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Have You Heard? Proxy Indicators Are Your Best Alternative

What is a Proxy Indicator?

Sometimes the phenomenon that is being studied or investigated cannot be directly measured. Or in the case of evaluations, the results of an intervention or a programme cannot be measured directly. This is where proxy indicators come in. They are viewed as the best alternative in the absence of a direct measurement (UNDG, 2011).

Proxy indicators may not always be precise, but they should be approximately right. There must be a presumption that the proxy indicator is giving at least approximate evidence on performance (Kusek, Jody & Ray Rist World,2004).

What are some examples of Proxy Indicators?

Socio-Economic Wellbeing

  • The possession of household assets (e.g. a television, computer etc.,) can be good proxy indicators for household income than just earnings from a job.

  • The replacement of thatched roofs with corrugated iron roofs may be an indication that the economic situation of a household has improved.

  • The payback rate in a micro-credit programme gives some indication of the quality of the project management (preliminary clarifications with the borrowers, customer care, etc.)


  • A proxy measure of improved governance could be, in some cases, the number of political parties and voter turnout.

  • The number of female members of a chamber of commerce, for example, is a proxy indicator of the percentage of female business owners or executives.


Table reproduced from Kusek, Jody & Ray Rist. 2004


  • Complicated bureaucratic processes such as 254 steps and two years to get a building permit may be a key proxy indicator for corruption.

  • A proxy indicator for payroll fraud in the civil service could be the number of ghost workers.

  • An indicator of patronage in some countries could be how many senior civil servants change jobs after a change in government.

When Should Proxy Indicators Be Used?

These indicators should be used only when data for direct indicators are not available, when data collection will be too costly, or if it is not feasible to collect data at regular intervals. (Kusek, Jody & Ray Rist World, 2004)


United Nations Development Group (2011). ‘Results-Based Management Handbook: Harmonizing RBM concepts and approaches for improved development results at country level’.

Johnsøn, Jesper &Phil Mason (2013). ‘The Proxy Challenge: Why bespoke proxy indicators can help solve the anti-corruption measurement problem’. U4 Brief July 2013 No 2

Kusek, Jody & Ray Rist World (2004). ‘Ten Steps to a Results-based Monitoring and Evaluation’, World Bank

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​​​Ann-Murray Brown

Monitoring, Evaluation and
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