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Putting your project indicators into perspective

“We have achieved 60% of our target (60 of 100 individuals trained) and are on track with our activities”

“We reached 1200 learners in 5 schools, exceeding our target of 1000 learners”

Statements like these, which explain programme progress in relation to a defined set of indicators, typically form an important part of progress reports submitted to donors.

According to UNAIDS:

“an indicator provides a sign or a signal that something exists or is true. It is used to show the presence or state of a situation or condition. In the context of monitoring and evaluation, an indicator is a quantitative metric that provides information to monitor performance, measure achievement and determine accountability.”

Indicators are particularly important for accountability purposes, but sometimes the work of monitoring and reporting on these indicators overshadows the greater usefulness of what is measured.

Below we present a case of an NGO which was able to change the way it reported its progress against donor-defined indicators to make them more useful to both the donor and the organisation itself.

NGO Africa* found that its narrow use of M&E data was neither useful to the organisation nor adequately conveying their implementation story. The organisation was facing significant pressure from its donor to initiate and implement a new project targeted at supporting service delivery to key population groups. The project faced several implementation challenges and although NGO Africa had put measures in place to resolve these, they were still struggling to reach their targets.

In reporting on their progress to its donor, it was critical for NGO Africa to both demonstrate the project’s value and ‘buy’ enough time to overcome their implementation challenges. However, their existing reporting structure did not allow for this. They were using the standard indicators required by their donor, presented against their targets in a simple tabular format. This format was not demonstrating their actual performance because it did not show the dependency of activities on contextual factor or the relationships between different indicators and between indicators and outcomes.  

This is how we helped NGO Africa put their indicators into perspective:

1. They reviewed their reporting template and identified the critical indicators

You may report on multiple indicators, but it is important to identify the key or strategic measures which inform project outcomes. These can either be standard donor indicators or additional outcome indicators which provide useful data not captured in the standard measures. In this project, indicators related to population service delivery were identified as most critical, while indicators such as the number of communication products developed were seen as less important in measuring and reporting on outcomes.

No Indicator Y1 Target Y1 Result
1 Number of key populations reached with individual and/or small group level HIV preventive interventions that are based on evidence and/or meet the minimum standards required. 5,210 1,756

(1,629 FSW; 127 MSM)

2 Number of individuals who received HTC services and received their test results. 275

(247 FSW, 28 MSM)

HIV positive: 78

3 Number of adults and children newly enrolled on antiretroviral therapy (ART) 1,014 6
4 Number of adults and children currently receiving ART 142 7

2. They connected, visualised and explained their indicators

Context is critical in reporting results to donors and, instead of standing alone, indicators should depict a chain of events and the relationship between them should be clearly presented. The list format used by NGO Africa was not achieving this.

Based on the project’s Theory of Change and input from relevant implementation staff, project activities were organised into a sequence of connected events with indicators or key results measuring achievement at each point in the sequence. The use of diagrams like the one below allowed them to clearly present the sequence and depict the scale of results. Overlaying narrative and key points to clarify results helped to provide a bigger picture of implementation performance.

Indicators 1

Have a look at our previous blog on thinking outside the data box to identify the key questions to ask when reviewing your indicators.

3. They used design principles in presenting their results

While a simple diagram in MS Word can be enough to communicate your results, additional graphic design can really improve how you communicate your implementation story. In this case, NGO Africa, was able to shift focus away from their underperformance and highlight important contextual details that explained their implementation challenges.  

Indicators 2

Although NGO Africa was not able to achieve its targets at the end of the project, it was able to change the way it reported on indicators and conveyed its implementation story. By putting their indicators into context, they helped the donor understand the challenges the NGO faced in achieving results. They were also able to demonstrate their plans for addressing these contextual challenges, showing that the NGO was engaged in organisational learning and development.

 * This is not the real NGO name; changed for confidentiality purposes.

Author/s:  Jerusha Govender