Developing Performance Indicators

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The next step in putting together an effective outcome measurement plan focuses on deciding how you are going to make your intended outcomes measurable by defining a set of performance measures or indicators. Because outcomes can be broad in nature and somewhat vague, performance indicators serve as a bridge, connecting intended outcomes and the actual data collection process. Identifying performance indicators and creating targets for performance help your organization to determine whether you have, in fact, had a measurable impact on your clients and reached your programmatic goals.

Indicators are specific and observable.

In order to serve effectively as a bridge to data collection, indicators must be specific items of information that describe observable and measurable characteristics or changes in corresponding outcomes. Indicators must be measures that can be seen, heard, counted, reported, or enumerated using some type of data collection method. 

Performance indicators answer questions like, "How you will know when changes have occurred?" and "How you will know when you have achieved the outcomes?" Thinking ahead to possible data collection methods will tell you if your indicators are specific enough. Ask questions like these to determine whether your indicators will work:

  • How can I see the change? (Through what kind of observation?)
  • How can I hear the change?  (Through interviews? Focus groups?)
  • How can I read the change?  (Through surveys? In records?)
Click to open interactivity Indicators support larger outcomes.

Indicators support larger outcomes.

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Be thorough, yet realistic when identifying indicators.

Each outcome you identify will generally have one to three supporting indicators depending on the complexity of the outcome. When selecting indicators, keep things simple and be sure to collect indicators that are useful, meaningful, and informative.  Keep in mind that you will be responsible for measuring these indicators through your data collection process. Consider the following checklist:

  • Do your indicators make sense in relation to the outcomes they are intended to measure?
  • Are your indicators directly related to the outcome?  Do they define the outcome?
  • Are your indicators specific?
  • Are your indicators measurable or observable?  Can they be seen (i.e., observed behavior), heard (i.e., participant interview), or read (i.e., client records)?
  • Is it reasonable that you can collect data on the indicators? 
  • Is it within your resources to collect data?

Targets, comparative standards, and baselines give meaning to indicators.

When developing indicators, it is often helpful to identify targets, baselines, and comparative standards.

  • Targets are the specific levels of achievement that you hope to achieve for an indicator or outcome.  Targets are the quantifiable goals you hope to achieve.
  • Comparative standards are the data points that are used as a comparison or standard of achievement for a particular indicator or outcome. Comparative standards help to provide insight into how your targets relate to or improve on past performance.
  • Baselines are the data points that are gathered to provide a comparison for assessing program changes or impact. A baseline will allow you to set reasonable targets and measure the progress against these targets.
Click to open interactivity Targets and comparative standards turn indicators into measurable goals.

Targets and comparative standards turn indicators into measurable goals.

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