Sakiko Fukuda-Parr & Desmond McNeill: Knowledge and Politics in Setting and Measuring the SDGs

Special Issue of Global Policy, 2019.

Guest editors

Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Desmond McNeill


The papers in this special issue investigate the politics that shaped the SDGs, the setting of the goals, the selection of the measurement methods. The SDGs ushered in a new era of ‘governance by indicators’ in global development. Goal setting and the use of numeric performance indicators have now become the method for negotiating a consensus vision of development and priority objectives. The choice of indicators is seemingly a technical issue, but measurement methods interprets and reinterprets norms, carry value judgements, theoretical assumptions, and implicit political agendas. As social scientists have long pointed out, reliance on indicators can distort social norms, frame hegemonic discourses, and reinforce power hierarchies. 

The case studies in this collection show the open multi-stakeholder negotiations helped craft a more transformative and ambitious goals. But across many goals, there was slippage in ambition when targets and indicators were selected. The papers also highlight how the increasing role of big data and other non-traditional sources of data is altering data production, dissemination and use, and fundamentally altering the epistemology of information and knowledge. This raises questions about ‘data for whom and for what’ – fundamental issues concerning the power of data to shape knowledge, the democratic governance of SDG indicators and of knowledge for development overall.

Published Jan. 30, 2019 9:17 AM - Last modified July 1, 2021 10:05 AM