The DHHS Outcomes Measurement Framework says that services can use benchmarks, baselines or targets as their performance indicators. Sounds good… What are they?
Performance indicators are measures that show whether progress is being made on particular outcomes or goals.
They can be used to describe:
- your starting position (a baseline indicator);
- where you want to get to (your target indicator); or
- a comparison with other organisations like yours (a benchmark indicator).
Indicators might show no change over time−but that might be good if your goal is no change, to maintain the status quo−or indicators might show positive or negative changes.
Generally indicators have numerical values, but they don’t have to. Sometimes people use qualitative indicators, such as a case study. They do this if they want to explore how the world is understood, interpreted and experienced by individuals, groups or organisations.
However (that’s a big however) funders like quantitative indicators. These are indicators that try to explain something by using numbers: they tell you how many, how much, how often. Generally we think of numerical indicators as being very scientific and objective, but they can also be used to measure subjective things, like people’s attitudes or feelings.
Here are some general guidelines on how to develop indicators.
You can use the SMART technique to develop your indicator
Specific A clear statement of what you expect to happen.
Measurable How you will assess or describe the change: quality, quantity, cost or time.
Attainable The work needs to be realistic and achievable.
Relevant The change you are looking for needs to be relevant to your program.
Timely There is a time frame for achieving the change you want to see.
One method is to use the acronym SMART to guide your indicator development. That is, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.
An example of a SMART indicator might be:
Clients will report increased confidence in managing financial matters by the end of the program.
You can develop indicators that are QQT (Quality, Quantity, Timing)
Quality The kind of change
Quantity The scope of the change
Timing The time by when the change should have taken place
QQT is another acronym designed to help you develop your indicators. It means Quality, Quantity and Timing.
An example might be:
The number of people on self-directed support achieving their goals by the end of the support period.
Or you can go gangbusters
SMART and QQT are useful ways to remember what an indicator should look like, but don’t let yourself be limited by what can be measured!
Some things are too complex to be measured and if you try to you may find yourself altering your outcomes statements to get something that is ‘measurable’. You can end up writing something that seeks to measure what you do, not whether you are achieving the outcomes you hope to achieve.
You can be bold – leave out the ‘M’. You can have SART goals! (Smart, Achievable, Reasonable and Timely). 1
But... funders will want you to measure stuff
So if you can measure it, do so.
Overall, an indicator should be a good fit. Some indicators relate very closely to the outcomes you are working towards, other relate less closely – but that’s ok.
The best indicators measure all of the idea of the outcome you are working towards. For example your goal might be to ‘support every client who wants to work to find employment’. Your indicator might be ‘the proportion of clients who want to work who do find employment’. That’s what’s called a direct measure.
But your indicator might measure only part of the idea of the outcome you are working towards. For example ‘Number of trips to community facilities’ is a partial measure of access to and availability of community facilities because access is also about affordability, physical accessibility, feeling safe and that you belong etc. This is still an acceptable indicator, but it’s what’s called a partial measure.
Sometimes indicators measure something quite different to the outcome. They measure an idea associated with the outcome even though the idea is quite different. The classic example is life expectancy being used as a measure of health outcomes. The age at which you might be expected to die seems an unusual way of measuring whether you have good health, but of course the ideas are related. This is called an indirect measure.