Statistics in development cooperation - development indicators

This article is part of a set of background articles providing an ‘outline of knowledge’ of international statistical cooperation between the European Union (EU) and developing countries, for non-statisticians needing to deal with statistics in development programmes and projects. The outline serves as an entry point and introduction to the much more detailed Eurostat publication 'Guide to statistics in European Commission development cooperation', downloadable in PDF format in English, French and Spanish (further down referred to as 'the Guide').

Many developing countries have weak statistical systems and mechanisms for measuring results. Good, reliable statistics are essential for measuring progress in reaching development goals and provide essential information about the effectiveness of policies and programmes. They help governments improve their policies and to be transparent and accountable about the delivery of development results. Reliable statistics are a key element towards better measurement, monitoring and management of the results of development assistance.

The existence and use of indicators supports the development of country-specific and country-owned policies and institutions. Indicators built on quality statistics are vital for the development of evidence-based policies. Furthermore, the development aid allocated to a country is calculated on the basis of a number of indicators; multi-annual indicative allocations should be based on standard, objective and transparent need and performance criteria. Reliable and relevant indicators are vital for setting baselines, for monitoring and for evaluation of results, thus they should be comparable over time.

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What is the role and importance of statistics and indicators in the aid context?

A wide range of statistical data is needed to support the development process, to provide the evidence base for policy formulation, to support implementation, to monitor progress and to evaluate outcomes, inter alia:

  • social data,
  • economic data,
  • demographic data, and
  • environmental data.

The quality and availability of these data depend upon the capacity of institutions involved in the national statistical system (NSS) to answer to statistics users’ needs, the legal and institutional framework for of the NSS and the awareness of the importance of statistics at political level.

The support to capacity building is set as an element for EU coordinated action by the Communication from the European Commission ‘Increasing the impact of EU Development Policy: an Agenda for Change’.

Development indicators are essential for the allocation of resources and for the monitoring of development aid.

The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Managing for Development Results initiative emphasise indicators that focus on the desired results of the development aid and country performances. They supplement the measurement of direct input aid and direct measurable results with indicators on results from the beneficiary point of view and on the overall impact of an aid activity.

Guide examples and practical information

  • B.3.1 The role and importance of statistics and indicators in the aid context

How does the European Commission use performance measurement indicators?

EuropeAid’s guide “Policy Steering: The Role and Use of Performance - Measurement Indicators” focuses on outcome indicators to measure the impact of policies, improving decision-making processes and informing the public of policy impacts.

There are no standard tools or pre-defined indicators that match the specific circumstances and priorities of each partner country.

EuropeAid’s guide presents a three-stage method to select appropriate sectoral indicators:

  • What information would shed light on or reflect the specific policy aspects and challenges on which attention is to be focussed?
  • Determine whether the indicators for identification of needs have the necessary characteristics to set targets, to monitor progress and to be available as required.
  • Document the chosen indicators on a fact-sheet: the calculation; the sources used; any reservations regarding the quality of those sources; how the indicator can be used and interpreted.

The EuropeAid guide provides a practical framework for performance measurement in co-operation polices. This includes the definition of indicator matrices (‘performance measurement frameworks’ (PAFs), selection of indicators based on main policy targets and indicators’ relevance to users.

Guide examples and practical information

  • B.3.3 Indicators and statistics in the European Commission development cycle
  • Box 3.3: The ‘Agenda for Change’ and country resource allocation
  • Box 3.4: The Cotonou Agreement and Country Resource Allocation
  • Box 3.5: The Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) Regulation and country resource allocation
  • Box 3.6: The European Consensus on Development and country resource allocation

What are the different types of indicators and what are they measuring?

The European Commission uses the OECD Development Assistance Committee's typology to classify indicators. This classifies each indicator according to what it measures; an “input”, an “output”, an “outcome” or an “impact”. Each indicator falls into one and only one of these types:


Measure the financial, administrative and regulatory resources (“process”) provided by government and donors. It is necessary to establish a link between resources used and results achieved to assess the efficiency of actions. (Examples: share of the budget devoted to education expenditure, technical assistance person-days provided).


Measure the immediate and concrete consequences of the measures taken and resources used. (Examples: number of schools and training centres built, renovated or equipped; number and percent of teachers trained; teachers employed; nurses trained).


Measure the results at the level of beneficiaries. (Examples: gross enrolment rates in primary schools; percentage of girls among the children entering first year of primary school; vaccinations; inscription rates for professional training; percentage of professional training graduates employed after training).


Measure the consequences of the outcomes. They measure the general objectives in terms of national development and poverty reduction. (Examples: literacy rates; health improvement; employment and unemployment rates).

Indicators need comparable, reliable and timely data. Official statistics is a key source of such data. The accuracy and relevance of indicators are critically dependent on the timely availability and the quality of the data on which they are based. Official statistics are provided by the national statistical system; the statistical capacity of the NSS is essential to assure that the data needed for the indicators are available and of sufficient quality.

Guide examples and practical information

  • B.3.2 Typology of development indicators
  • Box 3.1: Typology of indicators
  • Box 3.2: Typology of indicators by the use made of them
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