math formulas

What gets measured gets done? The role of metrics in building the EU anti-poverty policy

Headshot of Marianna Zielenska





Discover new insights on the relationship between quantification and EU policy-making with Marianna Zielenska from the University of Warsaw as part of this upcoming seminar of our 2023 series.

Here are some details of the event:

What gets measured gets done? The role of metrics in building the EU anti-poverty policy. 



“What gets measured gets done” – this phrase was used by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, at the Porto Summit where the European Union’s social policy objectives for the next decade were presented and discussed. She was emphasising the importance of metrics as tools to ensure that the priorities set for this policy area are met. Yet, achieving objectives in EU social policy is far more complex because the EU institutions have very limited instruments of influence at their disposal– most of the legal prerogatives are in the hands of the Member States. As a result, much more is based on negotiations and compromises than actual enforcement. Moreover, the EU institutions – above all the European Commission – are forced into a constant struggle for recognition of their mandate. As I will show, metrics such as indicators, indices and scoreboards are at the heart of these processes. 

By referring to the European Union’s anti-poverty policy, I will illustrate how metrics are used to negotiate the boundaries in this policy area. This is well reflected in the process of agreeing on quantitative measures, where a compromise is forged between the EC and the Member States, but at the same time a trade-off is made between the cognitive value and the political value of these measures. Such “commonly agreed” measures are then institutionalised as a key element of anti-poverty policy legitimizing it as a “common concern”. I will also take a closer look at the EC as a key actor at EU level often seeking to push the boundaries in anti-poverty policy and strengthen its position. Based on the assumption that organisations use knowledge not only instrumentally to exercise power over their area of interest, but also as a means of legitimising themselves or justifying their policy priorities, I will shed light on how metrics are used 1) to expand their sphere of influence in anti-poverty policy; 2) to strengthen its position and argue for and against specific policy solutions both inside the EC and to its external environment; 3) to build an image of the organisation as competent and using hard ‘evidence’. Finally, I will draw attention to the paradox of the EC’s focus on producing, refining and implementing metrics – on the one hand, this gives it leverage in the area of anti-poverty policy, but on the other hand, leaves it vulnerable to external scrutiny, as well as to competition from other EU institutions – or even Member States – developing their own metrics.   



Marianna Zieleńska is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology, University of Warsaw. She is currently a visiting fellow at the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh. She researches quantification in public policy, including the use of quantitative measures and algorithms in labour market and anti-poverty policy. She is also leading two projects focusing on poverty indicators applied in European Union anti-poverty policy: “Making anti-poverty policy in the European Union through quantitative measures – the case study of the composite indicator at risk of poverty or social exclusion” (financed by the National Science Centre) and “What gets measured gets done – governing the EU anti-poverty policy though indicators” (financed by the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange). 


This event will take place on March 29 at 12.00 pm. See you there!


This event will take place in person at the University of Edinburgh, in CMB, room 3,15

Cover photos credit: Headshot provided by Marianna

Tags: , ,


Mar 29 2023


12:00 pm - 1:00 pm


Chrystal Macmillan Building, Room 3.15

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *