Improving the rights based approach of 16 civil society organisations (CSOs) around the world

Location: Global - partners from Kenya, DRC, Somalia, Mali, Ethiopia, Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia, Georgia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Bangladesh, The Netherlands, Ghana

Dates: 2008-10  Duration: 30 months

Implementing Organisation/ Funder Oxfam Novib

My Role: Process Design and Facilitation - research, design and development, facilitation, implementation and accompaniment, documenting, monitoring and evaluation throughout the process (2008-2010)

Methods/ Approach

Participatory action learning

Participatory monitoring

Participatory planning and strategic development

On-line collaboration and e-learning


Oxfam Novib was committed to working through a rights-based approach (RBA).  A RBA aims at redressing injustice, enlarging choices of men and women, without discrimination and seeking accountability of multiple actors. Conceived from the notion of universality, interdependence and indivisibility of rights it calls upon the protection of law. However, first of all a RBA proceeds from and is built on the realities of women and men who want to overcome poverty and injustice.

They initiated this 3-year learning trajectory in order to address on-going critical issues with the rights-based approach (RBA), active citizenship and inclusive democracy.  It was also an opportunity to invest more into the Right to be Heard the Right to an Identity through the on-going programmes.

In this learning trajectory we bought together 16 counterpart organisations all wanting to improve their RBA and representing different sectors and approaches, including health, education, livelihoods, human rights and legal advocacy. By enabling these organisations to come together in a learning community the aim was to engage them in a process of knowledge sharing, collaboration and peer learning. This would speak to a number of critical issues which needed to be addressed to improve RBA performance. I designed and facilitated the learning community through an on-going action learning process which was organized around in-person collaborative week long meetings once a year and online learning and exchange through the OxfamKIC portal.


Together with the implementing organisation, Oxfam Novib, we designed a blended learning process which involved annual face-to-face meetings supported in the interim through individual discussions and mentoring and online learning through the KIC portal – sharing of good practice and online discussion forums. The process and the annual meetings (Ghana, The NL and Indonesia) were designed to build upon the knowledge and experience of the partners through dialogue and collaboration which was then fed into their practice.

The participants generated the questions both before and in the meetings themselves and as the process moved along. These formed the basis of discussion in the meetings, but also online collaborative discussions and forums. Feedback loops were kept short through the sharing of practice online and the discussion to promote an iterative learning cycle of experience – reflection – adaption/ improvement – implementation. The constant learning was facilitated by interaction with the partners on a regular basis through online individual interviews/ conversations and collective discussions. Developments and examples of good practice were shared online and formed the basis of some of the collective forums.


In 2005 a comprehensive Oxfam Novib study explored how the RBA works in practice and gathered case studies from 24 counterpart organisations. It analysed the approach so far and identified a number of crucial issues that needed to be addressed in order to improve the RBA performance.

It formulated a checklist of 5 RBA elements against which case studies could be analysed. These were:

  1. Analysis of underlying causes of poverty and injustice
  2. Including the disadvantaged in the analysis, design and implementation of the development project
  3. Working from a holistic perspective
  4. Making use of human rights principles enshrined in International HRL
  5. Rights holders and duty bearers

The study found that in general working with a holistic perspective and linking service delivery or awareness-raising to lobby seemed to generate better results, when the different activities are well connected to each other. The learning trajectory focused upon improving the practice of the counterpart organisations in these 5 areas of practice.



Local realities should inform RBA work and provide an entry point. Yet context can be questionable and even negative for an RBA – how do we deal with this and how do we overcome the differences in the way in which HR and development orgs display in their analysis of a situation?


What are the boundaries of cooperation with the government on the one hand and seeking the government’s accountability on the other hand? To what extent does working closely with the state risk loss of autonomy?


In the case of addressing duty bearers other than the State, the question is whether an insufficient call for state obligations in the domain of rights leads to the weakening of rights protection?


Programmes designed and implemented using principles of RBA

Application of RBA principles across sectors using different approaches

mbedding RBA principles into organisational systems and structures

Greater internal and external accountability to primary stakeholders

New methods and approaches to applying the RBA in different sectors

Increased knowledge sharing and collaboration of participants