How can a robust and clear set of indicators be established to monitor effectively the progress of a programme? Which indicators show best that a programme has achieved what it set out to achieve? This study tests the relevance and robustness of a list of indicators for the Department for International Development’s (DFID’s) conflict and governance programmes. The list consists of fifteen separate sets, or suites, of outcome and output indicators and covers a spectrum of related programme areas, including security and justice, elections, civil service reform and corruption. It suggests that a good results framework that enables programme progress to be effectively monitored and explained is critical, particularly in times of financial austerity.
Good indicators are neutral and precise units of measurement that do not set direction. Such qualities improve potential for targeting and aggregation. The relevance of indicators is established at the design stage of a governance project, so that they contribute to the foundations of an effective project monitoring and evaluation system.
As objective measurements, indicators are expected to show different elements of a result chain, helping practitioners explain a particular theory of change. Outcome-level indicators are intended to measure change among beneficiaries, whether attitudinal, behavioural or performance-based. Output-level indicators are measurements that contribute to demonstrating lower level results, showing the direct deliverables of a project. An effective indicator list will meet the following criteria:
- Clarity: indicators are specific and measurable.
- Rule-bound: indicators show different elements of a result chain, helping practitioners explain a particular theory of change.
- Causally-linked: indicators do not exist in isolation but form part of a causal relationship with a subordinate or higher level result.
- Gender-sensitive and pro-poor: indicator sets measure changes that might empower women, the poor or other excluded societal groups.
- Cross-sectoral: indicators sets contain indicators that resonate across sectors.
It is important to move beyond crafting individual indicators towards a set of multi-dimensional indicators, which should provide more than the sum of each individual part. Other considerations include the following:
- Governance is hard to measure. Therefore, it would be helpful to research whether there is sufficient commonality to devise a number of model theories of change to help practitioners.
- Robust indicator sets should be informed by data that is credible and trustworthy, reliable and available at acceptable costs. The data also need to meet broader organisational priorities such as being conducive to disaggregation by age, ethnicity and geography.
- It is important to develop a wider array of indicators to unpack critical changes in power and societal relations.
- The indicator list needs to expand beyond measures of capability to include accountability and responsiveness.
- More work needs to be done on determining those indicators that would be most useful for monitoring and assessing value for money.