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OPERA Stories: Using the framework to map community concerns in Scotland



July 20, 2018
An interview with Alison Hosie of the Scottish Human Rights Commission
Dr. Alison Hosie is a Research Officer at the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC). The SHRC is an independent public body that is accountable to the people of Scotland through the Scottish Parliament. It has done a tremendous amount of work to promote awareness, understanding and respect for human rightseconomic, social, cultural, civil and politicalfor everyone throughout Scotland, and to encourage the Scottish government to be a global leader in relation to human rights.
In what context and for what purpose have you used OPERA —CESR’s economic, social and cultural rights monitoring framework?
The SHRC had been looking to develop a specific program of work aimed at broadening understanding and support for economic and social rights in Scotland. Following some OPERA training undertaken by an SHRC colleague, this developed into a workshop series focusing on four rights: the rights to social security, food, housing and the highest attainable standard of health.
The series explored three key questions:
  • What is at stake for economic and social rights?
  • Why is it important to protect economic and social rights?
  • How should protection for these rights be strengthened for people in Scotland?
The workshops were designed around OPERA as a methodology for exploring, analyzing and presenting issues within a human rights framework. Participants were given an overview of the OPERA framework to facilitate a range of participatory “mapping” exercises that explored a particular right in the Scottish context, using the elements of “O” (Outcomes), “PE” (Policy efforts), “R” (Resources) and “A” (Assessment). This allowed the participants to analyze more than just what the issues were but also to delve more deeply into how they were or were not being approached by duty-bearers in terms of policy and budget, as well.
What attracted you to OPERA for this piece of work?
SHRC has since its inception taken a human rights-based approach to its work, drawing on and working through the PANEL principles of Participation, Accountability, Non-discrimination & Equality, Empowerment and Legality. SHRC has also been working on developing human rights-based indicators (in particular, aimed at encouraging the Scottish government to adopt human rights-based indicators within their National Performance Framework) which follow best practices from the OHCHR, namely indicators that explore Structure, Process and Outcomes. We felt that the OPERA framework brought together these different methods in a single framework. It offered us a way to present an accessible human rights analysis drawing on the policy and budgetary work that we were already doing.
How was OPERA useful? What concretely did it help you do?
OPERA was useful because it provided a means by which a very diverse group of participants, especially those from outside the human rights community, could approach economic and social issues from a more human rights-based analytical perspective. It also allowed people to begin to see the necessity of focusing on resources as well as policy—some of the structural drivers of economic and social rights deprivations —in terms of assessing rights realization. 
But it took a lot of practice to pitch it so as to be most effective. In each workshop we did, we asked for specific feedback from participants. This helped the team try to improve the experience for the next workshop. The majority of participants across all four workshops found OPERA useful, though at times challenging.
From SHRC’s perspective it has also allowed our own thinking to develop as to how we could better explain and present some of the necessary human rights analysis to lay audiences. Previously the Commission’s focus had fallen more on policy.  
The OPERA training provided an excellent presentation of how important resources are to the fulfillment of human rights and how to develop the tools to undertake human rights budget work. 
Commission staff participated in additional OPERA training and a subsequent EU grant award has allowed the Commission to further develop our understanding (and that of key stakeholders) of the importance of human rights budget work. This has now become a specific program of work at the Commission and moving forward will support the use of OPERA in our own work.
How could OPERA have been more helpful? Were there things you were hoping to get from OPERA but didn’t?
Some workshop feedback highlighted that it was challenging for people to distinguish between outcomes, policy efforts, resources and assessment questions, making it difficult to undertake an analysis of the issues raised during and through the initial issue mapping exercise. Interestingly, internal feedback from an initial workshop participant asked if CESR had produced any film resources on OPERA that might demonstrate its value.
The headings used by the OPERA framework were seen by some to be a bit confusing if you were coming to it for the first time—e.g. outcomes are usually thought of as what you are trying to achieve rather than people’s experiences; assessment implies taking all the points from O, PE and R and using this to review the state’s responsibility, but it actually also looks at the effect of outside factors on the state and its obligations to rights.
We therefore tweaked the process by providing more information on OPERA in advance of workshops and modifying the OPERA framework session as follows:
  • Keeping the issue mapping session, as this enabled participants to contribute and ensured that they had a stake in the later discussions
  • Narrowing the OPERA analysis to one or two issues, for example by using stickers to vote for priority issues
  • Anticipating what the key issues might be and “pre-prepare” some elements of the analysis, e.g. by examining in advance the law and policy context and by looking at statistics on resources
  • Undertake the OPERA analysis in small breakout groups
We also wondered if, for our purposes, combining the introduction to OPERA with a discussion about using particular accountability options, such as treaty monitoring, could put the framework in a more helpful context that would clarify the reasons citizens and civil society might want to engage in OPERA. 
Overall, our experience really showed that OPERA is a tool that works best when a particular user experiments with it and makes whatever adjustments are necessary for it to serve their needs. I think the findings from this project that CESR is currently undertaking will be really beneficial for explaining the versatility of OPERA to others and to encourage more experimentation with it.
This is the fourth blog in our “OPERA Stories” series highlighting the work of our partners and allies and exploring the different ways they’ve used OPERA, our economic, social and cultural rights monitoring framework, to support rights-claiming and accountability in different contexts.