Beyond winners and losers: Ranking visualizations as alignment devices in global public policy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The visualization of ranking information in global public policy is moving away from traditional ‘league table’ formats and towards 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 (SDGs). 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 and the Gates Foundation. 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 towards 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.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch in the Sociology of Organizations
Subtitle of host publicationWorld of Rankings
EditorsLeopold Ringel, Wendy Espeland, Michael Sauder, Tobias Werron
Place of PublicationBingley
PublisherEmerald Publishing
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781801171052
ISBN (Print)9781801171069
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2021

Publication series

NameResearch in the Sociology of Organizations
PublisherEmerald Publishing
ISSN (Print)0733-558X


  • ranking
  • interactive visualization
  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • naming and shaming
  • performance measurement
  • poverty measurement


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