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Knowledge-based governance: new technologies of the production and use of knowledge

by Florent Bick last modified 2010-11-05 13:15


University of Oxford

Knowledge-based governance: new technologies of the production and use of knowledge

This paper discusses knowledge and its relationship to governing. In particular, it considers the representation of knowledge as data and the use of data in governing education in the UK and in Europe in recent years. Governing knowledge developed in relationship with performance management regimes, alongside decentralisation and deregulation: data enabled goal-governed steering of outputs and outcomes, accompanied by the monitoring of targets. In brief, the so called ‘governance turn’ is a shift that is highly dependent on the appearance of deregulation, but that is equally marked by strong central steering through various policy technologies, especially data collection, analysis and use. Knowledge and information play a pivotal role both in the pervasiveness of governance and in allowing the development of its dispersed, distributed and disaggregated form. Data support and create new kinds of policy instrument that organise political relations through communication/information and hence legitimise that organisation (Lascoumes and Le Galès 2007). Data derived from indicators and in such policy technologies as the apparatus of quality assurance and evaluation (QAE) have the purpose, in the words of Lascoumes and Le Galès (2007, 6):

…..of orienting relations between political society (via the administrative executive) and civil society (via its administered subjects) through intermediaries in the form of devices that mix technical components (measuring, calculating the rule of law, procedure) and social components (representation, symbol).

From this perspective, evaluation is a policy instrument: the new governance forms of decentralisation and deregulation create a need for steering through evaluation: evaluation and performance data fill the space between the state and the new consumer-citizen (Fägerlind and Strömqvist 2004, Clarke 2008). New governance forms promote ways of controlling and shaping behaviour that mix material and discursive strategies: the discursive mobilisation of new norms and values is combined with external regulatory mechanisms (such as competitive indicators of performance) which together seek to transform the conduct of organisations and individuals in their capacity as ‘self-actualising’ agents, so as to achieve political objectives through ‘action at a distance’ (Miller and Rose 2008). I will review some recent history and current developments in data use including examples of the forms of ‘translation’ necessary to make data-based knowledge intelligible and actionable, which reveal the gap between the fluid dream of data-based governance, and the sticky reality. I then consider the recent shift towards installing data monitoring at the level of individual learners, through processes of self-evaluation, which requires individuals to take much more responsibility for learning from information and for translating knowledge into action. This shift seeks to produce learning organisations-and learning governments-whose knowledge is accumulated and translated into use through the action of knowledge on itself.


Clarke J (2008) Performance paradoxes: The politics of evaluation in public services. In Davis, H and Martin, S. (eds) Public Services Inspection in the UK Research Highlights in Social Work(50) London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers (pp 120-134)

Fägerlind, I & Strömqvist, G. (eds) (2004) Reforming higher education in the Nordic countries: Studies of changes in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Paris: International Institute for Educational Planning.

Lascoumes, P. and Le Galès, P. (2007) ‘Understanding Public Policy through its instruments – from the nature of instruments to the sociology of public policy instrumentation’, Governance, 20(1): 1-21.

Miller P and Rose, N (2008) Governing the Present: Administering Economic, Social and Personal Life, Polity Press

Education et sociétés
Numéro 21
Former des élites dans un monde incertain
Coordonné par Yves Dutercq
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Association internationale des sociologues de langue françaiseComité de recherche n °7 Éducation, Formation, Socialisation
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