Using data to rate countries doesn’t just help us understand their behavior, it actually changes it.
For Judith Kelley, the acronym GPA means more than “grade point average,” the term most familiar to her students. She also thinks of “global performance assessments” — public measures of performance that nations, nongovernmental organizations and private entities use to attract attention, shape debate, and—they hope—change behavior.
Kelley studies how international actors influence domestic politics. “What can we do to get countries to stop mistreating people?” she asks.
She has written books on getting states to respect the rights of ethnic minorities, and about how to promote better elections. Her work on international election monitors showed that observing and reporting on elections could improve election quality. Social scientists are familiar with the phenomenon, called the Hawthorne effect: When people are aware they are being observed, they change their behavior.
Yet observation alone may not suffice to bring about desired changes. What other strategies can be used on the international stage to ensure fair elections or secure basic human rights?
“Professors know very well that grades affect behavior,” says Kelley. “It can be a motivating tool. A low grade can spur improvement and a high grade can inspire the student to work hard to keep that grade. Nations that care about their reputations can also be influenced through ratings and rankings in what I call ‘scorecard diplomacy.’”
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