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Globalization, accountability, and technology are changing important aspects of global governance. While coercion, enforcement, and material sanctions have often taken pride of place as major movers of interstate relations, scholars and policy agents alike have come to appreciate the multifaceted nature of power exerted more subtly and gradually.
The proliferation of global performance indicators (GPIs) is one example of such power. They contain ideas and worldviews, and they attempt to “regulate” through non-coercive but nonetheless powerful means. They do not merely measure qualities and practices in order to understand or inform, they pressure their targets to perform and conform. In wielding such tools, a diverse set of actors insert themselves in the governing process, in some cases even shifting policy parameters. When promulgated by authoritative actors, GPIs can name and categorize information in new ways and have what anthropologists like Merry and others have referred to as “knowledge effects,” or the ability to influence how people think about socially legitimate or best practice. Their proliferation and evolution define and contest what is worth knowing, measuring and achieving.
In recent decades, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private firms, and even states have begun to regularly package and distribute information on the relative performance of states. From the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index to the Financial Action Task Force blacklist, Global Performance Indicators (GPIs) are increasingly deployed to influence governance globally. We argue that GPIs derive influence from their ability to frame issues, to extend the authority of the creator, and – most importantly – to invoke recurrent comparison that stimulates governments’ concerns for their own and their country’s reputation. Their public and ongoing ratings and rankings of states are particularly adept at capturing attention not only at elite policy levels but also among other domestic and transnational actors. GPIs thus raise new questions for research on politics and governance globally. What are the social and political effects of this form of information on discourse, policies, and behavior? What types of actors can effectively wield GPIs and on what types of issues? In this introduction, we define GPIs, describe their rise, and theorize and discuss these questions in light of the findings of the chapters’ contributions.