Choosing Indicators for the M&E Framework

This article is part 3 of 3 in the issue Monitoring and Evaluation in Public and Project Management

The M&E Framework or Plan is not complete without indicators because it is the indicators that will measure the performance of the program or project at different levels: output (magnitude, scale or value), outcome (higher direction or change) and impact (bundle of benefits).

There can be more than one indicator for each level, although it is instructive to keep the total number of indicators within reasonable scope and available resources. Essentially, each indicator should be:

  • Measured accurately, using either qualitative or quantitative methods,;
  • Classified as either custom (local) or standard (global). If available, standard indicators are usually better because they are already well defined; there are tools available to measure them, and it will be easy to compare results obtained in a particular project to other programs or national statistics. You may hear of other classifications but the two stated here are basic.

Some organizations have very strict rules about how the indicators must be written. However, it is advisable to keep it simple, in a way that everyone involved in the project (including the donor) can understand them.

Once you have chosen your indicators you need to write a definition for each one. The definition describes exactly how the indicator is calculated. If you don’t have definitions there is a serious risk that indicators might be calculated differently at different times, which means the results can’t be compared.

After writing the definition of each indicator you also need to identify where the data will come from (the “data source”). Common sources are baseline and end-line surveys, routine monitoring reports, and existing information systems. You also need to decide how frequently it will be measured (monthly, quarterly, annually, etc.).

Measuring the baseline and setting the target

Before you start your program or project you need to measure the starting value of each indicator. This is called the “baseline”.

In some cases you will need to do a survey to measure the baseline. In other cases you might have existing data available. In this case you need to make sure the existing data is using the same definition for calculating the indicator.

Once you know the baseline you need to set a target for improvement. Before you set the target it’s important to do some research on what a realistic target actually is. Many people set targets that are unachievable, without realizing it. For example, I once worked on a project where the target was a 25% reduction in the child mortality rate within 12 months. However, a cursory review of other child-health programs showed that even the best programs only managed a 10-20% reduction within 5 years.

Identify who is responsible for the measurement and reporting

The final step is to decide who will be responsible for measuring each indicator. Output indicators are often measured by field staff or program managers whereas outcome and goal (impact) indicators may be measured by evaluation consultants or other external agencies.

The results for each indicator may be reported in an Excel sheet or in a protected online Management Information System. The intervals could be monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually. Indicator results are used to assess whether project performance is improving or not.

Once the selection, definition and writing procedures of the indicators are completed, everything should be incorporated into the M&E framework.

The author – Chukwudi Odili – is an experienced consultant who has worked on several public and private sector projects including those of the Federal and State Governments of Nigeria, the World Bank, USAID, UNDP, etc. He would be willing to assist Government Agencies as well as Private Organizations that desire to develop their M&E Systems and capacities of their schedule staff.

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