Introduction to the METRO project

About the project

The ‘International Organisations and the Rise of a Global Metrological Field’, METRO for short, is an ERC-funded project (grant number 715125), which focuses on the rise of quantification as a key tool in the production of knowledge for transnational governance.

Although much literature on the field of the social production of metrics has examined the measurement tools themselves, we know less about the actors and institutions that construct and use these tools.

Therefore, METRO’s objective has been to undertake a research programme that goes beyond the role of International Organisations (IOs) in ‘governing by numbers’. Instead, METRO brings together multiple bodies of knowledge in order to cast light on the role metrics play in re-shaping the relationships and interdependencies between IOs themselves.

o The production of new knowledge in global governance is primarily quantified and fulfils two functions: to both commensurate and standardise across contexts and spaces, whilst also being locally applicable. We have seen a significant emphasis on metrics to be able to respond to global challenges and wicked problems, and thus have placed particular emphasis on understanding the construction of data infrastructures and discourses of the Sustainable Development Goals, which we see as a quantitative monitoring agenda transformed into an influential governing programme. This project finding has led to a co-authored book contract on ‘Governing the Sustainable Development Goals: Quantification in Global Social Policy’ (Springer/ Palgrave Macmillan), as well as a special issue proposal on ‘Epistemic infrastructures: Sustainable Development Goals and the politics of quantification in global public policy’, under review by Policy and Society.

o Economics has become the universal language of global governance. It is the disciplinary knowledge that forms the academic background of the vast majority of IOs’ staff, and its reach can be seen in the primacy of economic modelling, cost-benefit analysis and economic development for informing the prioritisation of some indicators over others. This emergent finding is discussed further in the working paper by Bandola-Gill ‘Thinking with indicators? Economic persuasion in global poverty governance’[GS1] , planned for presentation at European Sociological Association’s conference in September, postponed due to coronavirus.

o The new production of governing knowledge depends on the role of IOs as knowledge brokers and mediators. Across our four cases, the interviews, social network analysis and critical discourse analysis we conducted with large and smaller IOs (OECD, UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank, etc.) showed that actors’ main role was to mediate and broker knowledge between different organisations, the civil society and member countries. This finding has been analysed in Grek’s article ‘Prophets, Saviours and Saints: Symbolic Governance and the Rise of a Transnational Metrological Field’. In addition, we see IOs as being equally keen on mediating technical with political accountability, through the discourse of data democratisation. We have analysed these developments in depth in the chapter by Fontdevila and Grek ‘The construction of SDG4: Reconciling democratic imperatives and technocratic expertise in the making of global education data?’ and Bandola-Gill’s published article ‘The legitimacy of experts in policy: navigating technocratic and political accountability in the case of global poverty governance’ .

o Startistical knowledge for global governance aims to increase user reflexivity, and even the ‘malleability’ of data via the interactive dimensions of data visuals. This finding has been developed in the article ‘Beyond winners and losers: Visual Rankings as Alignment Devices in Global Public Policy’ (co-authored by Bandola-Gill/Grek/Ronzani, forthcoming in Research in the Sociology of Organisations). (link as working paper)

o Applying the concept of knowledge controversies, METRO has identified the multiple ways in which the measurement of global poverty, for example, is characterised by competitive practices by different IOs who try to market their measurement agendas; in this context quality control is ‘marketised’, in which the value of indicators is established by the global spread of the measure. This finding has been analysed in depth by Bandola-Gil and Ronzani in the working paper ‘Knowledge Controversy in Calculable Spaces: Valuation Practices and the Market of Indicators in Global Poverty Measurement’.