Researching the politics of development



The political economy of governance measurement

9 June 2015
By David Hulme, Debora Malito, Antonio Savoia and Gaby Umbach.
Most scholars and policy-makers agree that the design of rules and regulations, the effectiveness of policies and the competence of public bodies play a crucial role in the functioning of states and economies. In short, there is a consensus that ‘governance matters’.
Since the early 1990s, an increasing amount of research hence focused on the quality of governance as a warrantor for sustained economic growth rates and national income levels. The findings of this research have led to an increasing recognition of the importance of ‘good’ governance, to the point of considering it a desirable global development goal in its own right for the Post-2015 Development Agenda (as in the recent United Nations report [pdf]). In practice, mainstream media already routinely report and comment with much emphasis on updates to country rankings regarding a wealth of governance dimensions: democracy, corruption, media freedom, competence of public bodies and functioning of legal systems, and much more.
But how, and how well, do existing governance indicators capture governance quality?
Which aspects do they measure and which do they turn a blind eye to? And what sort of methodologies do they apply and how robust are these? If ‘good’ governance is to become a development goal, these are important questions that any sensible policy-maker would like to ask. Recent ESID research assessing measures of legal, bureaucratic and administrative capacity of states has already raised concerns about both the political acceptability and statistical desirability of existing evaluation tools for the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The next step is to dig deeper into how existing governance measures are generated.
ESID‘s new project on the political economy of measuring governance – by Antonio Savoia and David Hulme at ESID, and Debora Valentina Malito and Gaby Umbach, at the European University Institute Global Governance Programme – aims to improve current understanding of governance measures, with particular reference to state effectiveness aspects. It will look at the political economy of measurement, a neglected aspect so far, by studying existing measures according to a set of key dimensions:

  1. Who produces and finances the production of governance measures (governments, philanthropists, NGOs, private corporations, academia);
  2. Geographical location and governance level of development and production;
  3. Purpose and use of the measurement tool produced.

As the type of producer, the type of funder, the governance level, the production process, and the geographical location are assumed to impact on the way governance quality is defined and assessed around the world, these factors form the key variables of the research design.
For example, different types of producers or funders could have different ideological views and understandings of state capacity and governance; different measures and ranking/ratings produced are likely to mirror these priorities and hence impact in different ways. Similarly, measures generated at different governance levels and in different geographical locations (e.g., North vs. South), for a given state and economy, may reflect the historical and diplomatic ties with the same economy and hence reflect this within the assessment.
Understanding the political economy of governance measurement will help to develop the setting of international standards and the monitoring of governance goals, so that governance measures become part of a routinised activity producing high-quality, internationally comparable data for the Post-2015 Development Goals.