Data and Decentralization: Measuring the Performance of Legal Institutions in Multilevel Systems of Governance

30 Pages Posted: 3 Jul 2018

See all articles by Kevin E. Davis

Kevin E. Davis

New York University School of Law

Date Written: June 2018


Most countries rely on multiple levels of government, and many important legal institutions are subnational in scope. There are now several indicators that purport to measure the performance of legal institutions, but they tend to focus on institutions at a single level of government, typically the national level. Although it is useful to develop indicators that isolate the performance of individual legal institutions within multi-level systems of government, this can be a challenging exercise. Moreover, there are good reasons why potential suppliers of indicators may not be interested in taking on the challenge. It is difficult to produce accurate legal indicators in the context of multi-level systems of government because those indicators often are based on outcomes within the territory nominally assigned to the legal institution being measured but the outcomes are generally determined by complex interactions between multiple institutions, including some which operate extraterritorially. At the same time, interest in producing indicators is limited because there typically is not much of a market for data about legal institutions that do not affect either large numbers of people or highly valuable activities. The quality and availability of performance measures is likely to affect the accountability and responsiveness of the institutions being measured and therefore ought to be taken into account in determining the distribution of responsibilities and powers among legal institutions at different levels of government. More specifically, the limitations of indicators that measure the performance of subnational legal institutions should be considered when assessing the merits of legal decentralization.

Suggested Citation

Davis, Kevin E., Data and Decentralization: Measuring the Performance of Legal Institutions in Multilevel Systems of Governance (June 2018). 10 Minnesota Law Review, 1619 (2018); NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 18-21. Available at SSRN:

Kevin E. Davis (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
Vanderbilt Hall, Room 335
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
212-992-8843 (Phone)

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