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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 contribute to a more realistic and fruitful debate. We have three audiences in mind in particular: academics, policy-makers, and the wider public.

Academics use statistics day in, day out

One key channel to channel to make our results effective for society is, surprisingly, 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, researcher can inadvertently reinforce political and questionable calculations of the macro economy.

We believe that solid understanding of their political origins and consequences should be part of the tool box of all political economy researchers. We therefore develop publications that target, for example, political economists who employ GDP or unemployment data, laying out how such data is shaped by social and political dynamics.

Debating project results

Our project results will also matter to actual policymaking. Many parliamentarians, for example, will 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 conduct for our research have already brought us in contact with statisticians and policymakers throughout Europe and in North America. We will build on these ties to bring our results back to the audiences for which they are most immediately important. Along the way, we want to break with the tradition of speaking either to so-called developed or developing countries – FickleFormulas targets them all.

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 will need multiple communication channels to make this work: op-eds, radio interview, public discussions, and so on. You can already find some examples on our Output page.