MODULE 19 (continued)

return to previous page

Guidelines for gathering and using secondary data and information
corresponding to indicators

I. Gathering information from a variety of sources

The first challenge lies in gathering information on the issue concerned from as many sources as possible. It may be useful to organize these sources by category:

• Published sources
• Unpublished sources

Within the above categories, the information may be

• quantitative, giving numbers, percentages, rates and ratios; or
• qualitative, providing descriptions and insights into the behavioral processes underlying the rates and ratios. For example: Why the differential in educational status between region x and region y? Is it because of differences in attitudes of the people? If yes, what would explain this difference? Is it their history? Their objective reality? What is the process of decision-making vis-à-vis a child's schooling?

Quantitative data can be divided into

• Macrodata/information pertaining to entire countries or to subregions, states or provinces of a country
• Microdata/information pertaining to specific regions, communities or population sub-groups

Qualitative information tends to be based on small samples of populations, i.e., microlevel, given the intensive and time-consuming nature of data collection.

A. Published Sources

1. Quantitative macrodata are available from a variety of regularly published sources:

- decadal census reports
- regular (usually annual) statistical publications of government departments
- annual statistical publications of international specialized agencies

A list of international publications containing quantitative data on education, employment, health and population is given at the end of this module.

2. Other sources of published information, macro or micro, quantitative or qualitative, are
- books and articles in national and international journals
- newspaper articles and features in popular magazines
- seminar, conference and workshop reports
B. Unpublished sources

1. Computerized databases maintained by government departments and by international organizations are a source of quantitative macro or micro data.

2. Other sources of unpublished information, macro or micro, quantitative or qualitative, are

- unpublished reports by government departments
- evaluation reports, program reviews, etc., of UN, bilateral and donor agencies, and other international organizations
- unpublished dissertations and theses submitted to university departments
- reports and documents of nongovernmental organizations, professional organizations, women's associations, women's unions, etc.
- personal testimonies of individuals and personal communications from experts in the field, which can be useful supplementary sources of qualitative information, especially in situations where there is limited information from other sources

Activists may come up with the following sources of information on educational differentials in country x from the following sources:

• Quantitative macrodata from
- UNESCO's World Education Report
- UNESCO's Statistical Year Book
- UNICEF's State of the World's Children
- government decadal censuses
- reports from the Ministry of Education

• A combination of quantitative and qualitative information from
- government report prepared for a recent World Conference
- publications from the government's department concerned with religious and racial minorities
- An NGO report of gender differentials in education for a subregion of the country

• A situational analysis paper, drawing on a range of sources, on the relationship between education and fertility and child mortality

• An unpublished PhD dissertation on the educational status of an immigrant community

• A popular magazine article on the poor quality of education in many schools and the community's dissatisfaction with the state of affairs

II. Examining the information gathered

A. Quantitative data from statistical data tables

1. Go through all the data tables. Look into definitions of indicators presented and note these down. In all instances, the definitions of both the numerator and the denominator as well as inclusion and exclusion criteria should be noted.
For example, both the national census and the UNESCO report may give "literacy rate." The national census may define literacy rate as "Literate population above five years of age/Total population above five years of age," and UNESCO's definition may be "Literate population above seven years of age/Total population above seven years of age." The two rates are clearly not comparable.

Sometimes, definitions used in the same source-such as national census-may change over time. For example, the census of 1951 and 1961 may have defined a literate person as "a person who has had one or more years of schooling"; the 1971 census may have changed the definition to "a person who can sign his or her name." As a consequence, the percentage of those counted as literate may increase dramatically, from, say, 40 percent in 1961, to 60 percent in 1971. If we are not aware of the change in definition, we will make erroneous conclusions about the progress made.

2. Note down all relevant data from the different sources, along with definitions used, and record the years, the original source of the data and the year to which the data pertain.

For example, if the data is from Ministry of Education statistics quoted in a plan docu-ment, do not cite the source as the plan document. Specify the source as Ministry of Education statistics cited in the plan document with relevant page and table numbers referenced.

3. Data should be qualified by the year(s) to which they pertain and not by the date of publication of the data source.

4. Data should be qualified by the place to which they pertain. For example, if the dropout rate is based on a community study in one province, this should be mentioned. When subnational data pertaining to a region or province are presented, this should be accompanied by a discussion of the representativeness or otherwise of this region/area to the country situation.

5. When time series data are used, it is necessary to ensure that there have been no changes in definition of indicators across timepoints. It is similarly important to ascertain that there have been no changes in the boundaries of geographic areas to which data pertain. For example, a district may have been bifurcated between the censuses of 1961 and 1971, or some parts of a country may not have been covered by the census for political reasons. Such changes should be clearly stated in a footnote.

