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Take the Pain out of Developing Indicators

​​In the previous articles we looked at the features of a good indicator as well as different types of indicators. In this article you will get tips for constructing indicators. Contrary to popular belief, constructing indicators it is not rocket science!

When developing indicators bear the following in mind.

Stakeholder’s Input - It is crucial that all the stakeholders involved in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the programme are included in the process for the development of the indicators.

At times this will also include the recipients/beneficiaries of the programme.In practical terms, this means the involvement of the Head of the Unit right down to the farmer in the field, everyone should have a say.

All perspectives should be taken in account – substantive, technical and policy. For example, "in developing an indicator that measures student learning, it is very important to make sure that education professionals, technical people who can construct learning indicators and policy experts who can vouch for the policy relevance of the indicators, are all included in the discussion about which indicators should be selected". – World Bank, 2004, p. 74

It is not just for a ‘Kumbaya feeling’ why everyone should be included in this process. Inclusivity of all stakeholders (such as ethnic minorities, women, marginalised groups etc., ) is necessary in Human Rights Based programmes.

Additionally, this participatory approach will save a lot of headache later on in the programme. Early involvement of everyone from the get-go reduces the likelihood of resistance as the programme progresses. That is, persons feeling like the targets and indicators were imposed in a ‘top down’ fashion and they are now accountable for delivering results that they had nothing to do with in the first place.

Indicators may be retroactively changed once set BUT…

Changing an indicator should only be done with the consent of all partners in the development cooperation. This is to ensure objectivity. It should also be noted that in changing indicators, baselines against which to measure progress are also changing. Each new indicator needs to have its own baseline established the first time data are collected for it. World Bank, 2004.

In other words, indicators should not be changed on a whim, as it can derail an entire data collection system. Experts advise that before dropping or modifying an indicator, you should ask two important questions:

Have we tested this indicator thoroughly enough to know whether it is providing information to effectively measure against the desired outcome?

Is this indicator providing information that makes it useful as a management tool?

In general terms, indicators should be developed based on the particular needs of a given country, organization, context or sector. A nice table from INTRAC is presented below.

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Publications consulted for this article:

The World Bank. 2004. Ten Steps to a Results-Based Monitoring and Evaluation System. A Handbook for Development Practitioners. Authors: Kusek, J., Rist, R. Washington D.C.

Bakewell, O; Adams, J and Pratt, B (2003), Sharpening the Development Process; A practical guide to monitoring and evaluation. INTRAC, UK.

United Nations Development Group Results-Based Management Handbook

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​​​Ann-Murray Brown

Monitoring, Evaluation and
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