Title: Elements for a comprehensive assessment of public indicators
Authors: BOULANGER Paul-Marie
Editors: SALTELLI Andrea
Publisher: Publications Office of the European Union
Publication Year: 2014
JRC N°: JRC92162
ISBN: 978-92-79-43556-0
ISSN: 1831-9424
Other Identifiers: EUR 26921
OP LB-NA-26921-EN-N
URI: http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC92162
DOI: 10.2788/12459
Type: EUR - Scientific and Technical Research Reports
Abstract: There is no shortage of discussions and even criticisms of prominent indicators such as the Global Competitiveness Index, the Environmental Performance Index, or the Human Development Index, nor of proposals for supposedly better indices of prosperity, environmental sustainability or human progress. We certainly need them and probably others more. However, one cannot help thinking that a theory is missing that would offer a conception of indicators in general, and of social indicators in particular. Such a framework should recognize the complex and hybrid nature of these measures, and help assessing their quality. In other words, what we need is comprehensive assessments that considers indicators altogether as pieces of knowledge, instruments of governance and socially communicated signs; a perspective that combines the knowledge requirements of governance and the political dimension of public knowledge. We believe that such a perspective can be found at the juncture of three discourses or perspectives. The first one is Peirce’s theory of signs, or semiotics for short, that highlights the communicative nature of indicators, their role in the survival and reproduction of all living organisms and their link with action and behavior. In particular, Peirce’s classification of signs and notably his distinction between icons, indices and symbols is especially relevant here. Our second source of inspiration is John Dewey’s pragmatic theory of the public and of social inquiry which help conceptualizing the connection between indicators and public policy and understanding their role in the management of public problems. We underline the connection between Dewey’s conception of the public and more recent advances in cognitive politics, which highlights the importance of the way public problems are framed and the role of indicators in such framing. We find our third source of inspiration in the analysis by Gibbons, Limoges, Nowotny and their colleagues of the “Mode 2” of production of knowledge which can be looked at as an updating and empirical confirmation of Dewey’s theory of social inquiry. We conceive of the production of indicators as a typically “mode 2” activity, which is therefore to be assessed against the social robustness criteria. We attempt to show how Peirce’s distinction between the iconic, the indexical and the symbolic dimension of signs on one hand, and Dewey’s theory of democracy, on the other hand, provide us insightful tools for conducing comprehensive evaluations of the social robustness of indicators and designing more robust alternatives to the existing ones.
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