In this nascent METRO ‘going public’ attempt, the project team is using the medium of Q&As to outline some of the ideas, ambitions and challenges that motor our work and coffee breaks at the top floor 22 George Square. If you are keen on knowing more, why don’t you email us, or even better, if you are local, just come for a cuppa.
In what follows, our team gives a brief overview of METRO
Can you give us an overview of the project? What are the project’s key objectives?
Dr Sotiria Grek, Principal Investigator: The ‘International Organisations and the Rise of a Global Metrological Field’ project idea, or, in short METRO, was born out of questions around the politics of the making of knowledge, and in particular, the politics of numbers. Although much of other scholarship in the field of the social production of metrics focuses around measurements tools themselves, we know much less about those actors and institutions that construct them.
The METRO study hopes to unveil the intricacies of the metric-gathering roles of IOs, right down to details regarding the types of labour and expertise used to gather data, how decisions are made regarding what to measure, how resources are used and shared and how alliances are forged. These details, along with bigger picture issues such as how the data is standardised, analysed and presented, how it influences policy and vice versa and how the information gathered goes towards the legitimisation of IOs, will all shed new light on an area of increasing importance in the developed and developing worlds.
Therefore, we wanted to create a research programme that would go beyond the role of International Organisations in ‘governing by numbers’: instead, METRO brings together multiple bodies of knowledge in order to cast light on how metrics are produced but also, and crucially, the role metrics play in re-shaping the relationships between IOs themselves.
Why is it important to look at international organisations and the increasing importance of metrics in their operations?
Dr Matteo Ronzani, Research Fellow: Quantification is ubiquitous across all spheres of public life. Our public services are driven by targets and league tables; our productivity at work is measured through indicators; the performance of governments is assessed by statistics; and social media is increasingly marshalled both for communicating and collecting quantitative data. The use of measurement to codify, standardise and communicate information is longstanding – yet, there has been a surge in such practices over the past three decades, associated with developments in governance, corporate practice, and digital technology.
These developments imply major shifts in governance practices and public policy more generally, but especially the work of large IOs which are usually the main producers and disseminators of quantitative data. Given the centrality of numbers to the governing of contemporary societies, how do IOs select their expertise? How do they make decisions about their strategic alliances with other IOs and actors? How does their quantitative work reconfigure their positioning in transnational governance and, given the current fluidity of the global world order, how do they use their technical capacities to legitimise their work and survive in an increasingly competitive knowledge market? All these questions are not only central to the research and analysis of METRO but also key to IOs’ strategists and forward thinkers.
What is the significance of education and development as concepts in this study? How have you used them as cases in the project?
Dr Justyna Bandola-Gill, Research Fellow: The fields of Education and Development are rich arenas for the examination of the interplay of IOs. Education has had a long history of measurement by establishing the first international networks for the development of testing back in the 1930s; IOs, like the OECD, began developing international comparative data on education performance as early as the 1960s. The recent couple of decades have seen an explosion of indicator development by all major IOs in education, as it is increasingly associated with the development of human capital and economic prosperity. From global university rankings (Kauppi 2013), to the development of global testing of adult competencies (Grek 2014), this is a field which despite the national legal frameworks that prima facie rule it, is largely dominated by the measurement agendas of IOs.
Similar to their commensuration processes, the ideological swings and alliance-building strategies of large IOs in the field of education are striking. The OECD openly uses an economistic education discourse suggesting that comparisons are essential if education systems are to be competitive in the global economy. Interestingly, because of PISA’s success, the OECD has begun expanding its work in the global South, which previously was in the sphere of influence of the World Bank and UNESCO. All three major IOs have been working together on a series of large statistical projects, despite competition for scarce resources and their clashing worldviews. For example, in contrast to the OECD, UNESCO prides itself in its humanistic approach to education, yet it was the UNESCO Institute of Statistics that turned to the OECD to ‘learn’ how to do education statistics. In Europe, similar alliances are being built between the European Commission and the OECD. Both organisations signed a memorandum of cooperation in 2013, suggesting that they are going to collaborate in adult skills analysis and forecasting, country analyses and international assessments; indeed, the Directorate General Education and Culture has been the prime funder of OECD work in Europe for at least a decade now.
Development, on the other hand, has in many ways been one of the primary fields that IOs were established to work in, especially in the developing world. From the Marshall Plan of 1948, all the way to the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) of the recent decades in countries in both the global South and the global North, the field of international development was originally mainly targeting the economic development of previous colonized world regions. New narratives of progress, especially after the financial crisis of the last decade, resulted in a move towards more broadly defined human development agendas, where economic calculations and targets are still central. What remains an unchanged feature of the field is the mobilization of large numbers of IOs in the production of development indicators in order to produce knowledge and thus governing order to very dispersed, diverse and locally organized communities with their own traditions and cultural understandings. Development is in itself an ‘international regime’: it is a concept primarily constructed on the basis of the statistical and discursive work of major IOs. Development features in some of the most prominent global indicator projects, such as the Millenium Development Goals (2000-2015). Given its definitional fluidity and global transcendence, international/sustainable development constitutes the raison d’ être of some major IOs. Similar to education, development resonates with both economic prosperity and the improvement of human well-being. However, more so than education, the fluidity of the policy delineations that pertain to development, have allowed greater alliance-building, as well as actor movement between all major IOs which work in the field. Finally, development is an important case to examine as it is as a field which perverse effects and indicator failures are most likely to happen, and where the local experience is hardest to translate into numerical quantities –one of which, for example, is the measurement of poverty.