In M&E planning, one of the things that managers have to work out are a set of indicators that will be used to measure outputs against program goals. Understandably, questions often arise regarding what indicators are, their importance and what to consider when choosing them. Here, we will take a look at examples of indicators, their types, their importance and eventually, how to select appropriate indicators.

What is an indicator?

An indicator is a variable that is normally used as a benchmark for measuring program or project outputs. It is “that thing” that shows that an undertaking has had the desired impact. It is on the basis of indicators that evidence can be built on the impact of any undertaking. Most often, indicators are quantitative in nature, however, in some few cases, they are qualitative.

Most often indicators are confused with other project elements such as objectives or targets. Indeed, understandably so. Unlike targets or results which specify the level of achievement, indicators do not. For example, in a project on access to safe water, statements such as “an increase in the proportion of households reporting the consistent use of chlorinated drinking water” or “70% of households reporting the consistent use of chlorinated drinking water” are not indicators. Rather, an indicator could be “The proportion of households reporting the consistent use of chlorinated drinking water.”

Importance of Indicators

Indicators are an important for any project, particularly for monitoring and evaluation purposes. Some of the benefits of indicators are highlighted below.

  1. At the initial phase of a project, indicators are important for the purposes of defining how the intervention will be measured. Through the indicators, managers are able to pre-determine how effectiveness will be evaluated in a precise and clear manner.
  2. During project implementation, indicators serve the purpose of aiding program managers assess project progress and highlight areas for possible improvement. In this case, when the indicators are measured against project goals, managers can be able to measure progress towards goals and inform the need for corrective measures against potential catastrophes.
  3. At the evaluation phase, indicators provide the basis for which the evaluators will assess the project impact. Without the indicators, evaluation becomes an audacious responsibility.

Types of indicators

The three widely acknowledged types of indicators are process indicators, outcome indicators and impact indicators.

1. Process indicators: are those indicators that are used to measure project processes or activities. For example, in a Safe Water project, this could be “the number of chlorine dispensers installed at water points” or “the number of households that have received training on chlorination of water.”

2. Outcome Indicators: Are indicators that measure project outcomes. Outcomes are medium impacts of a project. For example, in the case of a Safe Water project, outcome indicators could be “the proportion of households using chlorinated drinking water” or “the percentage of children suffering from diarrhea.”

3. Impact Indicators: Are indicators that measure the long term impacts of a project, also known as the project impact. In the case of the Safe Water project, it could be, “the prevalence of under 5 mortality.”

Factors to consider when selecting project indicators

Any appropriate M&E indicator must meet particular thresholds. They must be:

  1. Precise/Well defined: Probably the most important characteristic of indicators is that they should be precise or well defined. I other words, indicators must not be ambiguous. Otherwise, different interpretations of indicators by different people implies different results for each
  2. Reliable: Reliability here implies that the indicator yields the same results on repeated trials/ attempts when used to measure outcomes. If an indicator doesn’t yield consistent results, then it is not a good indicator.
  3. Valid: Validity here implies that the indicator actually measures what it intends to measure. For example, if you intend to measure impact of a project on access to safe drinking water, it must measure exactly that and nothing else.
  4. Measurable: Needless to say that an indicator must be measurable. If an indicator cannot be measured, then it should and must not be used as an indicator.
  5. Practicable: In other cases, although an indicator can be measured, it is impracticable to do so due to the cost or process constraints. An indicator must be able to utilize locally available resources while at the same time being cost effective.

The following are some indicators for a climate change adaptation project in community level which focuses on farmers.

Process indicators

  1. No of farmers supplied with drought resistant crops
  2. No of community awareness meetings conducted
  3. No of wells/dams constructed
  4. No of farmers enrolled in crop insurance
  5. No. of irrigation systems constructed

Outcome indicators

  1. Proportion of food secure households
  2. Percentage of malnourished children under-5

Impact indicators

  1. Employment rates of the region
  2. prevalence of under 5 mortality


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  1. Pingback: key process indicators are not perception. | the business dude

  2. Pingback: BASELINE STUDIES/ SURVEYS | Monitoring and Evaluation Blog



  5. Mildred Majuma

    Excellent refresher!

  6. Is there a difference between an indicator and a Baseline?

    • Gaspar

      A Baseline is a reference to compare with actual values, and to obtain variations that conforms the information to use at an indicator.

  7. Iam so happy to be here. Hoping to learn and share more ideas

  8. Tafadzwa Shikisha

    thats a well detail article

  9. ceaser Chembezi

    Very useful

  10. Isaac

    You provided a resourceful article.

  11. Bito Anton

    Thank you very much, the information on selecting the types of indicators helped me greatly as at the moment I am working as a Safety Officer with a mining company and one of the new projects that we are about to implement is safety coaching, which is specifically to deal with human behavior at workplace which through research is the main contributor to workplace incidents and injuries.

    With the statistics of human error incident at hand and the coaching project plan in place now I can be able to come up with some better indicators to measure and evaluate the coaching program to create a incident and injury free workplace.

  12. Charles Mulinde

    Great article!

  13. Charles Mulinde

    By the way what could be the monitoring & evaluation indicators for Tikwere radio program? (put them separately)

  14. Yonton B. Kesselly

    In writing a project, you were told to set indicators. How do you factor it into your project proposal?
    What are the expected outcomes and how will your intervention impact on the project.

    Am writing a project to to seek funding for training bailiffs.

  15. Daniel P

    Thank you for sharing, very clear article

  16. Y. Parris

    These two things might help when combined with the information in this article:
    1. ProblemTrees/Solution a.k.a. Objective Trees.
    2. Logical Framework Analysis. (DFID model)

  17. Chimango kagwira

    Useful indeed

  18. Saleh Ibrahim

    It has broaden my knowledge

  19. Waddah Ali

    I like it so much. I am learning new things and increasing my knowledge

  20. love

    Nice this. I like it.

  21. mwanaa

    very useful… Thank you a lot

  22. James G. T. Waylee

    Hope to receive from you m&e notes regular. Thanks

  23. Sebaga Manyothwane

    Thank you for this great articles. This will assist me with my job so I am looking forward to reading more of your articles.

  24. Alex

    this blog has answered all the M&E answers I have been looking for, Thanks allot

  25. ereu enock

    The blog is good n reliable source to understand about project monitoring and evaluation

  26. Kinnayi Modu

    This is very informative article

  27. WADDAH

    Are there any specific software used in Evaluation and Monitoring?

  28. Byarugaba Bosco

    Thanks very clear explanations on output, out comes in puts, and impact.

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