Research Scholars Network

In order to understand the implications of prominent global governance indicators for the dynamics of power relations, including their influence on behavior, discourse, and contestation, we created a network of scholars from several countries of the global South and global North who carried out individual case studies of selected indicators and situations and collaborated through a series of meetings in order to develop a theoretical framework for the way indicators act in practices of global governance. The participants were in most cases junior scholars, so this project incorporated training and mentoring of U.S. and international researchers as well as research and theoretical development. It promoted collaboration by bringing together scholars with different disciplinary training from several countries who developed their own research projects but shared a common approach and conversation about their work.

The goal of this collaborative project was to develop a shared theoretical perspective among many scholars working in different parts of the world and on different indicators in order to develop a broader and more nuanced theoretical perspective on the role of indicators in global governance.  This process involved comparison across indicators and among countries. Through comparison of these focused studies of different sites, indicators, and processes, the team created a general theory about how indicators work in action.

The work of the network was funded by the National Science Foundation. In the initial stages, the work of the research scholars was funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Research Scholars and their Projects

Quantitative vs. Qualitative Conditionality

Nikhil Dutta examined the interplay of indicators and discretion in conditionality in the context of Albanian participation in NATO accession, EU accession, and Millennium Challenge Corporation grant programs. Specifically, the project examined (i) how three organizations employing conditionality — NATO, the EU, and the MCC — arrived at their particular balances of quantitative and qualitative conditionality, (ii) whether conditions that appeared indicator-driven nonetheless reserved for the decision-making organization some discretion, and (iii) how target country governments and organizations reacted to quantitative and qualitative conditionality. The project entailed literature review, media review, and structured interviews with Albanian government officials.


Measuring Law and Institutions

Indicators of Corruption

Migai Akech assessed the impact in Kenya of the Corruption Perception Index and Bribery Index produced by Transparency International and examined the use of these indicators in the context of the fight against corruption and institutional reform in Kenya over the last decade. Questions framing the research included: to what extent did these indicators contribute to decision-making on corruption in Kenya? How were these indicators produced? How was corruption conceptualized, and what kinds of questions were asked in the surveys that informed these indicators?  How were these questions and indicators understood by the general public? To what extent did the public view these indicators as legitimate? To what extent did these indicators reflect the “true picture” of corruption? How did these indicators affect or influence the work of policy-makers, civil society, institutions, and government? What impact did these indicators have on the design of anti-corruption laws? Methodology employed in the research included literature review, survey of public deliberations referring to the indicators in advocacy, policy, and legal discourses, interviews with key participants, and analysis of media coverage of the indicators.

Smoki Musaraj studied the (mis)translation of global expert knowledge on corruption by a range of local actors in Albania. Specifically, Musaraj conducted an ethnography of the production of corruption perception surveys and their use by various actors, including international organizations and agencies, local government authorities, and local intermediary organizations and residents making claims of state capture. The study also examined other indicators in international development policies and decision-making towards Albania. The first part of the research built upon ethnographic research conducted with IDRA, a subcontractor of USAID in the making of one of the two most important corruption perception surveys in Albania. The second part of the research mapped out how the history of the global anti-corruption movement intertwined with the local debates (or lack thereof) about corruption in local politics. Finally, the third part of the research monitored ongoing use of corruption perception data and rhetoric of transparency and state capture in various domains, including official policies for privatization, legalization, and public procurement; and local claims against official and unofficial forms of privatization of the state.


Indicators of State Failure

Nehal Bhuta undertook research in the areas of state-building, the history and theory of international law, and social theory. The project built upon his work on the conceptual history of state-building in American political science. The research investigated the production, uses, and effects of three indexes of state failure: the US Fund for Peace’s State Failure Index, USAID’s Index of State Fragility and Instability, and the Center for Systemic Peace/Center for Global Policy’s State Fragility Index. The research employed genealogical-historical inquiries into the emergence of relevant concepts and categories, and of the process by which non-quantitative information became quantifiable; formal and informal interviews of participants in the production of indexes, and of consumers and users of the indexes; content analysis of the aesthetics of the presentation of the indicator (graphic representations based on numbers generated); and content analysis of media reports, policy documents, and other public sources to identify references to the indicator and ways in which the indicator was used and/or contested.


Indicators of Justice and Rule of Law

Luciana Gross Cunha conducted an in-depth study of the justice indicators existing in Brazil and the methodology, aims, and impacts of the Brazilian Justice Confidence Index (BJCI), which she and several of her colleagues developed in 2007. In particular, she focused on how the BCJI influences the public and policymakers in Brazil and neighboring countries and compared the BJCI to similar indicators produced by extra-national bodies such as the World Bank and the Council of Europe. The second phase of the BJCI produced indicators of justice perception for different states in Brazil, which enabled assesment of variations in the effects of indicators among different states (e.g., to compare responses of judges in different states to the BJCI). The study traced the genealogy of justice indicators, with particular attention to the credibility and contestability of different indicators. With respect to the BJCI, the study examined how this indicator relates to other justice indicators and what impact it is having in Brazil.  Methods employed included analysis of reports, documents and data, interviews with key participants, examination of documents and analyzes of government and court policies, and media survey.

