January 14, 2017

Winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 for “having contributed to securing the ground for freedom, for justice, and thereby also for peace in the world” was a remarkable moment in Amnesty International’s (AI) history. However, it never stopped them from thinking how to scale-up their impact by engaging more people. In 2014, 16 million actions were undertaken by AI’s global activists both online and offline ranging from sending Tweets to prime ministers to organising demonstrations on diverse human rights issues such as: defending imprisoned human rights activists in Thailand; stopping forced evictions in Kenya; and supporting women access safe medical abortions in El Salvador.

To guide their thinking on how to leverage even more impact, AI has recently launched their Strategic Plan 2016 – 2019 which includes five global strategic goals anchored around 12 global theories of change. The strategy reflects the views of their movement obtained from multiple consultations including an online survey with 26,000 people – 7,000 of whom are based in the Global South. At the heart of the strategy is building the strongest possible global movement of 25 million people to take action for human rights every year.

The adoption of the new strategy is part of the Global Transition Programme that decentralises the operations of AI’s International Secretariat to 15 regional offices – seven of which have already been established. This decentralisation process aims at increasing AI’s impact through:

  • bringing AI closer to regional realities, furthering opportunities for more frequent and quality interactions with its stakeholders.
  • creating the enabling conditions for collaborative development of solutions for human rights issues.

At the programme level: amplifying external skills and capacity

In order to fulfil their promise of scaling-up impact by engaging 25 million people, AI is becoming more and more an enabler to others – such as partners and supporters. To this end, AI has set clear objectives around: (i) empowering and enabling human rights defenders; (ii) growing the movement of activists that are actively participating in AI’s campaigns; (iii) expanding human rights education to strengthen the knowledge and skills of people who claim their rights; and (iv) developing new approaches that aim at protecting civic space both online and offline.

The digital age provides many opportunities for leveraging engagement and, therefore, impact by tapping into and amplifying external skills and capacity. Examples include:

  • Online education: In 2015, AI launched their first Massive Online Course on the Edx platform with 29,000+ sign ups from across the world – with an average age of 29.
  • Rapid response networks: Current projects are looking to expand SMS and other mobile-based rapid response networks to protect human rights defenders. These include the SMS network linked to the mining and human rights projects in India and the Panic Button.
  • Micro-tasking: a number of projects aim to inspire a new generation of tech-savvy human rights activists to take part in documenting, verifying, and collating evidence of human rights abuses. In this context, AI will invite people to analyse satellite images, verify video footage, and classify large amounts of social media data. The first project of this kind at AI is planned for April 2016.

Looking ahead

  • The new work approaches seek to expand what AI has always been good at – research, advocacy, and campaigning. Would more engagement lead to a more enhanced capacity in research and advocacy, therefore boosting overall impact?
  • Given the shrinking civic space in many countries, how can AI navigate the challenges of mobilising 25 million people on human rights causes every year?

At the outcome level: Real-life changes matter

AI plans to measure their success in scaling-up impact via leveraging more engagement using the following approaches:

  • ‘Taking project development personally’: AI has developed a set of minimum project standards that include: having a clear rationale in reference to AI’s added value and entry point for change; a stakeholder engagement strategy; and being based on an assessment of how different stakeholders – including the most marginalised – would benefit from and shape AI’s work.
  • Featuring an ‘influencing strategy’ that outlines the changes the project will bring to the behaviours, relationships, attitudes, rhetoric and actions of key stakeholders related to the problem at hand. This is part of a larger attempt to spur a culture of strategic thinking across the organisation by encouraging all staff to ask fundamental questions about the assumptions behind different activities, and to link specific activities with specific changes the organisation is trying to implement.
  • Developing an impact and learning system which will: (i) promote rolling evaluation windows that can be tailored to projects’ natural cycle and attuned to external developments; and (ii) increase real-time sharing of information and external stakeholder feedback.

Looking ahead

  • To what extent can AI projects create evidence about the changes in behaviours and influence achieved at the project level, and how can AI aggregate this evidence to assess global impact?
  • Adopting an outcome mentality that measures real-life changes is not an easy process. Will AI’s attempt to deepen strategic thinking across the organisation succeed and result in scaling-up impact?

This case study was developed in January 2016 as part of the People-Powered Accountability project implemented by Accountable Now. We would like to thank Maro Pantazidou, Lead Adviser, Organisational Learning and Accountability at Amnesty International, for providing much of the information in the case study.