Customizing data collection tools to various needs


The customization of data collections tools requires the IT skills yet most of the human rights documenters are not computer scientists. Martus customization obliges the use of XML in form building and other tools do not allow the change of some sections which are not needed by the documenters.

The ideal is to have human rights documentation tools that can be customized by any user to suit individual needs. Such decentralized customization enable the users to make some serendipitous discoveries on which the developers base their computer science expertise to make the existing tools more user-friendly.

Centralization of the customization is detrimental to the ownership-based and user-experience (UX) improvement. The centralized approach places burden to the developers and in most cases, they are overwhelmed by the customization demands as each organization and individual documenters have different needs and live in countries with different political systems. It is difficult for the developers to keep abreast of all changes in different countries because they do not have ubiquitous presence the world.

One example of centralization demerits: Administrative structures and their names change as the national parliaments decide. it takes developers more time to effect the changes if they are the only ones to customize their tools or when users cannot effect the changes. For instance, CiviCRM whose developers did a tremendous job to include the names of the nomenclature of the major administration units of the world countries does not have the updated nomenclature.

Illustration: A quick glance at the administrative structures of Rwanda and Burundi in CiviCRM shows that the names are the ones of 1990. The administration structures changed more than twice since 2003 are not reflected in the CiviCRM.

Conclusion: With the advent of technologies and collaborative online editing, human rights documentation tools developers could set up a coordination mechanism to update the tools at national level, regional and international level. This does not require more funds if developers involve all stakeholders such as national human rights institutions ( NHRIs), academia and academic institutions, research and technology institutions, human rights practitioners, volunteers and the like. The international technology institutions such as Google and Microsoft Corporation can share some updates on not copyrighted features. The collaboration among stakeholders fosters ownership and experience/expertise sharing. It also fosters economical burden-sharing to improve the existing tools.