What are indicators?
An indicator can be defined as the measurement of an objective to be met, a resource mobilised, an effect obtained, a gauge of quality or a context variable. An indicator produces quantified information with a view to helping actors concerned with public interventions to communicate, negotiate or make decisions. Within the framework of evaluation, the most important indicators are linked to the success criteria of public interventions. In order to be useful it is preferable if an indicator has the following characteristics:
- The indicator definition is closely linked to a policy goal, objective and/or target. (Indeed, indicators are most helpful when objectives have been specified in terms of targets or milestones that apply the definition of the indicator).
- The indicator is measured regularly. It is helpful to have time series information where the precise indicator definitions have been applied consistently. Ideally data should be available from prior to the adoption or implementation of the intervention. However, interventions often themselves call for new data to be collected.
- Steps are taken to ensure data gathered is reliable. For example, for output and some result indicators where data are provided directly by the projects, sample checks should verify the data. For impact indicators, it is probably better that data are measured on an independent basis.
In practice indicators rarely exhibit all of these characteristics and it is likely to be necessary to gather evidence from a variety of disparate sources including:
- The inputs to and timing of the programming process;
- Secondary sources;
- Primary sources, including Stakeholder surveys;
- Administrative information.
Much of this information may have been gathered for purposes other than evaluation. An indicator quantifies an element considered to be relevant to the monitoring or evaluation of a programme. For example: "1200 long-term unemployed received training financed by the programme" or "75% of the participants in training courses claim to be satisfied or highly satisfied". A good indicator should provide simple information that both the supplier and the user can easily communicate and understand. This is, however, a necessary but not sufficient quality. The following are examples of indicators that are readily understood: rate of budget absorption; percentage of regional firms assisted; number of net jobs created; and number of jobless in the eligible area. An indicator may have several values over time. The unemployment rate, for example, may have a different value at the outset from a value taken mid-way through the implementation of a programme, and so on. Variations over time constitute trends.
Type of indicators
There are several typologies of indicators:
- In relation to variables: Complete, partial and complex indicators
- In relation to the processing of information: Elementary, derived and compound indicators
- In relation to the comparability of information: Specific, generic and core indicators
- In relation to the scope of information: Context and programme indicators
- In relation to the phases of completion of the programme: Resource, output, result and impact indicators
- In relation to evaluation criteria: Relevance, efficiency, effectiveness and performance indicators
- In relation to the mode of quantification and use of the information: Monitoring and evaluation indicators
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