Demand for ways to measure different aspects of democracy, human rights and governance is increasing. This has led to a rapid growth in the number of indicators to assess government performance, the quality of institutions and people’s perceptions. This guide, put together by the United Nations Development Programme and the European Commission, offers advice on where to find and how to use governance indicators.
A governance indicator is a measure of one or more aspects of the state of governance in a country. Such indicators usually focus on specific areas of governance such as electoral systems, human rights, public service delivery, civil society and corruption. In the development field, they can be used to monitor and evaluate governance programmes and projects and to establish benchmarks, goals and targets. This guide for non-specialist users is divided into two main parts. The first offers generic guidance on governance indicators and how to select appropriate data in different situations. The second section is a source guide, which uses a set format to describe 33 existing sources of governance information, all available on the internet. The first page on each source outlines its main characteristics, and the second provides an example of the data and guidance on how to use it in a valid way.
The first part of the guide addresses four key questions. The first three are:
- What is the problem? Governance indicators can be conceptualised at different levels depending on what is being measured. Here they are grouped into three levels: input, process and output.
- Indicators at the first level would cover countries’ formal commitments to governance; at the second they would look at action to fulfil them; and at the third they would measure the numbers of people enjoying rights.
- How can we get the data? It is important to consider who is gathering the information and how the method of data collection affects the results.
- This section also examines the four main kinds of primary data sources that serve as a basis for governance indicators: standards, codes and treaties; events-based data; narrative reports; and surveys.
- What data can we get? There are many different types, and the main ones are examined here. They include objective measures, results based on perceptions of a country’s residents and results based on external perceptions.
The fourth question asks: how can we use the data? The guide suggests three important rules to apply in each situation:
- Use a range of indicators. No single indicator allows for comprehensive, balanced comparison. Using just one can produce a false assessment, but too many can be confusing. A balanced set is needed.
- Use an indicator as the first question, not the last. The more detailed an indicator, the more likely it is to point to actions that could improve results. Indicators can be developed as information becomes available.
- Understand an indicator before using it. This is perhaps the most crucial rule, because using an indicator implicitly indicates endorsement of it, including its methodology and assumptions.
- This section also suggests a checklist for an indicator’s attributes. The list covers validity, reliability, measurement bias, transparency, breadth of representation, variance truncation, information bias and aggregation problems.