At the core of human rights activities’ theory of change is an assumption that people believe human rights organizations (HROs) and the information they provide. In this era of misinformation and disinformation, however, people are increasingly wary, especially when the information contradicts their already-held beliefs—that is, belief congruence—or when HROs are portrayed as untrustworthy because they are, for example, seen as foreign, Western, or against traditional values, which challenges their credibility. A wealth of research shows that individuals consider two main factors when judging credibility: qualifications—for example, being a primary source, disseminating information generated by experts, and maintaining a positive reputation—and potential for bias due to perceived or actual political affiliation or one-sided messaging.
Addressing audiences’ belief in HROs’ information is a critical piece of engagement. HROs need to strengthen and maintain their credibility with others to promote and protect human rights. Within the human rights work sector, however, how to forge trusting connections with stakeholders is marked by a lack of recorded institutional knowledge or an evidence base to which human rights practitioners can refer to ground their work.
This report aims to fill that gap by providing an analytical framework for understanding HROs’ engagement with stakeholders based on the factors of credibility and belief congruence. Using this framework, HROs can predict how stakeholders may receive their messages. It presents criteria for HROs to assess their own credibility and to understand potential responses to engagement efforts.
Freedom House developed this report under the USAID-funded Human Rights Support Mechanism.