From Needs-Based to Human Rights-Based Approaches

Table 9.2 highlights important differences between needs-based and human rights-based approaches, and the implications for results information. As noted in the previous section, a rights-based approach requires substantive equality and that vulnerable or marginalized users participate in program development (see, e.g., Ljungman, Forti, & Mikkelsen, 2005). Without suggesting that rights-based and needs-based approaches are mutually exclusive, the following table highlights important differences for the purposes of understanding why a HRBA reorients how programs are conceived and developed. A HRBA does not accept unanticipated (let alone planned) results favoring the wealthy or privileged as an acceptable outcome of policy design.

Needs-based approaches tend to focus on effectiveness, efficiency, and equity and outputs, without necessarily concentrating on human impacts. Needs-based approaches do not always generate disaggregated results information to determine impacts on the most vulnerable and marginalized populations. The results of needs-based approaches can operate to mask unequal, discriminatory outcomes.

Table 9.2 Needs-based versus human rights-based approaches

Needs-based approach

Human rights-based approach

Policies and programs emerge from an assessment grounded in broad socioeconomic indicators without a normative foundation. Generic needs of the population are identified.

Programs and policies are clearly and explicitly based on human rights norms, including international human rights standards. While human needs are central to HRBA, the filter used to determine the policy approach includes an assessment of the extent to which the approach responds to human rights norms.

Needs-based approaches are grounded in the goodwill of the donor or funder and are seen as privileges or optional programs that govermnent can take up or dispense with at will.

Rights-based approaches recognize that States have a legal obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights, and that public policy is a critical means of fulfilling those obligations.

Users ask for services but are not necessarily empowered in the process.

Rights holders participate in democratic processes and hold the duty bearer (State) to account. The development of policies and programs involves rights holders themselves and obtains their input through participatory and consultative processes.

In short, needs-based approaches are not consciously connected to human rights norms and are indifferent to the achievement of rights and freedoms or to the particular outcomes experienced by those who are protected by human rights law (unless, again, the project framework is itself rights-based).

A HRBA on the other hand, pays attention to people and explicitly uses human rights as normative principles from the outset, drawing from the identified gaps in program delivery as identified through consultation. A rights-based approach focuses on equality, non-discrimination, accountability, transparency, and participation. As an approach, a HRBA consciously connects policy and program outputs to impacts on people, and especially those who are voiceless and marginalized. A HRBA actively seeks compliance or at least consistency with international human rights law, national constitutional laws, and local standards. As a practical matter, then, a rights-based approach reorients programmatic and strategic objectives, starting with an overview of the relevant human rights standards.

Baseline information can provide a foundation for understanding the starting point of the project, but it needs disaggregated data to analyze differential impacts across particular populations and geographic or regional areas, especially rural areas that may be underserved. Once marginalized and vulnerable communities are identified, and the impacts of a particular policy or program are determined, it becomes much easier to redesign programs to prioritize those who are least well off. A HRBA leads to specific and targeted performance indicators that genuinely reflect human rights standards. As noted earlier, consultation of key groups is essential, as is the monitoring of impacts using evaluation frameworks to permit adjustments to programs.

Guidelines from both the UN and World Bank show how the gap between “supply” and "demand” of the results information could be reduced by observing the following general principles in the process of consultation and participation exercises designed to elicit information from participants:

  • Obligations to participants: Evaluations should respect and protect the rights and welfare of women and men, and the communities of which they are members;
  • Participation and inclusion: Evaluations should always consult people in evaluated organizations and project beneficiaries, especially those who are voiceless, marginalized, and most in need of the services;
  • Respect for dignity and diversity: Evaluations should respect differences in culture, local customs, religious beliefs and practices, personal interaction, sex and gender roles, disability, age, and ethnicity. Evaluators should be mindful of the potential implications of these differences when planning, carrying out, and reporting on evaluations, while using evaluation instruments appropriate to the cultural setting;
  • Right to self-determination: Evaluations should treat prospective participants as autonomous agents, allowing adequate time and information to decide whether subjects wish to participate, without pressure or fear of penalty for not participating. From human rights and gender equality perspectives, this implies carefully considering the particular issues and challenges faced by women and men who are at high risk of having their rights violated, and the constraints and potential risks of their participation;
  • Fair representation: Evaluators should select participants fairly in relation to the aims of the evaluation, not simply because of their availability, or because it is relatively easy to secure their participation. Care should be taken to ensure the participation of women and men who are relatively powerless, "hidden,” or otherwise excluded;
  • Compliance with codes of behavior and ethics: Evaluators must be aware of and comply with international and/or national legal provisions and principles governing, for example, interviewing children, young people, and people who are traumatized. In addition, evaluators must acknowledge and understand the cultural norms that may favor or undermine the participation of community members involved in the evaluation, particularly those most vulnerable (e.g., victims of sexual violence). Individual agencies may also impose additional ethical guidelines specific to their mandate, which evaluators should consult when applicable (e.g., ethics of research involving young children or vulnerable groups);
  • • Redress: Stakeholders should receive sufficient information on:
  • • Elow to seek redress for any perceived disadvantage suffered from the evaluation or any projects it covers; and
  • • How to register a complaint concerning the conduct of an implementing or executing agency. In human rights and gender equality-responsive evaluation, specific mechanisms to cater for the need for redress by women and individuals/groups who are marginalized and/or discriminated against must be in place;
  • Confidentiality: Evaluators must respect the right to provide information in confidence and should make participants aware of the scope and limits of confidentiality. Evaluators must ensure that sensitive information cannot be traced to its source, thus ensuring that individuals, particularly women and individuals/groups who are most discriminated against, are protected from reprisals;
  • Avoidance of harm: Evaluators should seek to minimize risks to, and burdens on, those participating in the evaluation; and to maximize the benefits and reduce any unnecessary harm that might occur from negative or critical evaluation, without compromising the integrity of the evaluation. Evaluators must be aware of the risks faced by those women and individuals/groups most discriminated against in speaking freely about rights violations;
  • Respect for the rule of law: Evaluators should always ensure that all interventions and evaluation activities are in compliance with national and local human rights law and norms, and must ensure that evaluation goals, outputs and outcomes are consistent with these laws and norms (Adapted from UNEG, 2014; World Bank, 2013).

The following section explores two examples. The first example shows the failure of these principles in the context of public transit in Canada. The second is a successful public works program in Sweden.

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