By Nic Cook, Just Fair Associate and Development Manager at Difference NE.
Way back in 2021 I had a conversation about joining a group of Just Fair Community Researchers who would come together over 6 months and use an action research process to explore the principles of a human rights-based approach. Our goal was to develop our understanding of economic, social and cultural rights and devise ways of using rights-based approaches in our work, as grassroots activists in our communities.
I had no idea what would come out of that process and often felt like I was floundering or ‘faking it’ when talking about rights. A feeling shared and expressed by my co-researchers too. This was going to be slippery.
In those 6 months we grappled and wrangled with ideas, and our own experiences, but we also gained insight, vulnerability, and power. We learned from conversations with activists from the Participation and the Practice of Rights and their #123GP campaign, ATD Fourth World, who spoke about Povertyism on their Right to Family life campaign, and Making Rights Real, on community participation in their Housing campaign.
Together, we found ways of bringing the threads of our lived and learnt expertise together and began formulating ways of making sense of our experiences of not only feeling able to claim our economic, social and cultural rights, but to feel we had the right to talk about them. Through this process we enabled ourselves to reflect on how our ability to claim to our rights was impacted by our experiences of economic, social and cultural barriers.
Reflection leads to action, so with our ongoing learning, we began to develop actions that would use the PANEL principles of a rights-based approach, not without more and more ‘wicked questions’ emerging though: who claims the power to empower others? How do we acknowledge power in processes of genuine participation? How does the law limit or enable marginalised people to claim their rights? How could we devise a way of enabling the right to talk about rights in our communities in the same way we were enabling ourselves to do so as a group?
We came up with the idea of creating a game which would help people claim their right to talk about rights. We needed to devise a way of claiming the right to talk about rights that was rooted in accessibility, intersectionality and solidarity – not as added extras but something that grew out of those things as foundational. This needed to be integral in the design and the language that would be used. We spent lots of time wrangling with the language we would use, considering how we would embed accessibility and diversity from the very start. This isn’t easy- that’s why it is so often overlooked in favour of simpler pathways – but we weren’t interested in simplicity. We acknowledged complexity and embraced not necessarily knowing what the outcome might be.
Complexity allowed us to acknowledge the intersecting nature of our rights, our identities, and our experiences, that there are multiple things happening in multiple ways and multiple times! We steered away from using human figures in the design of the cards for the game to aid a multiplied representation- a collectivity of solidarity.
In writing this, I use we and not simply I, not because I feel like I can talk on behalf of my co-researchers, but because we worked in solidarity with one another. It is difficult to place specific moments of decision-making on any one of us which testifies to the collective, often intangible process we were in, but Kayleigh Rousell from Sheppey is Ours really led our thinking around developing and using a game. We met with designer for social change, Dan Farley who, with Susanna Hunter-Darch, prompted us to dig deeper into how a game could and should work. We gathered and played a prototype of the game with our kind hosts ATD Fourth World, in London, working with filmmaker Cam Nicoll to track and share our learning.
A big chunk of our learning from that day of play was that the PANEL principles that form a human rights-based approach, lacked the values that we had come to work through, and with, collectively. This is where our manifesto for a human rights-based approach emerged, which implores that Solidarity, Power, Access, Accountability, Intersectionality bolster this work, and in turn bolstered our work on the game itself. We asked ourselves and others how we could make the game available to all, sharing power and accountability. How could we use a game like this to develop our social impact work? How could we use the game to educate duty-bearers about how decisions impact on people’s rights? How could we enable others to claim the right to talk about rights, in accessible ways, in solidarity?
I think a huge part of this project was learning that rights are tools. When we feel that we own our rights and can use them to make change happen then we are powerful. We have ownership over our lives. PPR spoke of the importance of holding the door open for others following, which helped us see both our process, and our rights, as simultaneously the arrow and the target. That the destination was not only changeable, often, but also as important as the route we took.
We strive for our game to hold the door open, as a tool and not simply a legal instrument.