6. Examine the completeness and quality of data. There may sometimes be a reason to believe that there has been underreporting of information on some indicator (e.g., number of girls born, number of stillbirths, number of infant deaths). Look into whether some of the data presented are actually estimates or projections. For example, the number of dropouts may be an estimate based on figures from an earlier time period, assuming that the same rate of dropping out continued.

7. Comment on the completeness and quality of data. If some areas of the country were not covered in a census for any reason, this should be noted. If there is indication of under-reporting of any indicator(s), this should be noted.

8. In the case of quantitative information from small-scale research studies or reports, note down information on the sample size, geographic region and the specific characteristics of the population to which the data pertain, and the source from which data are derived. For example, if the morbidity rate relates to patients attending a health facility from a given community and is not representative of the community, this should be clarified. Again, the above data may have been collected through a primary survey process (interviewing every nth client) or may have been drawn from hospital records. These distinctions must be made clear.

B. Qualitative information

1. Examine the methodology used for gathering the information, the characteristics of the respondents and the extent to which this information may be representative of those who are similarly placed. A single person's narrative in the form of a case study can be a powerful illustration of a process underway, provided it is based on personal experience and the activist is able to qualify whom the voice represents. Observations or quotes from group discussions and interviews that do not explain who the interviewees were and how they were selected for the interview; who the interviewer was, the context of the exchange and the nature of questions asked; and the proportion of persons who expressed a sentiment similar to that chosen to be quoted, are not reliable sources of qualitative information.

2. Care should be taken when using information that is in the form of a single observer's description of a situation or phenomenon-a magazine article or investigative report in a newspaper, for example. These cannot stand alone as independent sources of conclusive evidence, but may be used as additional or complementary evidence to explain a trend emerging from other sources of data/information. Alternately, they may help hypothesize on the underlying or contributing factors to explain a phenomenon or trend. For example, if activists have statistical data showing a steady increase in the gross primary school enrollment ratio among girls in a certain region, and they also have a few magazine and newspaper features suggesting a change in parental attitudes, they may be able to see this as one reason for the observed trend. In the absence of any statistical data, the newspaper and magazine features may be used to speculate on the impact on girls' education of a change in parental attitudes, but not more.

III. Consolidating the information gathered from a variety of sources

Consolidating information consists of

• pooling together the information and evidence from different noncomparable sources of information
• weaving this into a cohesive story with a logical sequence
• going beyond mere description of a situation to provide an analysis of the reasons why such a situation exists.
A. Consolidating information is akin to making a patchwork quilt-the patches have to match and fit neatly together to make a whole. The various steps involved are:

1. Look into the data tables, and write out the major trends and issues. For example:

- any significant increases, decreases or fluctuations in rates (literacy, enrollment) over time
- exceptionally high or low rates as compared to those of other countries in the region
- major differentials across regions or population groups
- situations that run contrary to the usual, such as high literacy despite low-income levels

2. Read the articles and narrative texts, summarize the major points made in each, and arrange these points in a logical sequence.

3. Write out a basic description of the situation. Information provided should be the latest available. If data are more than ten years old, make sure that this is supplemented by qualitative information describing the current situation or discussing the directions in which changes may have occurred based on available evidence. For example, if the unemployment data available pertain to the mid-1980s, but recent economic changes have created new job opportunities, then the discussion may suggest that the rates are likely to have fallen in recent years.

4. Check for contradictions in the information presented.

5. Ensure the consistency of the data presented in the tables and narrative text.

6. Make links between different sections where relevant. For example, if section one is on declining investment in education and section two is on differentials by race, you may want to examine whether the disparity has increased specifically after the decline in investment started. Try not to write up an entire report describing rates and ratios- "literacy rates increased for population group x but not for y; in region z the rate increased faster as compared to other regions"-without explaining the significance of these figures.

7. Identify issues within each section that call for further explanation or discussion. Seek additional information on and discuss and explain the issues identified.

8. The additional information in step 7 above may consist of studies, reports and review articles from other countries and regions of the world. Present and discuss the merits of conflicting explanations, if any, rather than just presenting one point of view.

An addendum at the end of this module provides examples of statistical sources available in the health and education fields.