Mihaela Serban studied the construction and use of rule of law indicators in Central and Eastern Europe post-1989 at regional and country levels, focusing on Romania as a country case study. Drawing on the World Bank Governance Indicators, World Justice Project, United Nations Rule of Law Indicators and their sub-contractors, European Union’s Cooperation and Verification Mechanism for Romania (CVM), and the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative, Serban examined (i) how and where rule of law indicators were produced, (ii) what types of data were used in the production and who collected such data, (iii) what was the meaning of indicators for various audiences, (iv) what was the media coverage and its effects, (v) what was the impact of indicators on policy-making, advocacy and other specific domains (e.g., access to justice), (vi) how indicators evolved over time (e.g., has their significance increased or decreased and why), and (vii) what were alternative ways and practices of thinking about indicators (e.g, resistance to indicators, construction of counter-indicators). Methodology employed included both quantitative and qualitative approaches, primarily: media analysis, interviews with key constructors and users of indicators domestically and internationally, examination of documents discussing or using indicators for policy or for reporting to treaty bodies, as well as in legal and law-making contexts, court decisions involving indicators, and, if available, surveys of the general population concerning understanding and reliance on indicators.

Rene Urueña explored the Rule of Law Index, produced by the World Justice Project, as a case study of the rationale behind the supply of indicators in global governance. The project aimed to examine the process of creating the Rule of Law index as well its relation to external incentives. In examining the process of indicator creation, Urueña looked at the institutional arrangements and contexts, the history of indicator development, the normative premises, and methodology of data gathering and analysis. In examining demand and supply of indicators, Urueña studied the consumers of the Index, competitors of the World Justice Project, and uses of the Index. The study also included an examination of the uses in and effects of Rule of Law Index on decision-making in Colombia. The project entailed literature and documentary review, media survey, and structured interviews with producers of the Rule of Law Index and competitor-indexes.


Labor Market Indicators

Paul Benjamin explored the emergence of international labor market indicators and the debate concerning their content, validity, presentation, and utility. His study compared the different approaches of the two major international institutions involved: the International Labour Organization and the World Bank. The project examined (i) how the relevant organizations project the scientific validity of the indicators and whether (and how) these projects reflect different ideological orientations of the organizations or different groupings within the organization, (ii) how the use of labor market indicators impacted the debate in the international and national arenas between proponents of different views on labour law (with focus on South Africa and other African countries), and (iii) how the media, the state, organized business, and organized labour utilized and incorporated indicators in their participation in national debates. His methodology included the review of records of deliberations within the ILO and the World Bank, media surveys, and structured interviews of relevant constituencies.


Global Reporting Initiative

Galit Sarfaty’s research used the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) as a case study to examine how the transformation of indicators into international law alters the nature of global governance. In order to understand the lifecycle of the GRI from norms to indicators to international law, the project traced the norm production, transmission, and internalization processes, focusing on the distinctive effects of GRI indicators on policy formation and decision-making in corporations and domestic regulatory bodies, particularly the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Drawing upon her background in law and anthropology, Sarfaty conducted qualitative interviews with the producers of the indicators (members of the GRI’s secretariat in Amsterdam), regulators (accounting firms that conduct third-party assurance reports for the GRI), and consumers (investors and NGOs who read the GRI reports). Sarfaty also conducted ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with the SEC officials and representatives from a chemical company in the Fortune 500 that uses the GRI. This study aimed to uncover the normative implications and unintended consequences of the use of indicators as international law, including shifts in accountability in decision-making, the distribution of power among actors, and the dominance of particular forms of expertise.


Ethnography of Indicators

Cultural Indicators for Indigenous People

Jane Anderson studied the emergence, development, and politics of a cluster of cultural indicators for indigenous peoples. The project examined how and through what means indigenous political issues are afforded a certain kind of (limited) institutional legitimacy when they are framed as being “cultural” in nature. Anderson investigated both the conditions that enable the making of Indigenous-specific indicators as well as how an idea and rationality of cultural indicators travel across multiple networks of expertise and agency, including indigenous organizations, the United Nations, and U.S. philanthropic organizations. The study combined historical analysis of institutional involvement in indigenous issues and the production and promotion of cultural indicators, structured interviews of key actors, and critical ethnography to understand the horizontal and vertical movement of the indicators. It also examined the effects that the process of quantifying “culture” in the form of these indicators had on the meaning of the concept for indigenous peoples.


Freedom House Indicators

Christopher Bradley’s research focused on the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Freedom House and its four annual global indicators, in particular its flagship global indicator, the Freedom in the World index that purports to rank the relative freedom of nearly every state in the world. The project unfolded in three stages. The first stage examined the link between indicator production and institutional identity, exploring the function served by indicators in allowing organizations to build a “brand name” — based on the credibility, expertise, and objectivity established by the indicator — that can aid advocacy efforts. The second stage examined the accuracy and limitations of the indicator itself. The third stage looked at how the indicator was used and by whom and examine the implications and consequences of the indicator in action. This project involved archival research into Freedom House’s history, leadership, priorities, and decisions; literature review; and interviews with indicator producers (Freedom House associates) and users of indicators.


Malaria Indicators

Rene Gerrets  explored the rapidly growing influence of indicators in contemporary global health governance, examining their role in shaping malaria research and control priorities and efforts with particular focus on the production and use of the indicators in Tanzania. the project charted the “social life” of a widely-used malaria indicator by tracing the (at times contentious) processes involving its formulation, production, modification, and mobilization so as to investigate its influence on decision-making, policy generation, knowledge practices, and power relations. This project examined the growing significance of indicators in relation to the concurrent spread of other business models such as public-private partnerships in the domain of global health. This study used data obtained from primary and secondary sources. Primary data was collected through a combination of ethnographic methodologies, in particular participant observation, informal and semi-structured interviewing, and focus group discussions. Secondary data was collected from a variety of written sources (e.g., institutional reports and manuals, scientific publications, policy recommendations, project evaluations, and newspaper articles or other publications in popular sources) and, if relevant, visual materials (such as videos).