Indicators For Sustainable Prosperity? Challenges And Potentials For Indicator Use In Political Processes

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Jones, A ; Mair, S ; Ward, J ; Druckman, A ; Lyon, F ; Christie, I ; Hafner, S (2016)

The use of quantified indicators for the implementation and measurement of social progress is a well-established policy tool. However, any form of ‘social progress’ is inherently contested and a meaningful application of indicators in such contexts poses numerous challenges. In this paper we explore how indicators might be used to research and implement sustainable prosperity. We do this by reviewing key critiques of indicators and their political use (and misuse), drawing out lessons from previous indicator projects such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and Taking Part. We argue that because classic indicators rely on simplification and quantification, they struggle to do justice to objectives like sustainable prosperity which come with conflicting understandings and contain unquantifiable subjective elements. Indicators can only be a partial representation of sustainable prosperity, we find, and thus should not be understood as a way to measure it, but a way of articulating a particular set of political priorities. This way indicators can be a useful tool for constructing new understandings, holding powerful actors to account and enabling engagement with policy end goals.
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