What are indicators?

An indicator is something that you can measure. It can show evidence that you might be reaching your goal, or maybe that you’re not.

Indicators can answer these types of questions:

  • Have our objectives been met?
  • What progress we have made?
  • How close are we to our targets?
  • Is a change we are interested in happening?

However, indicators only tell you that something has happened. They can’t tell you:

  • What has caused any change?
  • Whether or why our programme has made a difference?
  • Why and how change occurs.
  • What happened for participants or what they think or feel.

Good ideas when selecting indicators include:

  • Use positive indicators that show what the project wants to achieve or move towards, rather than negative indicators, such as removing something or having less of something.
  • Use a small number of relevant indicators rather than a long list of semi-related indicators.

Types of indicators

There are many types of indicators, which can be clustered in these ways:

  • Participation – who took part; how many?
  • Process – what you got up to and how many were involved.
  • Results – whether or not you got what you wanted.
  • Outputs – things that your programme changed.
  • Outcomes – what changes you can show your programme caused in the medium-to-longer term.
  • Impact – long-term effect.
TYPE OF INDICATORDESCRIPTION
Participation IndicatorsInterest and participation of locals and backers in what's happening (who).
Progress IndicatorsMeasure what happened, against what you wanted to happen.
Possibility IndicatorsChanges in belief about what’s possible and enthusiasm for the next step (can do/do next).
People IndicatorsHow have people’s situations changed?
Policy/Systems ChangeTrack changes to thinking, funding, policies and approaches (now being done differently).

The New Zealand organisation, Inspiring Communities, developed this discussion paper on measuring community led change in 2015.  It identifies six kinds of indicators that apply to social change.

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Choosing indicators

Choosing great indicators can be tricky. Indicators are blunt instruments and when things get complicated it’s even harder to choose good ones. In complex situations, choose indicators carefully and don’t rely only on them.

It’s good when several people choose indicators. Involve those who will collect the data, those who will use it and, if appropriate, the participants. Find out what a project’s funders and decision-makers think are robust and useful indicators.

Features of useful indicators

CRITERIADESCRIPTION
Communicates wellClear and easy to understand.
Relevant or centrally important to the result or projectIs directly linked with the result.
ReliableDifferent people can measured it and reach the same results.
MeasurableReliable data is available for it and it can easily be measured.
PracticalReasonable, including the time, cost and effort required to collect data.
Timely and can show change over timeData is timely for decision-making and can show trends over time.

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