beyond Peril and Potential: Insights from SPHR 2021 (Part 2)

By Satang Nabaneh, Joel Pruce, Shelley Inglis, & Alfredo Ortiz Aragón

In late 2021, we gathered to tackle the question: What does human rights advocacy look like in the wake of the global pandemic? The Social Practice of Human Rights (SPHR) conference theme - "Between Peril and Potential" - responded to the multiple and overlapping crises we're experiencing with fierce urgency. At SPHR21, we asked participants to consider whether current human rights methods, strategies, and approaches are comprehensive, deep, and bold enough to meet this moment and leverage it for increased justice and dignity. This SPHR21 blog series captures discussions that occurred during the conference and reflects the innovative methods used to harness insights and promote action.

Harvesting our learning from the conference

SPHR 2021 provided a space for compelling dialogue and conversations related to the conference theme in a hybrid format. For the first time, this year we also created moments to collectively interpret the ideas and knowledge being shared through action research methods, including using the on-line audience response system Padlet and hosting a World Café. As another innovation, we also engaged Stephen Kroeger, a creative documentor, who simultaneously documented through drawing the key interactions and moments of our SPHR plenary conversations. The conference Padlet allowed us to capture immediate insights on peoples’ reactions to the various keynotes, plenaries and panels, while the World Café provided a space for collective reflection at the closing of the event. These methods structured our learning approach and enabled us to collect data that we synthesized using grounded theory into major takeaways. 

Here we explain how we went from capturing reflections at the conference to learning from the information we collected and distilling it all into new insights. At the heart of this process is an intention to utilize methods that reinforce the human rights values we espouse. We wanted to be able to learn from SPHR 2021 in a new and innovative way.  

World Café

The World Café methodology is a simple, effective, and flexible format for hosting large group dialogue to reflect collectively. Our Executive Advisory Committee member, Rafael Hoetmer, and colleague, Alfredo Ortiz Aragón hosted the World Café. Their brief presentation covered the seven design principles of the dialogue: (1) setting the context: the purpose, the parameters of meeting, the themes or discussion questions, and defining the participants; (2) creating hospitable space or a welcoming physical setup of the meeting; (3) exploring questions that matter; (4) encouraging everyone’s contribution; (5) connecting diverse perspectives through “cross-pollination” of ideas, allowing participants to meet and engage with new people, actively linking the essence of one’s own discoveries to those of other participants; (6) listening together for patterns and insights; and (7) sharing, or gathering, collective discoveries.

screen-shot-2022-04-19-at-2.47.29-pm.pngOur World Café began on the last evening of SPHR 2021, with two twenty-minute rounds of conversation. After twenty minutes, each group member moved to a different new table, leaving one person to serve as the “table host” for the next round. Round one of conversation focused on the question: What have we learned about the social practice of human rights in the last two days?, and round two responded to the question “What concrete methods, practices and tools have you learned about that are the most promising for your work?” Once the two discussion rounds ceased, the entire group met again in plenary. During the harvest period, group members summarized the findings from their table, focused on what we were not talking about, overall takeaways and how to put ideas into practice. In addition to discussions doodled on flip chart papers, or recorded on index cards after each round, we video recorded the final plenary discussion. After the data collection processes, a dedicated team got to work analyzing the ideas generated.

Using grounded theory 

Grounded theory is a way of developing theory that is grounded in and derived from experience. Specifically, the constructivist grounded theory approach1 involves an inductive analysis of data using various techniques, including coding, categorizing, memoing, mind mapping and dialogue. The grounded theory approach enabled us to deepen our inquiry and analysis of the conference. As Kathy Charmaz encouraged, we “let the process emerge during the data analysis stage”.2 This process resulted in collaborative learning and collective reflection.

