Special Issue – Knowledge and Politics in Setting and Measuring SDGs

Special Issue – Knowledge and Politics in Setting and Measuring SDGs

The papers in this special issue investigate the politics that shaped the SDGs, the setting of the goals, and the selection of the measurement methods. The SDGs ushered in a new era of ‘governance by indicators’ in global development. Goal setting and the use of numeric performance indicators have now become the method for negotiating a consensus vision of development and priority objectives.  The choice of indicators is seemingly a technical issue, but measurement methods interpret and reinterpret norms, carry value judgements, theoretical assumptions, and implicit political agendas.  As social scientists have long pointed out, reliance on indicators can distort social norms, frame hegemonic discourses, and reinforce power hierarchies.  The case studies in this collection show the open multi-stakeholder negotiations helped craft more transformative and ambitious goals.  But across many goals, there was slippage in ambition when targets and indicators were selected.  The papers also highlight how the increasing role of big data and other non-traditional sources of data is altering data production, dissemination and use, and fundamentally altering the epistemology of information and knowledge.  This raises questions about ‘data for whom and for what’ – fundamental issues concerning the power of data to shape knowledge, the democratic governance of SDG indicators and of knowledge for development overall.



Knowledge and Politics in Setting and Measuring the SDGs - Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Desmond McNeill 

Case Studies

The Contested Discourse of Sustainable Agriculture - Desmond McNeill 

Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment: Feminist Mobilization for the SDGs - Gita Sen

The Many Meanings of Quality Education: Politics of Targets and Indicators in SDG4 - Elaine Unterhalter 

Power, Politics and Knowledge Claims: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the SDG Era - Alicia Ely Yamin 

Keeping Out Extreme Inequality from The SDG Agenda – The Politics of Indicators - Sakiko Fukuda-Parr 

The Design of Environmental Priorities in the SDGs - Mark Elder and Simon Høiberg Olsen 

The Framing of Sustainable Consumption and Production in SDG 12  - Des Gasper, Amod Shah and Sunil Tankha 

Measuring Access to Justice: Transformation and Technicality in SDG 16.3. - Margaret L. Satterthwaite and Sukti Dhital 

Data Governance

The IHME in the Shifting Landscape of Global Health Metrics - Manjari Mahajan

The Big (data) Bang: Opportunities and Challenges for Compiling SDG Indicators - Steve MacFeely 

Commentaries from Stakeholders

Layers of Politics and Power Struggles in the SDG Indicators Process - Serge Kapto (UNDP)

Political Thriller Exposes the Underbelly of Global Goals - Luise Ruerup and Sara Burke (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, New York)

The SDGs: Changing How Development is Understood - Paula Caballero (former negotiator for Colombia)

The SDGs Indicators: A Challenging Task for the International Statistical Community - Enrique Ordaz  (Co-chair of the IAEG-SDGs)

Objectivity as Distance or Engagement: The Riddle of SDG Measurement - Pali Lehohla (former Statistician-General, South Africa)

The Sustainable Development Goals Confront the Infrastructure of Measurement - Sally Engle Merry (New York University)

Indicators as Substitute for Policy Contestation and Accountability? Some Reflections on the 2030 Agenda from the Perspective of Gender Equality and Women's Rights - Shahra Razavi (UN Women)

Can SDG 16 Data Drive National Accountability? A Cautiously Optimistic View - Marie Laberge and Nadia Touihri (Specialists in governance measurement)

Commentary on Special Issue: Knowledge and Politics in Setting and Measuring SDGs Numbers and Norms - Barbara Adams (Global Policy Watch)



This project was made possible by generous support from: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung New York Office; UNDP; University of Oslo Centre for Environment and Development and the Environment; Julien J. Studley Grant to The New School Graduate Programs in International Affairs


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