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human rights, NGOs, poverty, advocacy


Policy Design, Analysis, and Evaluation


Human rights-based approaches (HRBAs) promise greater alignment of development efforts with universal norms, as well as a focus on the root causes of poverty. While HRBAs have been widely adopted across the development sector, there is little systematic evidence about the actual impact of this strategic shift. Evaluating the effectiveness of HRBAs is challenging because various non-governmental and other organizations have developed very different understandings of how to apply a rights-based framework in the development context. This essay takes a step toward the rigorous evaluation of HRBAs by offering a comprehensive review of rights-based programming implemented by Plan International, a child-centered organization. It shows that Plan’s adoption of HRBA-inspired strategies has transformed its interactions with local communities and added an explicit focus on the state as the primary duty bearer. There is evidence for a systematic increase in individual rights awareness, greater ownership exercised by community organizations, and the application of evidence-based advocacy aimed at scaling up proven program activities. But Plan’s peculiar brand of HRBA neglects collaboration with domestic social movements and civil society, largely avoids a more confrontational approach towards the state, and has yet to produce evidence for regular successful rights claims by disadvantaged communities against governmental representatives at local, regional, or national levels. The study also reveals a limited ability of Plan to address disparities and discrimination within local communities, as well as a need to define clearly the organization’s own accountability and duties deriving from its presence in local communities across more than fifty developing nations.