Empowering activists to expose human rights violations, securely.

Human rights defenders, researchers and activists risk their lives to gather proof about human rights violations around the world. Being in possession of sensitive media puts these activists at-risk, from governments and major actors involved in human rights abuses. OpenArchive aims to ensure secure upload of sensitive media collected by these at-risk individuals on the field to their organizations - who use this media as proof to bring about justice and changes.

I worked on this problem over the Summer of 2018 as a UX Researcher at OpenArchive. I conducted qualitative research to understand the challenges faced by at-risk individuals on the field - how they documented, captured and shared proof of human rights violations. Through interviews with human rights activists, researchers and archivists, I crafted personas, journey maps to understand the users and their interactions with the OpenArchive app. These deliverables, in addition to my recommendations, helped stakeholders at OpenArchive to get a better sense of its users which influenced the design and features offered by the app.

Qualitative UX Researcher

Interviews, Persona Creation, Journey Mapping, Scenario swim-lanes, Competitive Analysis, Survey Design

Phase I : Secondary Research

This was my first time working in the human rights sector. I did a literature review of research carried out in the human rights sector as well as human rights violations and abuses prevalent in Mexico, Colombia and Iran which were our regions of interest. However, since there was little research done in the field, I reached out to researchers who have worked in the field to understand their perspectives, and know about do’s and don’ts while interacting with our target population. These conversations helped me approach the research in a more system systematic way. One of the best tips I got was to stop chasing whistleblowers, because they don’t want to be found. These conversations also helped me greatly to prepare my interview guide and opened my eyes to a possibility of conducting remote interviews, since in person interviews were not an option due to location constraints.

Phase II : Competitive Analysis

Literature review carried out in phase 1 put me in a great position to research existing solutions which allowed (i) users to upload sensitive media securely and (ii) communicate securely. Even though OpenArchive is not currently focussing on secure communication, it was important to explore this area as a possible feature in the future. The first competitive analysis consisted of 16 competitors, with over 25 attributes while the second analysis consisted of 26 competitors, analyzed on 30+ attributes. The analysis gave stakeholders a clear view of the features offered to the users and more importantly helped stakeholders get an overview of features that are missing.
You can find a sample spreadsheet here.

Phase III : Creating Personas, Journey Maps

I was directly working with the founder of OpenArchive during the course of the internship to understand her vision of the product. I conducted stakeholder interviews, which were crucial in understanding the goals of the project. After understanding the stakeholder needs and goals, we jointly set up a research plan for needs assessment of the early adopter organization.

I conducted interviews with the employees of org-ABC. The interviews were critical in terms of understanding the organizational processes, the responsibilities of our target users and their current way of doing their jobs. All interviews were transcribed.
On the basis of these interviews, I created three user personas - Kevin the Researcher, Darius the videographer and Megan the archivist.
Journey Maps
I took a two-step approach to create journey maps for personas created.
i) I conducted stakeholder interviews to understand the vision of the founder for the flow of the app and to understand the technical limitations of the features that could be incorporated into the app. On the basis of these conversations, I created an ideal journey map.
ii) On the basis of interviews with users, I created an actual journey map, which outlined their journey on the app based on their requirements and the features that would be available to them.​​​​​​​
I calculated the deltas between the ideal and actual journey maps and presented the findings to the stakeholder. This approach helped identify areas that needed to be focussed on the most and also opportunities to make introduce features in the app, permitting a go-ahead from the development team. This process exposed process flaws at the client organization - which would make the user journey tedious. In order to make these process flaws more evident to the stakeholders at OpenArchive and the client organization, I made a flow model and scenario swimlanes to highlight the overload of information on certain actors and lack of structured information flow among the various actors involved in the process of documenting, uploading, approving the media.


1. Sourcing participants
Researchers and videographers at Org-ABC, who were our primary users, are often traveling across the globe and are difficult to get a hold of. It was impossible to do in person interviews with them. After a few scheduling conflicts, we were able to schedule interviews with researchers - some in different time zones, while some in the middle of their time off. I interviewed a researcher based in Germany at 9:00 am Central European Time which was midnight in my timezone (PST). Another time, I interviewed a videographer who was in the middle of her time off but graciously agreed to speak with me while she was driving across the country. Scheduling was challenging, but the valuable information from the participants was well worth it!

2. Mentor 
Since I was the only researcher on the team, I did not have a second set of eyes to look over my work and provide feedback. To remedy this, I reached out to Steve Fadden, a lecturer at UC Berkeley, who graciously agreed to be mentor me through my 10 week internship and provided invaluable feedback on my work.
I went through a couple iterations of the personas, incorporating feedback from my mentor and presented the three personas to the stakeholders who were very happy with the insights uncovered in the process. An important finding was that even though the initial interviews with the employees suggested that they could not use a mobile-app for uploading data to the organizations, the interviews uncovered that there was a need for uploading data through mobile. This was highly motivating! Another important finding was that the videographer persona, although relevant for future releases of the OpenArchive app, was not a viable persona for the first release of the app. I therefore concentrated our efforts on two personas and proceeded with creating journey maps for them.


This 10 week experience was a great learning experience - working as the only UX Researcher on the project helped me think on my feet, make important decisions, lead interviews, and be more confident about my work. I also gained valuable skills such as transcribing, conducting efficient remote interviews, preparing comprehensive interview guides, and storytelling through personas and journey maps. My weekly check-ins with mentor Steve Fadden helped me immensely and incorporating his feedback made a huge difference to my work and deliverables.

My summer at OpenArchive introduced me to the great work people were doing to document human rights violations and bring about change in policies. I was so moved by the work done by these individuals that I wanted to work further in this area. I have since decided to pursue research for ‘Designing for Trust’ for at-risk individuals. My goal is to design a platform which they can trust, makes them feel safe and empowered. This research can benefit thousands of researchers on the field, and by extension help shed light on human rights atrocities which will benefit innumerable people around the world.
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