An important characteristic of OPERA is that it is grounded in, and enriched by, real experience. Through its practical application, OPERA has evolved into a versatile analytical framework for systematically examining the normative standards and principles underpinning states’ obligations to fulfill economic, social and cultural rights. CESR has supported a broad variety of actors within and beyond the human rights field—from local grassroots activists to international organizations—to employ OPERA, writing up case studies to share learning from these experiences.
In most cases, quantitative data was a key element in applying OPERA. By showing trends and patterns, data helps to debunk myths, reveal new insights and, ultimately, expose systematic injustices. These cases also illustrate another unique feature of OPERA: the tools and techniques it draws on can be changed and adapted, depending on the objectives and context of a particular project.
During 2008 and 2009, CESR conducted interdisciplinary research with the regional Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales (ICEFI) and local experts from health, political economy and social movement backgrounds to support an advocacy project on the rights to health, food and education in Guatemala. The final report on this research, Rights or privileges? Fiscal commitment to the rights to health, education and food in Guatemala integrated socioeconomic and legal analysis in the service of advocacy for accountability for the policies and practices that had led to flagrant and preventable deprivations of these rights.
The research revealed that a primary reason for the persistent failures in realizing economic and social rights in Guatemala was the state’s lack of political investment in upholding those rights and ensuring that resources reached the most vulnerable population. Guatemala's social budget was one of the lowest in the region and social elites had historically blocked efforts at fiscal reform intended to maximize the public resources needed to meet Guatemalans' needs.
Distilling the methodology used in this research was an important step in the development of OPERA. Assessing fiscal policies from a human rights perspective is a methodological case study that shares examples of the report’s findings to illustrate the tools and techniques used to analyze resource use in Guatemala and to show how these tools fit into the overall framework of OPERA.
From 2015 to 2017, CESR partnered with the Legal Resources Center (LRC), a leading South African public interest law firm, on efforts to monitor and hold the government accountable for the implementation of court orders in the Madzodzo v Department of Basic Education case. The project was unique in that it was the first time the OPERA framework was used in the context of litigation.
On behalf of the Centre for Child Law and several schools in the Eastern Cape, the LRC brought the case to remedy the province’s chronic school furniture shortage. The South African High Court declared that the government’s failure to address protracted delays in providing desperately needed desks and chairs to schools was a violation of the Constitution’s protection of the right to a basic education. However, various rounds of litigation had failed to produce the desired results.
CESR’s briefing on the case, OPERA in Practice: Strengthening Implementation of Strategic Litigation in South Africa, shows how OPERA provided a cohesive framework for categorizing, systematizing and identifying gaps in data plaguing school management systems on the district, provincial and national levels, which was crucial to supporting dialogue with the education department.
Diverse applications in Kenya, Ireland, Angola and Egypt
In 2017, CESR started publishing a series of short case studies that show the versatility of OPERA, in response to frequent requests for more examples of its application in practice. 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, OPERA facilitated investigations into particular rights (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 spotlighted.
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.
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. We’re also aware that many others beyond our immediate partners are applying and referencing OPERA in their work. If you’re interested in sharing a case study of your experience, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.