Professor of Clinical Law Margaret Satterthwaite '99 is part of a trio of New York University faculty members that has won funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to develop data-visualization tools for human rights advocates.

The human rights field increasingly uses data to document phenomena such as as drone attacks, conflict-related deaths, and violations of economic and social rights. But few organizations have the data-science expertise and resources needed to create visualization tools, like interactive maps and sophisticated infographics.

Margaret SatterthwaiteThe MacArthur-funded project combines legal and technical expertise. Satterthwaite serves as the faculty director for NYU School of Law’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, director of the Global Justice Clinic, and faculty director of the recently launched Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights. Her scholarship has focused on the evidence base for human rights advocacy, indicators and metrics, and the human rights impacts of counter-terrorism measures. Joining her are Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Enrico Bertini and Associate Professor of Technology Management and Innovation Oded Nov, both of NYU's Polytechnic School of Engineering. Bertini’s research focuses on effective data-visualization techniques, and Nov is an expert in using human-computer interaction for persuasion and attitude change.

The team began working together in 2013, thanks to an NYU seed grant aimed at advancing collaborative research across the university community. Their two-year, $250,000 MacArthur Foundation grant will enable them to expand their pilot study and provide several human rights organizations with hands-on technical assistance and training.

Video: Using quantitative data in human rights research

“There has been a recent explosion of data relevant to important social and economic issues,” says Bertini. “If all that data can be visualized, simply and efficiently, organizations can identify patterns and trends and harness them to tell powerful stories that the public needs to hear. We can help get the word out about areas without access to clean water, which is a basic human right, or map civilian casualties in war-torn areas,” for example.

“The human rights community is eager to embrace data-driven analysis while ensuring the human story remains central,” says Satterthwaite. “We are excited to partner with human rights organizations to ensure they have the most effective tools available to expose the worst abuses and to persuade the powerful to take corrective action.”

Posted June 1, 2015