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Statistical capacity development and the production of epistemic infrastructures

Tichenor, Marlee

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Designating statistical capacity development as a target for measurement in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) created a dilemma for statistical decision-makers in the United Nations system, as some saw the inclusion of statistical capacity in SDG17 as a “conflict of interest,” making their work both a goal of the SDGs and a means to achieve them. In 2022, there are five indicators for measuring both the statistical capacity of individual countries and the support provided to strengthen it, including one indicator for measuring a country’s ability to monitor the SDGs themselves. In this article, I argue that the epistemic infrastructuring of statistical capacity into the SDG framework is a privileged case. By parsing the interconnections between the data, actors, networks, and processes that constitute statistical capacity on national and global levels, we can understand how central these materialities and processes are in constituting the larger policy agenda of the SDGs as well as debates over the problems that statistical capacity is meant to solve. Like all indicators in the SDG framework, statistical capacity indicators are performative – defined and delineated by the global statistics community that also helps define and delineate the SDG framework’s development problems. Unlike other indicators, however, statistical capacity indicators have the added weight of also producing the conditions of possibility for the “SDG framework itself.” In this way, debates over what constitutes statistical capacity and its strengthening are also debates about ownership of policy agendas and where tensions between the local and global erupt.


Tichenor, M. (2022). Statistical capacity development and the production of epistemic infrastructures. Policy and Society, 41(4), 541-554.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 27, 2022
Online Publication Date Jul 14, 2022
Publication Date 2022-12
Deposit Date Aug 2, 2022
Publicly Available Date Mar 14, 2023
Journal Policy and Society
Print ISSN 1449-4035
Electronic ISSN 1839-3373
Publisher Oxford University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 41
Issue 4
Pages 541-554


Published Journal Article (189 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
This article is available under the Creative Commons CC-BY-NC license and permits non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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