Advancing Understanding and Practice in Human Rights
The Oxford Human Rights Hub (OxHRH) was set up in 2012 by Professor Sandra Fredman from the Law Faculty with the aim of bringing together academics, practitioners, and policy-makers from across the globe. Supported by a grant from the Higher Studies Fund, the OxHRH strives to facilitate a better understanding of human rights principles, to develop new approaches to policy, and to influence the development of human rights law and practice.
One of the key challenges of the project included trying to find innovative ways to harness digital technology to reach out and create a global community of human rights researchers, and so the OxHRH blog was born.
Blogging on a Global Scale
The OxHRH blog is hosted on a WordPress-based site and features short, incisive analyses of new developments in human rights law, each written by a specialist. The blog is distinctive in that it invites high-level contributions from authors in many jurisdictions, giving it the advantage of multiple expert perspectives.
Contributors include senior counsel, judges, professors and UN special rapporteurs, as well as graduate students, pupil barristers and early career lecturers. Seven strategically selected regional correspondents reach out to people in their areas of the globe and open up local, and previously inaccessible, contacts. This approach opens up new knowledge and lends itself to an authoritative comparative analysis, since each contributor has a firm understanding of the nuances of their country’s legal system. Comparative perspectives that have emerged spontaneously include expert analyses on new developments on sexual orientation from countries including the USA, India, Israel, Cameroon, New Zealand and Chile.
The strict 700-word limit requires authors to engage in a high level of discipline to refine their arguments. It also makes blogs more accessible to the target audience and more easily readable on mobile devices (important because smartphones are becoming the primary vehicle for accessing the internet in developing countries).
Posts are tagged on the basis of 12 categories, which can easily be filtered by readers. This provides an opportunity for researchers and students to detect trends, develop explanations and formulate models for future development.
All posts are carefully vetted by the small team of editors (led by DPhil student Laura Hilly), who ensure a high standard of academic rigour.
The blog is complemented by other aspects of the OxHRH website, which features news from the network, podcasts, videos and photographs of OxHRH seminar series and conferences, and pro bono projects.
Updates to the blog are disseminated across social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Flickr. These constitute a strong network in themselves, with close to 3,000 Twitter followers.
A round-up of blog posts is distributed to subscribers of the OxHRH newsletter every two weeks, so they can be made available to readers who do not generally use social media channels. To make the posts even more accessible, some are translated into Spanish and/or French by the multi-lingual editorial team.
Because of the spontaneous way in which comparative perspectives on similar issues have emerged, it was decided to collect the blogs thematically into a freely available e-book as a resource for researchers, practitioners or policy-makers to gain more holistic picture of individual issues. Launched on 22 April 2014 the e-book, entitled Global Perspectives on Human Rights (right), attracted over 1,500 views in the first two weeks.
Making a Difference
Overall, the OxHRH blog is designed to be both a valuable resource to those conducting comparative human rights research and a democratic space in which people anywhere in the world can feel that they are part of these discussions and can contribute in a meaningful way. It now features pieces by more than 150 experts from 25 countries and attracts over 10,000 unique visitors each month.
The impact of the OxHRH has gone beyond simply ‘academics speaking to academics’, as the team has been approached by influential figures involved in human rights law and the blog has been referenced by key external organisations.
Furthermore, the blog has proved a useful tool for teaching real-life case studies of human rights law in action to undergraduate students.
Promising outcomes from a video conversation with law students at the University of New South Wales and a webinar with Harvard University have encouraged the OxHRH to look towards leading global webinars where researchers from across the world can log in and view live human rights law debates from any location.
Words of Wisdom
- While capitalising on multiple communication channels such as social media it is important also to cater for the needs of less IT-savvy readers: hence the publication of a printable newsletter and the availability of the e-book in print format (which is sold at cost).
- Quality of content is key. By maintaining a rigorously high standard for contributions the blog retains intellectual and scholarly credibility.
IT Services offers Engage: Social Media Michaelmas, an annual programme of talks, courses, and workshops on using digital technologies for public engagement, outreach, and knowledge exchange.
The IT Learning Programme runs introductory courses on blogging and on building a WordPress site. See also an informative blog post, How to write better to encourage more people to read your blog, by Alun Edwards of the Education Enhancement Team in IT Services.