With the data mined using the World Cafe and Padlet during the conference, a two member team from the HRC worked individually to code the posts on the Padlet to describe or interpret the various inputs from a human rights and social practice of human rights perspectives, respectively. From the human rights perspective or “the what”, we used  codes like “#racial injustice in institutions” and “#role of universities.” From a social practice of human rights perspective or “the how”, our coding used gerunds (“-ing” words), in order to place action at the forefront. For example, we used codes such as “#organizing for grassroots activism” and “#training students to document abuses”, each of these referring to ideas recorded as posts from participants in the conference. For instance, during the session on the human right to housing, a participant posted about how the speakers active in various locations exchanged fresh and clever approaches each had taken to their work, which we coded as “#sharing innovations and ideas,” and this became a code we used elsewhere. Going beyond a summary of what people were reflecting on at the moment during the conference, we analyzed the implications of their inputs for the social practice of human rights or, in other words, defining the action that shapes or supports the data.3

In the next stage, we wrote memos by assessing the initial comments we made while coding in terms of the salient points for the HRC’s work, in order to interact more extensively with the data. We chose at least five of the most important posts that resonated with us from the memo, based on at least two relevant codes we gave those posts in order to show evidence that supported our conclusion. These posts were integrated into two individual cluster concept maps that drew out the main insights and their connections to the original Padlet posts. Being able to trace our findings back to their origins speaks to “recoverability,”4 or the intentional practice of leaving bread crumbs as clues that provide audiences the option to engage with the inquiry itself by tracing back how the researchers arrived at their findings.5 Through a collaborative process, we then combined the two individual maps into one consolidated map from the Padlet. 

We also used grounded theory to assess data from the World Café from flip charts, index cards, post-it notes and the recording. Transcriptions of the recordings of the conversations allowed for tracing the context in which statements were made and feedback given during the plenary. We combined these into a map of emerging concepts for each phase of the World Cafe. Through several meetings and iterations by the team, we created a consolidated map, informing our key takeaways from the conference. We were able to identify connections with the data and develop answers to the question of what we have learned about SPHR concepts, methods, practices, and tools. 

Creating space for reflection and dialogue

Integrating these methods into SPHR 2021 resulted in dialogue initiation and served as effective and practical communications tools to generate insights from the conference beyond the structured sessions of keynotes, plenaries and roundtable. This also created an opportunity for sharing stories as participants were able to engage on a more personal level using these methods. 

More importantly, these methods which engaged scholars and practitioners highlighted the importance of dialogue and communicative spaces for reflection and critique, resulting in new insights and knowledge on the social practice of human rights.

We’ve all had the experience of sharing brilliant and fruitful conversations in class, at a conference, or at the coffee shop. Action research methods, as we used during this SPHR, seek to ensure that the knowledge production and understanding that occur in these spaces don’t just stay in these spaces. Instead, if we’re able to implement thoughtful practices for reflection, collection, and learning, we can preserve brilliance and put it to work in the service of human rights praxis.

Charmaz, K. (2014), Grounded Theory in Global Perspective: Reviews by International Researchers. London: Sage Publications.

Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide through Qualitative Analysis. London: Sage Publications.

Charmaz, K. (2003). Grounded theory: Objectivist and constructivist methods. In N. K. Denzin, & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Strategies for qualitative inquiry (2nd ed., pp. 249-291). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Checkland, P., & Holwell, S. E. (1998). Action research: its nature and validity. Systemic Practice and Action Research11(1), 9-21.

Checkland, P., & Poulter, J. (2010). Soft systems methodology. In M. Reynolds & S. Holwell (Eds.), Systems approaches to 10 SAGE Open managing change: A practical guide (pp. 191-242). New York, NY: Springer.

Previous Post

For One Day One Dayton, students consider what they have gained by working with the HRC

Through internships, fellowships and other engagement opportunities the HRC provides many different learning opportunities to students at UD. For One Day One Dayton this year our current interns reflect on how working at the HRC has impacted their time at UD.
Read More
Next Post

Africa in Our Century: A Reflection

HRC intern, Janaya Thompson, reflects on what she has learned about Africa’s past and present through her course work and the Global Voices Symposium in March 2022.

Read More