Monday, January 30, 2012

[EQ] Indicators as Interventions: pitfalls and prospects in supporting development initiatives

Indicators as Interventions:
pitfalls and prospects in supporting development initiatives


Rockefeller Foundation, December 2011

Kevin Davis and Benedict Kingsbury


Available online PDF [55p.] at:


“………..One of the most interesting findings presented in the report is that the process of creating and disseminating indicators can be an effective intervention that is particularly useful in addressing and marshaling a response to wicked problems—complex, interdependent, ever-changing global issues that require the application of iterative solutions in order to be managed successfully. As the authors point out, it is valuable to compare indicators with other potential interventions in the international development system and, in their most compelling and powerful form, use them to trigger actions that move us one step closer to addressing challenges affecting the lives of poor and vulnerable populations on a daily basis.


The ability of indicators to help reframe problems related to poverty and globalization is an excellent example of how new kinds of evidence can play an outsized role in shaping the responses undertaken by philanthropies, governments, and other organizations interested in ensuring social change. Moving forward, the growing emergence of user-generated information that actively involves beneficiaries in the collection, production, and assessment of data will likely significantly shape the next generation of indicators.


Similarly, a shift in the locus of indicator construction is also likely to take place in the coming years, moving away from the current situation in which institutions based in the global North produce indicators about challenges taking place in the global South and, instead, lead to a rise in South-South collaboration related to indicator construction. An example of this trend is the Ibrahim Index of African Governance created by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an instance where an African-based institution has developed an increasingly well-known indicator that tracks the quality of governance across the continent.


In conclusion, this important contribution to the field highlights how indicators create valuable, necessary, and quantifiable simplifications that both illuminate key dimensions of a complex problem while simultaneously allowing important comparisons to be made.


Readers will find the report useful whether they plan to create a new indicator, want to better understand tradeoffs between indicators and other intervention options, or evaluate in what ways indicators can be deployed most effectively. Finally, the report highlights pathways for needed future research about how indicators can lead to action and impact……….”



Executive Summary

1. Introduction

1.1. Top-down problem-solving and the pathologies and pitfalls of indicators

2. Indicators and their alternatives

2.1. What is an indicator?

2.2. How indicators are produced

2.3. Alternatives to indicators

2.4. Case Studies

1. WHO/UNICEF Immunization Coverage Indicators

2. State Failure: The U.S. Fund for Peace Failed States Index

3. Impact Investment: The Global Impact Investing Rating System (GIIRS)

3. Roles for indicators in addressing social problems

`                               3.1. The process of addressing social problems: framing, action, contestation, updating

4. Learning and Revision

4. Indicators and the framing of social problems

4.1. How indicators frame problems

4.2. Indicators: validity and measurement error

4.3. Discrepancies in framing between the indicator and the gold standard for the problem

4.4. Indicators that frame problems controversially

4.5. Do indicators promote common understandings?

5. How indicators influence action

5.1. Which indicators influence action?

5.2. What factors determine the influence of indicators?

5.3. Under what conditions can indicators promote optimally constructive action?

5.4. When do indicators promote coordinated action?

5.5. Does use of indicators enhance accountability for actions?

6. Contestation around indicators

7. Learning and revision

8. Conclusion


This report draws extensively on background papers authored for this project by Nehal Bhuta, Sarah Dadush, and Angelina Fisher. Their papers appear, with substantial modifications, in K. Davis, A. Fisher, B. Kingsbury, and S. Merry eds., Governance by Indicators: Global Power Through Quantification and Rankings (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2012).


Indicators as a Technology of Global Governance

PDF file [60p.]

IILJ Working Paper 2010/2 Rev

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…..”



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