Evaluating with rights-holders. Lessons from the Updated Human Rights Appraisal in Mexico City

by Marcia Itzel Checa

It is increasingly common to hear of participatory evaluations that give leading roles to a large range of actors affected by a particular intervention. This allows evaluations to be carried out using a more comprehensive vision, one that recovers the different perspectives involved.

Likewise, Mexico City’s Human Rights Appraisal and the Human Rights Programme associated with it are one of a kind, for the following reasons: the broad participation of multiple political and social actors in the elaboration, execution, monitoring and evaluation stages; its institutional design, which has matured over time and has, indeed, been incorporated into the city’s new constitution; and the fact that, despite its ups and downs, it has survived three periods of municipal government.

The first Mexico City Human Rights Appraisal was drafted in 2008.[1] It “identified the main obstacles that prevent people passing through or living in Mexico City from exercising and effectively enjoying human rights, [and] the degree to which the public authorities have fulfilled their obligations in the matter.”[2] This formed the basis for the implementation of the Mexico City Human Rights Programme (PDHDF in Spanish) presented one year later (2009)[3], and updated by law in 2016.[4]

In 2015, the PDHDF Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (CSyE in Spanish)[5] initiated the process of updating both instruments (the Appraisal and the Programme), using a participatory evaluation methodology that assessed the situation of 19 rights and 11 population groups,[6] alongside the principal actions of the relevant municipal authorities.

The following diagram illustrates in broad terms the route agreed by the members of the PDHDF Monitoring and Evaluation Committee. It is coordinated by the Executive Secretariat of the PDHDF monitoring and evaluation mechanism. The Monitoring and Evaluation Mechanism of the PDHDF is formed by the Evaluation Committee, the Executive Secretariat of the Monitoring and Evaluation Mechanism -which is the technical body and which implements the decisions taken by the Committee- and the participation spaces established to monitor the PDHDF.

The methodology opted for a mixed method approach that combined quantitative and qualitative data. For the former, the statistical information recorded in the Human Rights Appraisal (2008) on the status of the 25 rights and population groups covered was updated, providing a baseline for analysing the situation. In other words, the process identified any improvements or setbacks with regard to the enjoyment of rights. Given that changes to the context are not all the direct result of the 2009 Human Rights Programme, the actions of the 67 public institutions responsible for one or more of the 2,413 lines of action were registered.

The qualitative research included different exercises focused on obtaining a broader overview of the human rights situation in Mexico City, the contributions made (or not made) by the PDHDF, and any adjustments and priorities that its new version should consider. Thirty specialists participated in the process, each with responsibility for one right or population group and for drafting the initial version of the relevant chapter. This work was based on the quantitative information mentioned above and on information provided in initial meetings, hearings and roundtables.

The process started with 36 initial meetings for which four key areas had been identified for discussion: 1) the most significant concerns and issues vis à vis the right or population group in question; 2) progress made, according to the perspectives of the different participants; 3) challenges to fulfilling human rights obligations; and 4) proposals for strategic actions. In these meetings, governmental institutions responsible for implementing the PDHDF participated in a horizontal way with organisations working on the right or population group concerned, specialists, members of the CSyE and the Executive Secretariat.

In addition, seven hearings, consultations and focus groups were held with population groups that have suffered historical discrimination and that did not directly participate in the initial meetings. These were: street dwellers (one mixed group and one exclusively made up of women); children and young people; persons with pre-release status and families of persons deprived of their liberty in reintegration centres; and migrants, refugees and deportees. Suitable methodologies for dialogue were created for each specific group in collaboration with other organisations. The results were systematised by the Executive Secretariat and submitted to the respective specialist for their incorporation in the draft version of each chapter.

On this basis, the initial versions of each of the 30 chapters of the 2016 Appraisal and Programme were drafted and then shared in feedback groups, in which all the actors who participated in the initial meetings were involved. These sessions were organised to enable participants to evaluate and provide feedback on the findings and contents of the Appraisal. This process was complemented by review groups made up exclusively of the 30 governmental bodies that would be responsible for the subsequent implementation of the strategies and actions proposed in the updated programme, principally to provide an opportunity to determine its viability[7]. Finally, intersectoral sessions were held for each right and population group, in which government institutions, civil society representatives and the PDHDF Monitoring and Evaluation Committee participated.

