On April 7th 2016 at the M&E Thursday Talks were happy to host Gina Lentine and Kelly Skeith, of Freedom House, for a discussion on Remote Monitoring: Lessons from Democracy & Governance.
Freedom House (FH) promotes the spread of freedom and democracy around the world through research, advocacy, and programs that support frontline activists. FH is a leader in identifying threats to freedom through our highly regarded analytic reports, including Freedom in the World, Freedom of the Press, Freedom on the Net, and Nations in Transit and with over 13 field offices and two U.S. offices, FH supports the right of every individual to be free through targeted programming and advocacy. As many organizations working in the democracy and governance, human rights and peacebuilding fields know, this work is often conducted in dynamic and fragile environments with vulnerable or marginalized populations and, many times, in places considered closed or closing to civil society or international support. Despite these constraints FH still strives to effectively monitor programs’ effectiveness, relevance, and impact while also following a Do No Harm approach that ensures FH takes into account the ethical responsibilities that they have to their program participants.
In 2015, FH began a project in conjunction with the Canadian government’s Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force (START) to provide support to human rights defenders (HRDs), civil society organizations (CSOs), and other independent actors in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. This project focuses on empowering human rights defenders to safely and effectively monitor and document abuses in an extremely difficult environment, and supports advocacy for international action in response to grave violations.
Gina and Kelly used this project to illustrate some of the successes and challenges that they have had monitoring their work in a difficult to access environment, including the security and ethical considerations they face and how they have tried to mitigate these issues.
About the Speakers
On behalf of Kezia Lavan,
Have the security audits led to any changes in how the partners managed their own security? This is something I am working on. Any follow up answer you could give would be much appreciated, thanks.
The security audits did lead to changes in how the partners managed their own security. This was particularly the case for the digital security audits. While many of our partners and interlocutors had some familiarity with different encryption platforms and why it is important to use them, until the audit and skills test happened, until they had an opportunity to have an experienced trainer explain to them why digital security is important and which platforms are not safe, they were not as active and vigilant as they could have been in implementing these measures. I think one thing that was particularly significant for them was the reaffirmation that Facebook is not a secure platform, and that for closed conversations about Crimea, it is better to use free, user-friendly secure software such as Signal or Peerio. Signal became especially popular among our partners, and they reported back to us that this is their preferred and most commonly used mode of secure communication.
On behalf of Marzia Faraz, National Democratic Institute, How did you manage to bring your partners on board in Crimea, Russia and Belarus, given the difficult environment in the peninsula?
The Freedom House Eurasia program has been working in the region for over ten years, during which we made connections with partners and actors when the environments in Russia and Crimea in particular were less closed than they are presently. We have deep and active networks in Russia, Crimea, and Belarus, thanks to both our staff in DC and in our Vilnius-based field office (which has a lot of expertise particularly on Belarus). We still have active work and partnerships in Russia and Belarus, and we take extra precautions to ensure that our communication with them is carried out in a secure way so as to keep them from being harmed, and that their identities are protected. Also, our partners in Ukraine have deep networks in Crimea: one of the representatives of one of our partner organizations is an internally displaced person from the peninsula, so she has active networks there. There are also several Crimean Tatars (who now live in exile) and internally displaced persons who are active in the Crimea Coalition, the network of 30 organizations from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus that works on human rights issues in Crimea, with which we collaborated under the project.
On behalf of Lloyd Masomera, What type of indicators do you recommend mostly when working in difficult environments, quantitative or qualitative especially begin fully aware of data collection limitations?
I don’t think there is a specific type of indicator that is better than another. It depends on what type of result you are trying to measure. Ideally your M&E plans have a mix of both types of indicators. Quantitative indicators tend to dominate in M&E plans, but it is important to remember that some factors cannot be represented numerically, such as many important social and political variables. My advice is to consider each output, outcome (sometimes called intermediate results), and objective you are trying to measure and determine the best source(s) and tools to effectively measure achievement of the expected result. Sometimes the best sources and tools are not realistic for the environment so then a secondary data source or tool is needed. And remember, you can quantify qualitative data as needed.
On behalf of Gaspar Rodriguez, The Fletcher School , Can you expand a bit on why there were so many layers for the data collection process? Looking back, how would you reduce those layers?
Our project management team is not able to enter Crimea; therefore, we rely on our partners and human rights defenders to collect the data. In many cases, these people on the ground cannot simply call or email their data directly to offices in Washington DC. In these instances, we need to have interlocutors retrieve the data from people on the ground and either analyze and send it to Washington or send it directly onto Washington. Obviously, things can get lost in these transmissions and it is difficult for our staff in DC to verify the data or ask more questions of the data collectors on the ground. One way to reduce the impact that the layers have on the usefulness of the data is to set up a secure storage system for the data that all parties can access and continue to provide training to the partners and data collectors so they are clear on the data collection needs and process. One suggestion I would make to reduce the layers is for staff in DC to be in touch directly with the coordinator who communicates with the interlocutors inside the peninsula. In our case, our program manager was in touch with the director of the organization, who was in touch with the coordinator, who was in touch with the interlocutors. That would be one method to reducing the layers. The important piece here of course would be to ensure use of a digitally secure method of communication.