Impact Practitioners

Selecting indicators for impact evaluation 

By 17/08/2023

This 19-page document by Ruby Sandhu-Rojon provides a comprehensive guide on selecting indicators for impact evaluation. It is digestible, easy to follow and packed with examples from practice. Sandhu-Rojon covers all aspects of selecting effective indicators, from basic information about their function to indicator types and data collection. 

The paper starts with a description of indicators. Sandhu-Rojon uses a metaphor of bending tree tops in wind to illustrate what indicators are: they are a tool telling us a change is happening and enabling us to demonstrate results. Indicators can help with measuring progress and achievements, ensuring legitimacy and accountability, assessing project performance and clarifying consistency between activities, outputs, outcomes and goals. They can be used at any point during the life cycle of your project. 

However, it is important to keep in mind that indicators only indicate, they do not explain. Finding out that change has happened does not tell the story of why it has occurred. Secondly, the key to good indicators is their credibility – not the volume of data you collect or precision in measurement. Oftentimes, large volumes of data can confuse rather than bring focus. Additionally, Sandhu-Rojon argues that it is more helpful to have approximate answers to a few important questions than to have exact answers to unimportant issues. 

The paper identifies three types of indicators: 

  1. a) situational indicators, 
  2. b) outcome indicators, and,
  3. c) output indicators. 

Situational (impact) indicators provide a broad picture of the situation. In development, these could for example be the human development index (HDI) and the human poverty index (HPI). Outcome indicators look at the progress against outcomes, meaning they help verify that the intended change has happened. Output indicators measure and verify the production of outputs. 

Sandhu-Rojon provides a useful table with practical examples of the different indicator types, such as this one from a water supply project:

  • Output Indicator … The number and type of wells installed
  • Outcome Indicator … The number and proportion of the population with sustained availability of clean water for domestic use
  • Situational Impact Indicator … Reduction in ill health and mortality

Oftentimes the most challenging part is choosing a suitable indicator. If the wrong thing is measured, or it is measured in the wrong way, your data might be misleading and have unforeseen consequences. Your chosen indicators should capture key changes, and be relevant and practical in terms of collecting and managing data. 

Sandhu-Rojon recommends using the SMART technique to select indicators: you will look at the key criteria, asking if the indicator is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Trackable (=SMART). The paper provides you with a number of guiding questions to assess each SMART category. 

Finally, the resource discusses qualitative and quantitative expressions of indicators and provides tips on where to find data, how to establish a baseline, target and timeline and what to include in your indicator monitoring plan.

Overall, Sandhu-Rojon’s paper provides a useful overview of indicators and how to use them. 

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

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