Impact Practitioners

How to develop input, activity, output, outcome and impact indicators 

By 23/03/2023

This 29-page guidance note put together by the Vera Institute of Justice describes when and how to use indicators, what to measure and how to choose data sources to monitor activities, results and progress of your research programme. It was originally intended for the DFID Crime, Conflict & Violence Programming, but it will be useful for any development research programmes. It is a very accessible and useful resource, especially for those starting to learn about indicators, programme staff and those responsible for populating log frames.

In general, indicators help you determine if your projects are meeting their goals, whether there are any areas for improvement and if the programmes are implemented as planned. They are an essential management tool to see if your projects are efficient and provide value for money. The guidance note looks at input, activity, output, outcome and impact indicators:

Input Indicators – What resources are required

Firstly, you will need to develop a set of input indicators that will allow you to monitor the availability of essential resources. Ideally, your input indicators will draw upon existing project management tools such as budget reports, reference letters, CVs and letters of support. Your indicators should alert you early to logistical challenges that might limit your project’s effectiveness.

Activity Indicators – What your project does

Activity indicators will help you see if your project is being delivered as planned and potentially highlight any challenges. They should answer three main questions: who conducted the activity, what they did and where they were working. Ideally, they will also include cost measures so that you can determine the project’s efficiency and economy. When developing the activity indicators, consult key stakeholders who can help you identify which elements are crucial for the project’s success. Try to track activities on an ongoing basis.

Output Indicators – What your project produces

Output indicators describe the delivery of products such as training and new equipment. It is necessary to track output indicators at regular intervals to assess progress, detect delays and understand if they provide value for money. Try to include both measures of the number of outputs (for instance number of tasks achieved or products produced) as well as their quality (for example asking participants if the training was clear and relevant). 

impact practitioners quote: To maximize the impact of safety and security programming it is essential that projects have the support of national governments and are viewed as credible by the recipients of justice services

Outcome Indicators – What your project achieves

Outcome indicators describe the real-world changes after the production of outputs. They ensure transparency and accountability, demonstrate the return on investment and highlight the benefits that your project delivers. In other words, outcome indicators define the criteria for assessing whether the project is successful. Therefore, they need to be realistic, measurable and achievable given your capacity and resources. 

Typically, they are a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures, meaning they tell you the number of people benefitting from your project and the nature of those benefits. 

Make sure the indicators are gender-sensitive and pro-poor

Impact Indicators – How your project contributes to higher-level strategic goals

Impact indicators describe progress made towards higher-level goals, which are shared with other development partners and national agencies (for instance reducing poverty, increasing access to justice or improving the accountability of national institutions). Impact indicators can illustrate the connection between your project and the priorities of governments or development organisations. 

Apart from the chapters dedicated to indicators, the guidance note also provides tips for developing a theory of change and choosing the right data sources. It is written in a very accessible way, providing examples from practice, checklists, recommended tools and explanation boxes helping you understand the different aspects of developing and monitoring indicators. 

This article is part of our initiative, R2A Impact Practitioners. To find out more, please click here.

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