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Different Types of Indicators: Cutting Through The Confusion


There so many different types of indicators that it can be confusing and overwhelming at times. The most common ones are:

  • Input indicators

  • Output indicators

  • Outcome indicators

  • Impact indicators

And there are even more types of indicators...

  • Process indicators

  • Efficiency indicators

  • Sustainability indicators

  • Gender indicators

  • Social Inculsion indicators

Plus, if you hear persons speak of 'standard' indicators, your head will spin even more.

However, hopefully after reading this article, you will have a better understanding of the different types of indicators and why you do not need to have every single type in your project.

But first, let's go back to basics to define some terms.

What is an indicator?

According to the OECD DAC, an indicator is a quantitative or qualitative means that seeks to measure if changes occurred in an inetrvention or programme.

Indicators provide simple, verifiable, and reliable means to track changes and performance. Related terms for indicators include Key Perfomance Indicator (KPI) or performance indicators.

An indicator is always approximate only (i.e. not an exact measure) and reqires interpretation and explanation, even if assessed accurately.

Now that we know what an indicator is, we have to define other terms like 'input', 'output','outcome' and 'impact'.

Results Chain and indicators

What are input, output, outcome and impact indicators?

When we speak of input indicators, we mean a simple, verifiable, and reliable means to track inputs.

Similarly, 'output indicators' tracks the outputs, 'outcome indicators' measures the outcomes and so forth.

Let's put it all together in the table once again.

Results Chain and indicators

Results Chain and indicators

Now, there are certain aspects of programme implementation that falls outside of being an output or outcome. For example, the operational and project management aspects. Things like how efficient the administration is, how long the project takes to process invoices or how timely procurement of equipment is done. We need a way to measure these things.This is where process and efficiency indicators come in.

What are process and efficiency indicators?

Process indicators measure the activities, steps, or processes that are required to implement a programme or project. They provide information on how a programme or project is being implemented and are typically used to assess the quality of the implementation process.

Examples of process indicators may include:

  1. Timeliness of implementation: The degree to which the program or project is being implemented within the expected timeframes.

  2. Adherence to procedures: The degree to which program staff are following established procedures for implementing the program or project.

  3. Quality of services: The degree to which the services provided by the programme or project meet established standards of quality.

  4. Stakeholder engagement: The degree to which stakeholders, such as programme participants, community members, or partners, are involved in the implementation process.

  5. Capacity building: The degree to which the programme or project is building the capacity of stakeholders to participate in the implementation process.

Efficiency indicators measure the cost-effectiveness of a programme or project. They assess whether the resources invested in a program or project are being used efficiently to achieve the desired outcomes.

Some examples of efficiency indicators include:

  1. Cost per unit of output: This measures the cost of producing a specific output, such as the cost per student for a school program or the cost per vaccine administered for a healthcare program.

  2. Time required to achieve outputs: This measures the amount of time it takes to achieve specific outputs, such as the time required to train a certain number of people.

  3. Resource utilization rates: This measures the extent to which resources, such as staff or equipment, are being utilized efficiently.

  4. Cost savings or cost avoidance: This measures the amount of money saved or avoided as a result of a program or project.

  5. Productivity: This measures the amount of output achieved per unit of input, such as the amount of work completed per staff member.

  6. Cost-effectiveness: This measures the extent to which a program or project is achieving its outcomes relative to the resources invested, taking into account both the costs and the benefits.

Efficiency indicators can help identify areas where resources are being used inefficiently and where changes can be made to improve program or project performance. They can also help compare the efficiency of different programs or projects and inform resource allocation decisions.

What are Gender, Sustainability and Social Inclusion indicators?

There are also other areas within a development programme that can be measured. Things like how the needs of men and women are considered in the design and delivery of the programme, how environmentally friendly the programme initiatives are, the extent to which persons from a marginalised group were consulted or participated in the programme.

The indicators to measure these areas would include gender indicators, sustainability indicators, social inclusion indicators. See my other blog article for examples of these types of indicators.

Indicators that were already developed by an external source (usually international) and is accepted within the industry, are referred to as 'standard indicators'. For example the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicators on maternal health. I have listed potential sources of indicators in a blog post.

In conclusion, you do not need to have every type of indicator for your intervention or programme. Whether you have process or efficiency indicators is up to you. Though it is a good idea to have output, outcome and impact indicators at the very least (you may decide to drop the input indicators).

However, as a good practice, it is encouraged that irrespective of the thematic area or sector of your programme, you incorporate gender and sustainability indicators.



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​​​Ann-Murray Brown

Monitoring, Evaluation and
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