Testing times: governing a pandemic with numbers

Salman Ahmad, Ciaran Connolly, Istemi Demirag

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Using Dean's (2010) analytics of government, this research explores how regimes of governing practices are linked to the underlying policy rationalities in dealing with the UK government's COVID-19 testing policies as a strategy for governing at a distance, including how targets were set and operationalized.

Design/methodology/approach: This paper draws on the UK government's policy documents, other official publications (plans) and parliamentary discourse, together with publicly available media information related to its COVID-19 policies.

Findings: This research reveals that, with respect to the governance of COVID-19 in the UK, testing has the dual role of inscription for the government's performance and classification for the pandemic risks. The analysis illustrates that the central role of testing is as a technology for classification for identifying and monitoring the virus-related risks. Moreover, our discourse analysis suggests that initially COVID-19 testing was used by the UK government more for performance communication, with the classificatory role of testing and its performativity as a strategic device evolving and only being acknowledged by government gradually as the underlying testing infrastructure was developed.

Research limitations/implications: This paper is based upon publicly available reports and other information of a single country's attempts to control COVID-19 over a relatively short period of time.

Originality/value: This paper provides a critical understanding of the role of (accounting) numbers in developing an effective government policy for governing COVID-19.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1632-1375
JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Issue number6
Early online date18 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jul 2021


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