Budget Analysis7

Budget analysis can be a valuable tool of ESC rights activism.  ESC rights advocates should no longer ignore the national budget. The budget is important be­cause it reflects what the state is doing or intends to do.  The budget is a translation in finan­cial terms of the action program of the state, coordinating planned expenditures with ex­pected revenue collections and proposed borrowing operations.  It is a national plan that cuts across departmental boundaries and ties together all plans and projects, the instru­ment through which a state at­tempts to carry out the full range of its activities.  It converts state development plans and priorities into a program of action.

"The budget reflects the values of a country-who it values, whose work it values and who it rewards . . . and who and what and whose work it doesn’t . . . The budget is the most impor­tant economic policy instrument of government, and as such can be a powerful tool in trans­forming [the] country to meet the needs of the poorest.”8

Budgets are variously referred to as financial plans, work plans or programs, or political and social documents.  A budget can be viewed from various frames of reference: as an economic process (resource allocation); as a political process (competition among various groups for limited resources); and as an administrative process (planning, coordinating, control and evaluation).  A budget can also be viewed as a human rights process (allocation of funds in compliance with state obligations towards the full realization of ESC rights).

From a human rights framework, a national budget can be defined as a process through which financial resources are allocated in compliance with state obligations to respect, pro­tect and fulfill human rights. The status of human rights and compliance with state obliga­tions become the key determinants of the choices made relative to financial resource alloca­tion. A state’s human rights obligations should guide the ultimate purpose of government: to use all tools at its disposal to ensure the guarantee and enjoyment of all human rights by all individuals.  Thus, state obligations provide the raison d’être underlying economic and ad­ministrative decisions reflected in the national budget.

Budget analysis is a thorough and detailed review of the budget.  It involves the collection, study and interpretation of budget data, the correlation of budget data to other relevant in­formation such as state policies and programs, and the establishment of findings and results.  Its aim is to provide analysis and information that is credible, accessible to a wide range of audiences, and that makes a timely contribution to policy debates, with the purpose of af­fecting the process by which budget issues are decided and the decisions themselves.9

Budget analysis is undertaken from a number of perspectives.  Some groups assess finan­cial arrangements covering national and subnational goals.  Others look at the effects of budget decisions on programs that affect vulnerable sectors. Other groups undertake budget analysis through a very technical lens; this includes classifying expenditures by major and minor headings (function or nature of expense), looking at budget figures, studying new allo­cation items, and understanding the state’s development plans as expressed by budgetary al­loca­tions.10

Challenges to budget analysis

Budget analysts often encounter problems.  Lack of access to budget data and information is com­mon. The major budget books, detailed financial studies, papers and other budget docu­ments are often withheld from the public.  Clarity of budget information and data is an­other problem, as is the difficulty in establishing the relationship among functions, costs and allo­cations-and thus in checking the rationale behind the allocations.11

There are several gaps in the structure of a budget that limit its effectiveness as an instrument of analysis.  The budget does not show any deviations between allocated and actual expen­ditures.  Sometimes, funds are spent for purposes other than those that are authorized; other times, expenditures are smaller than the allocated funds, and the budget does not show what happens to the unutilized portions of the allocations.  The budget also does not indicate leak­age, if any, in the amount expended, nor is the budget broken down by region, state, dis­trict or municipality.

Key Players in Budget Process

The key players in the budget process vary from country to country. Generally speaking, however, they belong to both the executive and legislative branches. From the executive branch, they include, among others:

• the Department/Ministry of Finance or the Department/Ministry of Budget and Management or the department or office responsible for preparing the budget;
• the cabinet, including the chief executive, who decides on budgetary thrusts and priorities for the budget year; and
• other departments/ministries that prepare departmental/ministerial budgets, programs and priorities.

From the legislature, the key players in the budget process include, among others:

• members of the committees on appropriations, finance and other committees that undertake the initial review of the budget;
• the legislative budget office (where such exists); and
• all members of the legislature who will eventually vote on the budget.

Finally, the budget process rarely provides interested people with the opportunity to partici­pate in any of its stages.  Sometimes, they may participate in the budget process only during the budget authorization stage, when the legislature conducts public hearings to discuss the budget.  However, participation in all levels of social, political and economic decision-mak­ing is both a right and a duty of all individuals.  Participation is an indispensable principle in the budget process.  "Involved participation, which is affirmative in that it explicitly includes input from poor and working people hungry for education, health care and social security, is likely to result in more equitable expenditure patterns than a process which is dominated by powerful interests who set a self-serving agenda of tax breaks, subsidies, down-sizing and privatization.”12

Getting started

Getting started on budget analysis involves a four-step process.

