What is a ‘performance indicator’? By one definition (found in the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010) it is “a particular value or characteristic used to measure an output or an outcome.” As a value, an indicator may be quantitative. As a characteristic, it is often quantitative, but it may also be qualitative.
It is often prudent to use two or three performance indicators to measure each output or outcome that is proposed to be the focus of an objective. Using one indicator alone is sometimes all that’s needed, but using more may yield findings that just one might miss.
Purposes of Indicators:
Use of indicators makes it possible to determine the extent to which the intended beneficiaries of a project or initiative in fact experienced a desired benefit. In turn, such determinations contribute to decisions about necessary interim or midcourse corrections and about the ultimate effectiveness of the project or initiative in achieving its objectives and attaining its goals. These determinations, as culled from evaluation reports, then contribute to decisions about continuing appropriations or allocations for specific grant programs.
In order to be useful in gauging the success and continued funding-worthiness of a project or initiative, performance indicators should have several attributes:
Indicators measure how closely a performance target has been met. If a target has been met or exceeded, based on the indicators used, the finding either implies or demonstrates a benefit. The more an intended benefit can be reported, the more successful a grant program will appear to be.
A performance target defines a criterion for success for an output or outcome. It sets a threshold for deciding whether a project or initiative is doing well or poorly in a given aspect. A usefully constructed performance target has several attributes:
- Quantitative (number or ratio) preferably
- Realistic or feasible
- Reflective of experience
- Reflective of baseline data
In a multi-cycle project or initiative, the data collected during the first funding cycle will play several roles. It will corroborate or correct the baseline data presented in the original proposal. It will furnish a new basis for comparisons at intervals (e.g., quarterly or yearly) during a multi-cycle funding period. It will form a possible rationale for making midcourse corrections before the initial funding cycle ends.
- Context – a high school physics science education project
- Desired Outcome – that participants will demonstrate increased knowledge of the scientific method as implemented in a physics lab
- Performance Indicator – that participants will list in correct sequence the contents by topic of a complete physics lab report
- Performance Target – that 90% of participants submit a correctly sequenced physics lab report