Public debate over meaningful measures

Measurement formulas for macroeconomic indicators play a central role in economic governance and the choices we make for the future. But accountability is only as strong as the tools citizens have to assess whether politicians and policy-makers serve their interests. Transparency about how statistics are compiled is therefore essential, as are citizens who understand what statistics do and do not tell us.

Social science has a central role in promoting reflection on the production and use of statistics among academics, policy-makers and citizens. Many past suggestions for more meaningful and relevant measures have ignored the real-world forces that shape actual measurement practices. That has limited their policy impact. Through an analysis of these forces, we have aimed to contribute to a more realistic and fruitful debate, with three audiences in mind in particular: academics, policymakers, and the wider public.

Academics use statistics day in, day out

One key channel to channel to make our results effective for society has been by talking to other academics. A lot of real-world policy – in rich and poor countries alike – is designed in the shadow of university-based economic research. And the academics producing this research use macroeconomic statistics day in, day out.

We shine light on the largely invisible politics at their foundation. When pushed, scholars often acknowledge that there is more to indicators than meets the eye. But they rarely take these concerns seriously in their scholarship, let alone pursue them in research. In that way, researchers can inadvertently reinforce political and questionable calculations of the macro economy.

We believe that solid understanding of statistics' political origins and consequences should be part of the tool box of all political economy researchers. That is why we have published analyses that address political economists who employ for example GDP or trade data, exposing the noise it contains, and how that has shaped past academic analyses.

Debating project results

Our project results are also relevant to actual policymaking. Many parliamentarians, for example, may not know what goes into macroeconomic indicators and why. Experts in national and international statistical agencies may not appreciate the political underpinnings of the indicators they use. Building awareness in relevant policy communities is crucial for effective and legitimate governance.

The interviews we have conducted for our research have brought us in contact with statisticians and policymakers throughout Europe, North America, but also in Brazil, South Africa, and for example Laos. We have leveraged these ties to bring our results back to the audiences for which they are most immediately important - for example through seminars at the United Nations Statistical Division.

Citizen awareness

Of course, one way or another, the real beneficiaries of our research must be citizens themselves. Effective economic governance requires that citizens understand the political choices implicit in the macroeconomic measures we use. We have used a range of communication channels to make this work: op-eds, radio interview, public discussions, and so on. You can find examples on our Output page.