First, one must learn the process by which the state’s budget is prepared and identify the key players in the process (see box on previous page).  This involves securing a copy of the budget law and official rules or guidelines on budget preparation.  By carefully studying the budget law and corre­sponding guidelines, one can gain the information and knowledge needed to begin budget analysis.

Second, one must become familiar with the various terms used in the budget.  The use of an accounting dictionary or consulting with experts is helpful.

Third, one must learn how to read the budget.  One needs to know how the budget is classi­fied and what each classification entails.  One also needs to know how to read the figures in order to determine their implications.  Consulting with experts and others already engaged in budget analysis can help.  So too can studying the budget guidelines prepared by the budget office, where such are available.

Fourth, since the budget is-or should be-tied to the state’s development plans, one must assess these plans.  This involves securing copies of such development plans and programs, and carefully analyzing them in order to determine their impact on the country.

Application of budget analysis

Budget analysis may be applied in numerous situations involving ESC rights.  For example, an affected community may lack access to critical state goods such as potable water and sanitation facilities, electricity, emergency services, health services or education that would enable them to exercise and enjoy their ESC rights.  When the community approaches the state to redress such problems, an almost standard response is "lack of available funds” or "budgetary constraints.”  Budget analysis could reveal those portions of the budget that could be realigned.  The purpose of budget analysis in this situation would be to enable the com­munity to more effectively pressure the state to provide services necessary to the realization and enjoyment of ESC rights.

A state’s national budget indicates the exact size of the financial resources available for state use.  It also indicates the programs and actions that are to be funded by the national budget.  By looking closely at each expenditure item under each cabinet minis­try/department or state agency/office, one may identify programs and projects that obstruct the realization and en­joyment of ESC rights.  By isolating those amounts, one may be able to pinpoint the amount of funds that could be realigned or reallocated to pay for the implementation of a service, program or project needed to enjoy and exercise an ESC right.

ESC rights activists may also be called upon to assist communities whose fundamental ESC rights are threatened by dam construction, infrastructure development or power plant con­struction in their areas.  These projects may be undertaken by the state alone or in conjunc­tion with national or international corporations.  They may be financed by international fi­nancial institutions or bilateral lenders.  In these cases, ESC rights activists often begin by undertaking fact-finding investigations and documenting their results.  Lobby efforts gener­ally follow to seek the suspension and cancellation of the project.  If necessary, activists as­sist in community organizing and mobilizing activities.

Activists’ efforts could be expanded by budget analysis.  If one wished to put a stop to such a project, one could review the budget to determine the amount appropriated for that project.  One could then compare the appropriated amount with the amounts appropriated for pro­grams or services that are essential to the realization and enjoyment of fundamental ESC rights.  Then one could submit the findings to the legislature and actively participate in the legislative budget hearings.  The opportunity to stop a program is evident during budgetary hearings, since, without funds, that project cannot be pursued by the state. 

In addition, many ESC rights activists come across policies, services and programs that dis­criminate against vulnerable sectors (the aged, women, children, the poor, in­digenous com­munities, etc.).  They also encounter situations characterized by inequality of access to state programs that impact on the realization and enjoyment of ESC rights.  In these situations, budget analysis can play an important role by enabling activists to determine budget alloca­tions made to other groups in comparison to these vulnerable groups. 

Public allocations may be analyzed by nature and func­tion to determine their impact on ESC rights and concomitant state obligations through a variety of ways, including:

• Public allocations may be probed to determine whether the expenditure mix, geographical and spending level patterns, state programs, categories of current expenditures and com­pensatory measures comply with state obligations with respect to ESC rights.

• Public allocations may be scrutinized to find out whether the state has appropriated funds for the steps it is required to take under article 2(1) of the ICESCR.

• Public allocations may be assessed to ascertain whether the state has appropriated funds to meet the benchmarks set by the state relating to progressive realization of ESC rights.

• Public allocations may be compared with international and national standards related to the enjoyment and exercise of ESC rights. 

• Public allocations related to the judiciary, national commissions on human rights and other rights-adjudication bodies may be analyzed to determine the extent of remedies available to victims of ESC rights violations, in the exercise of their right to reparation.

• Monitoring the progressive realization of ESC rights through budget analysis entails a multiyear comparison of the state’s budget.  Comparing one year’s budget allocations with those of the next year’s budget may indicate changes in the state’s policies and pri­orities. Are these policies and programs geared towards the realization or the obstruction of ESC rights?  Is the state allocating more funds for programs that facilitate or that ob­struct the progressive re­alization of ESC rights?  Reviewing multiyear budgets may point out any retrogressive measures the state has taken relative to ESC rights.

