Why are information systems important?

A human rights information system is much more than just a database. Simply put, it is a set of processes, tools and standards that allow human rights organisations to manage information strategically, work efficiently and safely, and communicate effectively about human right problems.

Simply put, a well-performing human rights information system will help a human rights NGO get the right information, to the right audience, in the right form, and at the right time.

The scenarios below explain the importance and value of a good information system:

Information is used because it is relevant

  • An NGO’s reporting is designed in such a way as to meet the requirements of its target audiences, making it easy to find the right information.
  • A communication submitted to a special rapporteur contains all the necessary facts to provide a strong case that cannot be easily discarded by the State receiving it.
  • Journalists easily find all the information they need to build a story: emotional cases studies to help tell the story, photos and video to illustrate, simple written explanations to highlight the human rights issues at stake.
  • Donors easily find information about the organisation’s strategies and activities, about what impact it has achieved and how.

Information is appreciated for its quality

  • A human rights NGO has a verification process to check all cases that are collected, before they are used. Its database stores information on the reliability of a source, allowing it to build its reports using the best information it has.
  • Over time, this increases the NGO’s credibility, as it acquires a reputation for producing top quality, verified reporting. Its opponents find it increasingly difficult to refute its advocacy claims, and more and more people appreciate it as a trustworthy source. The NGO finds greater interest and responsiveness from donors.

Information is easy to retrieve, internally

  • An NGO may have collected hundreds or thousands of testimonies about violations, but they are carefully organised in a database and can be easily retrieved by theme, by date, by type of violation… or any other useful way.
  • A question from a journalist requires an immediate response – with 3 or 4 mouse-clicks, the NGO’s researchers or advocates can easily pull up the relevant information from its databases and filing systems.
  • Three years from now, an NGO decides to build a report on gender discrimination – it can easily collect the information relevant from its information system, without having to go through mountains of paper archives.
  • An NGO needs to add a few new fields to its database? No problem, because the database was designed from the start to be flexible and accommodate such changes. No need to start from scratch.
  • NGO litigators need to collaborate on court cases, from several office locations. They log into a secure extranet to access all documents.
  • A human rights lawyer is coming close to missing a court deadline, which could in the case being dismissed. No problem, the NGO’s information system sends him or her an automatic email alert, and the litigation manager can track all deadlines on the calendar of her information system.
  • A donor wants an update the impact of a legal advice program? Simple. The program manager opens his information system and pulls out custom reports, showing the year’s interventions organised by type, location and level of impact.

Information is accessible, externally

Visitors to an organisation’s website find it easy and pleasant to browse. The sections are labeled using precise and understandable terms.

Although the website contains hundreds of reports and press releases, the visitors can home in on the content they are seeking, in a few clicks of the mouse: by type of violation, by date, by topic, by country.

The visitors of an NGO website can sign up for email alerts, which send them updates straight to their inbox. They keep returning to the website, and the visibility of the NGO increases.

Information is safe and secure

  • A laptop containing valuable data is lost or stolen? No problem, its hard drive was encrypted so its contents are safe. Its data was also backed up to another hard drive, and is easy to restore.
  • An NGO’s litigation unit loses most of its paper case files in an overnight fire. Fortunately, the NGO has a digitization policy, and the most important documents from each file are safely scanned and backed up. The unit can continue its work unaffected.

Information systems… and HURIDOCS’ role

The human rights sector has its own specific information needs. For example, documenting violations or handling litigation cases. Therefore:

  • HURIDOCS needs to drive innovation in such tools, by investing in research and development, to ensure that human rights organisations are well equipped in the years to come.
  • HURIDOCS needs to continue providing its network with timely and valuable advice and expertise, and ensure exchange of learning and experience among its members.