The visualization of ranking information in global public policy is moving away from traditional “league table” formats and toward dashboards and interactive data displays. This paper explores the rhetoric underpinning the visualization of ranking information in such interactive formats, the purpose of which is to encourage country participation in reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals. The paper unpacks the strategies that the visualization experts adopt in the measurement of global poverty and wellbeing, focusing on a variety of interactive ranking visualizations produced by the OECD, the World Bank, the Gates Foundation and the ‘Our World in Data’ group at the University of Oxford. Building on visual and discourse analysis, the study details how the politically and ethically sensitive nature of global public policy, coupled with the pressures for “decolonizing” development, influence how rankings are visualized. The study makes two contributions to the literature on rankings. First, it details the move away from league table formats toward multivocal interactive layouts that seek to mitigate the competitive and potentially dysfunctional pressures of the display of “winners and losers.” Second, it theorizes ranking visualizations in global public policy as “alignment devices” that entice country buy-in and seek to align actors around common global agendas.
- Interactive visualization
- Naming and shaming
- Performance measurement
- Poverty measurement
- Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)