Making Human Rights Campaigns Effective While Limiting Unintended Consequences (2017)

A Literature Review on Human Rights

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Research Team:

In 2016, USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance launched its Learning Agenda—a set of research questions designed to address the issues that confront staff in USAID field offices working on the intersection of development and democracy, human rights, and governance. This literature review—produced by a team of political scientists, sociologists, and lawyers—synthesizes scholarship from diverse research traditions on the following Learning Agenda question:

What are the consequences of human rights awareness campaigns? What makes a human rights awareness campaign successful? Why do many campaigns fail? What are the unintended negative consequences of both successful and failed campaigns? How do local norms and other cultural factors constrain or enable the translation of campaigns from one context to another?

This report synthesizes scholarship bearing on these questions from diverse research traditions and assesses the interdisciplinary state of knowledge regarding the effects, both intended and unintended, of human rights awareness campaigns and the characteristics that make such awareness campaigns effective. This review is divided into five sections:

  • A broad overview of the steps involved in designing an effective awareness campaign.
  • A review of research on campaigns generally, drawn from a broad range of fields, such as marketing, communications, public health, and political science.
  • An overview of human rights awareness campaigns specifically, building on the well-known precept that to be successful, human rights campaigns must be adapted to the local context. The authors identify the mechanisms that facilitate and the barriers that impede local adaption, particularly the use of frames. Drawing on framing theory, the report highlights four points in communication where framing is critical: contexts, communicators, targeted populations, and message design.
  • A discussion of effective media strategies, including ways to approach both traditional and new media, with the most effective campaigns combining traditional print media strategies with new social media forms.
  • A discussion of the unintended negative consequences of campaigns, including backlash, confusion, desensitization, and/or frustration among targeted audience. This section also identifies the typical causes of these outcomes and ways to avoid them.
USAID Democracy Fellows and Grants Program

Democracy Fellows and Grants Program

Democracy Fellows and Grants Program