Lessons Learned: Developing Metrics/Indicators

Metrics/indicators help track progress towards achieving your program’s desired impact.

They tell you:

  1. Who is changing
  2. What will change
  3. By when this change is expected to happen

See our blog post on how to develop indicators here.

Over the last month, we’ve supported ten organizations in the Social Impact Collaborative* through the process of developing metrics/indicators.


Below are a few lessons we’ve learned along the way.

  • Distinguish between measuring program implementation and impact. Implementation evaluation helps you understand how effectively a program, project, campaign, or initiative is being implemented which is aligned to the output stage of the logic model. In contrast, impact evaluation explores the impact a program or project has on stakeholders and is aligned to the outcomes stage of the logic model. When creating your plan for measurement, you want to develop a strategy for measuring both implementation and impact or decide where to focus your efforts depending on the stage of your program.
  • Focus in and categorize. Often organizations will attempt to measure too many indicators. This not only causes data burden, but can also be confusing to analyze and draw meaningful conclusions about the data. To help you focus in, prioritize the most critical indicators and think about connections between the different aspects of your program or project and create categories accordingly. For example, certain types of activities (e.g., all community building activities or all training activities) may group together which can help streamline your measurement efforts.
  • Be feasible when it comes to data collection methods. It’s important to think ahead to what methods you’ll use to track progress on your indicators. Will a certain metric require you to develop a new method of data collection (e.g., a new survey) OR do you already collect data on your proposed metrics using an existing method. You should consider the time and resources required to take on new methods of data collection and choose indicators that are feasible given your organizational capacity. This will also require thinking about who all within your organization needs to support with data collection and aggregation and how you can streamline those efforts.
  • Consider a needs assessment to refine indicator development. A needs assessment can help you refine your program – and corresponding outcomes/indicators – in the early stages of program design or implementation. You can use your assessment of needs to plan relevant and effective programming, as well as to determine the indicators that will be most meaningful to your key stakeholders.
  • Don’t be afraid of non-traditional indicators. Oftentimes we’re drawn to the indicators that are the easiest to measure. For example, in education, this often means we use traditional metrics like test scores to capture impact on student learning. While these traditional metrics may have some value, think outside the box and ensure your indicators really capture what you’re hoping to accomplish.

If you’re looking for some ideas for metrics and corresponding data collection methods, check out Perform Well.

*The Social Impact Collaborative is being funded by the William Penn Foundation, but the opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the William Penn Foundation.