IILJ Working Paper 2010/2 (Revised)

Indicators as a Technology of Global Governance

Kevin E. Davis, Benedict Kingsbury, Sally Engle Merry

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The use of indicators is a prominent feature of contemporary global governance. Indicators are produced by organizations ranging from public actors such as the World Bank or the US State Department, to NGOs such as Freedom House, to hybrid entities such as the Global Fund, to private sector political risk rating agencies. They are used to compare and rank states for purposes as varied as deciding how to allocate foreign aid or investment and whether states have complied with their treaty obligations. This paper defines the concept of an “indicator”, analyzes distinctive features of indicators as technologies of governance, and identifies various ways in which the use of indicators has the potential to alter the topology and dynamics of global governance. Particular attention is paid to how indicators can affect processes of standard- setting, decision-making, and contestation in global governance. The World Bank Doing Business indicators and the United Nations Human Development Index are analyzed as case studies.