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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- No of farmers supplied with drought resistant crops
- No of community awareness meetings conducted
- No of wells/dams constructed
- No of farmers enrolled in crop insurance
- No. of irrigation systems constructed
- Proportion of food secure households
- Percentage of malnourished children under-5
- Employment rates of the region
- prevalence of under 5 mortality