These exercises took place between August 2015 and August 2016 and involved 30 public institutions, 3 judicial bodies, 6 political-administrative organs, 2 autonomous entities, 89 civil society organisations, 4 academic institutions, 2 international organisations, 204 participants in the hearings, 30 specialists, and all members of the CSyE. They were coordinated by the Executive Secretariat of the PDHDF’s monitoring and evaluation mechanism[8].

Lessons learnt

    • Consideration should be given to the fact that participation takes more time than expected when the dynamics of government are involved. Therefore, it is a good idea to establish the scope of each exercise from the beginning and to provide ample time for implementation, in order to avoid generating false expectations.
    • Be aware that each kind of actor requires specific participation mechanisms. For example, hearings with rights-holders involved more flexible modes of discussion than those conducted with government agencies. Thus, methodologies need to be developed that are tailored to each objective.
    • Building trust is an important part of encouraging participation and ensuring subsequent use of the evaluation. In this sense, the involvement of specialists who were acceptable to the different actors allowed the Appraisal and the Programme to register the perspectives of the participating actors and ensure acceptance of the final results.
    • Give human rights-holders a leading role throughout the process. Although this was a key focus of the process, their highest levels of participation occurred during the first stage, aimed at identifying issues and needs. Participation was lower in the stage dedicated to defining the indicators that would be used to monitor the strategies and lines of action defined jointly with the public institutions.

Finally —right from its beginnings in 2008—  this initiative has sought to develop an innovative approach to institutional policy within the human rights framework. This has now been transformed into a Comprehensive Human Rights System intended to permeate the policy work of the Planning Institute and the Evaluation Council, established by the First Constitution of Mexico City[9].

The third update of this important effort is due in 2022. This will provide a valuable opportunity to evaluate the results of the process in terms of the exercise of the rights of people who live in or pass through Mexico City. It has the potential to generate citizen ownership as a tool for demanding rights.

[1] A mandate derived from the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993), which established an important international precedent for strengthening observance of the principles of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a watershed for operationalising human rights in government actions, programmes and policies.

[2] Coordinating Committee for the elaboration of the Mexico City Human Rights Diagnostic and Programme. Mexico City Diagnostic of Human Rights, 2008, p. 27. Only available in Spanish at this link.

[3] See (in Spanish) this document.

[4] According to the Law on the PDHDF (approved in 2011), this public policy instrument should be updated every six years to adapt and reformulate the set of strategies and measures proposed. It indicates that this process “should be inclusive, progressive and multidisciplinary and … ensure broad participation of civil society organisations, academic institutions and public bodies.” See articles 13 and 14 of the Law (in Spanish).

[5] Composed of the three governing bodies of Mexico City (executive, legislative and judicial), four civil society organisations and three academic institutions, each with voice and vote. The Mexico City Human Rights Commission and the Mexico Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights were included as permanent observers, with voice.

[6] The rights and population groups developed were: 1) access to information; 2) human rights defence; 3) equality and non-discrimination; 4) freedom of expression; 5) politics; 6) water and sanitation; 7) food; 8) cultural rights; 9) education; 10) healthy environment; 11) freedom of movement; 12) risk prevention and reduction; 13) health; 14) sexual and reproductive health; 15) labour and human rights at work; 16) adequate housing; 17) access to justice; 18) due process; 19) personal integrity, liberty and security; 20) indigenous peoples and communities; 21) youth; 22) women; 23) children and young people; 24) older people; 25) people living with disabilities; 26) migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers; 27) persons deprived of liberty in reintegration centres; 28) victims of trafficking and [other] forms of exploitation; 29) street dwellers; and 30) the LGBTI population. This includes five more categories than in the version carried out in 2008 and 2009, namely the rights to defend human rights, food, cultural rights, mobility and risk prevention and reduction.

[7] For example, by delimiting and imparting greater methodological rigour to the approaches. The PDHDF had 2,413 lines of action, while the updated version prioritised 582, and provided indicators to make monitoring easier.

[8] The Updated Mexico City Diagnostic and Programme that resulted from these initiatives can be found (in Spanish) at this link.

[9] See the Constitution in Spanish this link.

Leave a Reply