From September 2021 to February 2022, four community activists from Difference NE, Intisaar, The Annexe at The Wharton Trust and Sheppey is Ours! joined the Social Rights Alliance’s first ever Community Researchers project to use action research to explore what economic, social and cultural rights mean in their communities, and how a Human Rights-Based Approach can add value to their activism.
To maximise the impact of the project, the Just Fair team and Community Researchers has worked with an evaluation team to capture learning from the project. Here we share six key findings and recommendations from their report.
1. Online meetings have real value.
Post-pandemic groups of activists should continue with online meetings where possible, as they are accessible and inclusive when well-run. In-person sessions should take place when their aims can’t be achieved online.
Although there are some things we miss when meetings are held online (such as general chit-chat and catching up over a coffee), the Community Researchers project has shown that online spaces can be safe, ethical, accessible, and inclusive.
2. Finding common ground in a diverse group takes time.
Activists tend to be more practiced in testimonies that reflect on a single identity (such as disability) and need time and practice to present their whole self. Giving time to develop narratives supports a diverse group to recognise common ground.
Giving time for these narratives is essential for meaningful and accessible participation. To allow for such a space, there must be a facilitator that ensures that each person has time and is heard, whilst they themselves are aware of the power imbalance they hold as a facilitator. Creating this space will also support diverse groups to recognise common ground.
3. Effective safeguarding is essential.
Building trust is an action. Activists often arrive tired and damaged by injustices they have experienced. Projects that can fund resources such as 1-2-1 support and counselling access should do so. For all projects, safeguarding effectively takes time and energy, but is essential.
Good safeguarding practice is something that must be continuously carried out and observed. To build on common ground and have this vigilance around safeguarding also takes time and emotional labour. Projects should provide support and counselling when funds are available, so that facilitators and those accountable can make themselves as vulnerable as activists.
Image by Amber Vittoria
4. Facilitators have a tricky balance to strike.
Tension between relinquishing power and maintaining accountability needs careful and constant reflection from the facilitator. They may benefit from an ally or mentor.
Whilst it is important to recognise power dynamics and make efforts to address them, those creating such spaces must also ensure that accountability structures remain concrete and are not drastically altered by the shifting of power.
5. Connection is key.
Activities that allow activists to recognise that their efforts are located within a network of projects and allies – for example, inviting external experts into the group – helps them feel connected and useful.
Giving space to activists to collectively extract learning enabled them to consider bridging their learning to issues within their local communities. Providing this helps activists feel connected and useful when they do not recognise their own input.
6. Rights can be tools.
One objective of future work could be to help activists see human rights as functional tools rather than legal instruments. Ownership of human rights is key. This can help challenge dominant narratives and deliver fresh thinking.
Under the Community Researchers project, this ownership has taken form in the shape of a human rights board game. Challenging dominant narratives and complicated language (such as the PANEL principles and general conceptions of human rights portrayed by the media) helps activists take ownership and realise human rights.
These valuable and important points of learning, together with the Community Researchers' ‘A Manifesto for a HRBA’, will inform the upcoming Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) audit of Just Fair’s Social Rights Alliance work. This will in turn inform our community outreach work going forward.