Failures and Successes of Human Rights-based Approaches to Development: Towards a Change Perspective

Wouter Vandenhole, Paul Gready

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human rights-based approaches to development (HRBADs) seem to be grounded in assumptions of change that remain implicit and therefore often undebated. These assumptions of change play at two levels, i.e. that of organisational change and that of social change. The main emphasis of this article is on organisational change as the logical precursor to social change. Explanatory factors for the challenges in introducing HRBADs in development organizations include the different legitimizing anchors that both use (normative versus empirical), as well as the differences in disciplinary backgrounds of staff and in role definition (confrontation versus collaboration with the state). An important finding is that result-based management and HRBADs may be more difficult to reconcile than often believed. The tension between both may be illustrative of the fundamental differences that continue to characterize development and human rights approaches, notwithstanding the rapprochement that has taken place over the past decade(s). We argue that more empirical work is needed in order to better understand organisational and social change through HRBADs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-311
Number of pages21
JournalNordic journal of human rights
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2014


  • human rights-based approaches to development
  • organisational change
  • social change
  • role definition

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