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To measure effects and review whether objectives have been reached, then these must be expressed in concrete, objectively measurable quantities. This kind of objectively measurable quantity is known as an indicator. An indicator answers the question “How are we going to find out whether what we have planned has actually occurred and that we have achieved our objectives?” An indicator for an intended objective therefore announces how we measure the effects and when we consider the objective to have been achieved:

Improved access to drinking waterNearest well is within 15-minute walk
Child mortality fallsChild mortality falls from x% to y%

A good indicator ought to be SMART:

Specific: the indicator must be unambiguous and clear.
Measurable: the indicator must be measurable and the costs for measurements appropriate. 
Achievable: the target value given by the indicator must be achievable. 
Relevant: the information provided by the indicator should be relevant for the project manager.
Time-bound: the indicator must show when the objective ought to be achieved.

Source: European Commission, PCM Guidelines

Coming up with and selecting good indicators is a crucial factor for an impact assessment to be able to supply useful information, but it is by no means an easy task. Participatory development is especially important here; a good indicator will be accepted and considered significant by the target group in particular.

It is often necessary to define several indicators for an objective. In practice, quantitative and qualitative indicators are frequently combined. Fundamentally, though, one should confine oneself to as few indicators as possible to avoid producing an unnecessary amount of data.

One constant feature of an indicator is information on the data sources and the methods used for data collection. This ensures that the indicator is measurable. If in the process it becomes apparent that the data for the indicator cannot be collected or only with disproportionate effort, then the indicator must be replaced by a simpler one. The possibility must also be considered of resorting to existing sources, e.g. national statistics or data from partner organisations.

In practice, too little attention is often paid to sources and the data later turns out not to be available, rendering the indicator meaningless. An indicator without a true data source is not measurable and therefore cannot be used in impact assessment.

In practice, there are various ways of defining objectives and indicators and/or differentiating them in practice. They are all equally valid. One should nevertheless always bear the chosen definition in mind and use it in a consistent fashion. This is an unavoidable subject of discussion. Attention should be paid to the fact that an indicator in the sense it is used here (the indicator shows whether the objective has been achieved or not) always contains a target and therefore implies selecting a method of comparison.

Indicators should be set not just at the outcome and impact level but also at the output level.


  • Child health programme
    Objective: Child health in the poorest parts of the country should be improved.
    Indicator: By 2015, child mortality should be reduced to …% in Regions x, y and z.
  • Well-building project
    Objective: People in Region x, y and z should have better access to clean drinking water.
    Indicator: By 2015, 80% of people in Regions x, y and z live within 15 minutes’ walk of clean drinking water.
  • Education programme
    Objective: Communities have better access to formal and informal education.
    Indicator: 70% of the 14,000 people who have learnt to read and write confirm that their livelihood has been improved by this.
  • Empowerment project
    Socially and economically disadvantaged people influence decision-making in the region.
    Indicator: Public hearings are held for 90% of local political projects.
  • Project to promote farmers’ organisations
    Objective: The farmers’ organisations improve their institutional and organisational capacities.
    Indicator: 100% of the farmers’ organisations describe their institutional and organisational capacities as medium or good in their self-evaluation.
    Objective: The farmers’ organisations improve the management of their economic activities.
    Indicator: 60% of the farmers’ organisations describe their outputs regarding the development of a partner network as medium or good in their self-evaluation.