With Finns flattered by success in international comparisons, how do rankings influence politics?

Tero Erkkilä’s research makes the ideological decisions of public administration transparent.

What are your research topics?

I investigate global ideas of governance and their national effects on public administration and politics. My research topics have included ideas and institutions of good governance, such as the transparency of public administration and the office of the parliamentary ombudsman, as well as education policy and universities. Various global indicators and rankings, such as indicators of good governance, university rankings and competitiveness indicators, have constituted a central theme in my work. 

Where and how does the topic of your research have an impact?

Finland's success in rankings has made people aware of global comparisons. Finns are familiar with the high PISA scores attained by schools, the assessments which show that corruption is low in Finland while societal stability is high, as well as the fact that Finland has been more than once nominated the happiest country in the world. Success in international rankings has become part of the Finnish national identity.

At the same time, somewhat paradoxically, precisely those institutional elements in terms of which Finland fares so well are actively being developed and also rapidly changing. This is partly also down to the indicators themselves, as rankings influence institutional choices and development efforts made on the national level. The critical analysis of indicators and the assessment of their impact increase the transparency of the mechanisms of power and ideological choices associated with global governance. 

What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?

I am interested in the mechanisms through which global ideas of governance have an impact on the national level. In other words, how different concepts, categories and indicators guide national decision-making and become linked with politics. What I find particularly interesting is that these global governance ideas have, to a certain degree, markedly different effects in different countries. The effects are related to national institutional structures, values and history, as well as transitions in governance and crises.

Tero Erkkilä is a professor of political science with a focus on administration and organisations at the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Watch Tero Erkkilä’s inaugural lecture as a new professor on 28.5. on YouTube.

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