‘OPERA’ in operation: sharing insights and learning on applying CESR’s monitoring framework

Structural injustices in our socioeconomic systems – at the local, national, and global levels – are the root cause of many of the world’s most pervasive human rights violations. This is particularly true of chronic deprivations of economic, social and cultural rights, such as widespread poverty, hunger and death from preventable disease. Interdisciplinary approaches to human rights research can help uncover the injustice behind these deprivations, by providing more compelling evidence of the links between poor economic and social policies and their human rights impacts.   

To support activists and advocates in analysing public policies through the lens of human rights, CESR created ‘OPERA’, an analytical framework that systematically examines the normative standards and principles underpinning states’ obligation to fulfill economic, social and cultural rights. The framework tackles four dimensions of this obligation; Outcomes, Policy Efforts, Resources, in order to make an overall Assessment. As well as identifying what questions need to be answered to measure relevant norms, it also suggests tools and techniques for how these questions can be answered.

We have supported a broad variety of actors within and beyond the human rights field – from local grassroots activists through to international organizations – to make use of OPERA. A request we frequently receive is for examples of its application in practice. In response, we have put together a series of short case studies that show the versatility of the framework.

The first case studies in the series – from Kenya, Ireland, Angola, and Egypt – illustrate some of the diverse ways that OPERA can be applied:

  • In Angola and Kenya, the framework facilitated investigations into a particular right (maternal health and mental health respectively), while in Egypt and Ireland the analysis considered policy responses to economic crises arising in two very different contexts.
  • In Kenya, the research team used qualitative field-based tools, while the other examples used desk-based research tools that relied heavily on quantitative data.
  • In Egypt and Kenya, the four steps of OPERA were followed in order, while in Ireland and Angola particular steps or sub-steps were zoomed in on or reordered.
  • In Kenya and Ireland, the research resulted in detailed reports, while in Egypt and Angola it fed into materials that supported advocacy before the United Nations treaty bodies, including a Visualizing Rights factsheet.

In almost all of these cases, quantitative data was a key element. By showing trends and patterns, data helps to debunk myths, reveal new insights and, ultimately, expose systematic injustices. Data on public finances is particularly important for answering questions on Resources. That said, the cases also illustrate another unique feature of OPERA: that the tools and techniques used with it can be changed and adapted, depending on the objectives and context of a particular project.

In sharing these case studies, our aim is to give a more practical picture of OPERA and to inspire others to think about how it could be applied, drawn on, or adapted for different projects.