Developing a National Policy and Plan of Action for Human Rights in Thailand

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the UDHR, the Thai Government set up a Commission chaired by the Minister of Justice. A committee established under the commission was directed to prepare a National Policy and Plan of Action for Human Rights. Its main mandate was to come up with a policy and plan of action for the promotion and protection of human rights in Thailand within a period of six months. Many subcommittees and working groups were formed. The process started with the development of situation analyses of the human rights conditions of children, women, migrant workers, minorities, persons with disabilities, human rights defenders and other groups in the country. These reports were handed over to the drafting subcommittee. Those working on the analyses expected that the reports would be carefully studied and used by the drafting subcommittee as a basic for the formulation of the policy and plan of action, but they were disappointed. The subcommittee produced an approximately 300-page policy and plan of action, but the situation analyses were not taken into consideration. Looking at the process of the formulation of the national policy and plan of action for human rights in Thailand, it is clear that various groups of people were involved in the process. However, because the situation analyses were scarcely read or used by the drafters, and the comments and suggestions from all around the country were not taken into account, it could hardly be said that the drafting process was broadly participatory.


Information gleaned from monitoring ESC rights can be used in a number of different con­texts, includ­ing human rights education programs, law reform initiatives and litigation.  In most of these situations, it will be necessary to develop a report in one form or another in or­der for the information gathered to be usable.  A short fact sheet could be helpful to brief the press, for example, whereas a detailed analytical piece would be necessary in the context of law reform efforts or litigation.  Prior to developing any report it is important that careful thought be given to its objective, as well as to its appropriate content and style.

International Publications Containing

Statistical Data on the Education, Health and the Economic Status of the Population

I.  Sources published annually

For current data, look into the most recent publication.  However, it is useful to look into publications over the past five years. since each of the years may have a specific focus and contain additional information on related indicators.

1.       United Nations.  Demographic Yearbook.  New York.  1948-  .  Special topics covered in recent years include the following:

            1990: Marriage and divorce statistics

            1991: Population aging and the situation of elderly persons

            1992: Fertility and mortality statistics                 

2.       United Nations.  Statistical Year Book.  New York: United Nations, Statistical Division, 1948-  .

3.       United Nations Development Programme.  Human Development Report.  New York: Ox­ford University Press. 

4.       World Health Organization.  World Health Statistics Annual.  Geneva: United Nations, World Health Organization.  1962-  .

5.       World Bank.  World Bank Atlas.  Washington. D.C.

6.       World Bank.  World Development Report.  Washington. D.C.

7.       International Labour Office.  World Labour Report.  Geneva.

8.       International Labour Office. Yearbook of Labour Statistics.  Geneva.

9.       UNESCO.  World Education Report.  Paris.

10.   UNESCO.  Statistical Yearbook. Paris.  1973-  .

11.   UNICEF.  State of the World’s Children.  New York: Oxford University Press.

12.   UNICEF.   The Progress of Nations. New York.

13.   United Nations Population Fund.  The State of the World Population.  New York.

II.  Other publications


14.   United Nations. 1993.  World Population Prospects: The 1992 Revision.  New York: United Nations Population Division.

Authors: Module 19 incorporates pieces written by different authors.  Ligia Bolívar and En­rique Gonzalez wrote on indicators, Philip Alston on benchmarks.  Sundari Ravindran edited the sections on indicators and benchmarks, and authored the section on guidelines for using sec­ondary sources of information.  The section on budget analysis is excerpted from a paper written for IHRIP by Ma. Socorro ("Cookie”) Diokno; the section on fact-finding/ investigation is by Johan­nes ("Babes”) Ignacio.



7. The following section is drawn from a paper produced for IHRIP by Ma. Socorro ("Cookie”) Diokno, of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) in the Philippines, entitled A Rights-Based Approach towards Budget Analysis (April 2000).

8.  Debbie Budlender, ed., The Women’s Budget (Cape Town: Budget Information Service, Institute for Democracy in South Africa, 1996), 7.

9.  Iris Lav, "Getting Started on Budget Work,” (Notes presented at the Second International Budget Conference, "Transparency and Participation in the Budget Process,” Cape Town, South Africa, February 21-25, 1999).

10. For a description of the various approaches towards budget analysis, see International Budget Project, A Guide to Budget Work, 1999, available from re­sources/guide.

11. Ibid.

12. Kenneth Creamer, "Key Challenges for Progressive Budget Reform,” Budget Information Service, Institute for Democracy in South Africa, Budget Watch, 31 July 1998.

copyright information