Measurement Fetishism

“Currently the SDGs include 17 goals and 169 targets. Each target may have multiple indicators. Each indicator must be decomposed into many sub-indicators that show the extent to which the indicator is realized for multiple marginalized groups. This is less a system for sane management and more likely to be a welfare program for researchers. So many resources will be spent on trying to develop, measure, and collect data on what may literally be thousands of indicators that there may be few resources and little attention left over to actually do something about the problems indicated.”


By Steven Klees, University of Maryland.

TapeAt my first university job, in the early 1970s, a professor whose expertise was statistics and research methods said, “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.”  I thought, then and now, that that statement is both extreme and absurd.  More recently, in a World Bank blog, Harry Patrinos quoted management guru Peter Drucker as saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”  While I am afraid that, to many, this statement sounds more reasonable than the first, I think it just as extreme and absurd.  Unfortunately, we live in a world of measurement fetishism, much to our detriment.

To begin with, you can manage things you don’t measure.  You have to.  Everyone does.  Patrinos tries to make the opposite sound like both common sense and proven by research.  It is neither.  We all manage our households every day of our…

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