The choices and efforts made by government to promote social development aimed at reducing inequalities reveal the need for improvements in public instruments for planning, budgeting and management. In this context, the production and dissemination of information allows for increased knowledge of public administration and public policies. This is especially important at a time when the State seeks to expand its capacity to produce and deliver goods and services to the public.

For this reason, performance indicators are useful tools for public administration; for both revealing the current state of policies, as well as for producing inputs that promote their improvement.

Choosing performance indicators for public administration

Given the large number of measurements available, the process of choosing indicators should seek the highest possible degree of adherence to some properties that characterize an adequate measurement of performance.

Essential properties

These are properties that any indicator must have and they should always be considered as selection criteria, regardless of the management cycle phase of the policy under analysis (Planning, Execution, Evaluation etc.).

  • Usefulness: The indicator should support decisions, whether operational, tactical or strategic. Thus, the indicators should be based on the needs of decision makers.
  • Validity: they should be able to represent, as accurately as possible, the reality that one wishes to measure and modify. An indicator should be significant for what is being measured, and maintain this significance over time.
  • Reliability: indicators should be based on reliable sources that use recognized and transparent methodologies for data collection, processing and dissemination.
  • Availability: the basic data used for indicators should be easy to obtain.

Complementary properties

These are also very important, but may be subject to additional analysis, depending on the individual assessment of the situation.

  • Simplicity: indicators should be easy to obtain, construct, maintain, communicate and be understood by the general public, both internal and external.
  • Clarity: usually an indicator is defined as a division between two basic variables. It is composed of a numerator and a denominator, both of which are constructed with readily available data. Sometimes, however, an indicator can have a complex formula, involving many variables. In any case, it is imperative that it be clear, meet the needs of decision makers and be adequately documented.
  • Sensitivity: an indicator should be able to reflect changes resulting from interventions.
  • Disaggregation: an indicator should be able to represent regions and socio-demographic groups, given that the territorial dimension is presented as an essential component in the implementation of public policies.
  • Economy: the indicator’s ability to be obtained at a reasonable cost. The ratio of the cost to obtain the indicator and its benefits should be favorable.
  • Stability: the ability to establish consistent historical records that allow for the monitoring and comparison of variables, with minimal interference from other variables.
  • Measurability: the scope, range and ability to perform measurements when needed, in its most current version, with the highest possible degree of precision and without ambiguity.
  • Auditability: or traceability – everyone should be able to verify the proper application of the rules for using the indicators (obtaining, processing, formatting, disseminating, interpreting).

Other relevant aspects

In addition to these properties, it is important that the indicator selection process take into account the following aspects:

  • Public record: indicators should be public, that is, known and available to all levels of the institution, as well as society and other public administration bodies.
  • Temporality: performance indicators should consider some temporal issues: firstly, the moment at which the measurement should begin; secondly, the ability to obtain measurements when different results begin to arise; and, lastly, the ability to periodically monitor the performance of the program by means of these measurements.
  • Feasibility: the data required for measurements comes from data that is part of the institution’s management processes and, thus, is obtained through data collection instruments, whether by sample or census, statistics, questionnaires, observations etc., depending on the aspect to be measured. A proposal for indicators should include feasible measurement indicators at appropriate times and with a frequency that balances the need for data with technical and financial resources.

Performance management in the public sector

As we have seen, there are a number of attributes to take into consideration to ensure the selection of a good performance indicator. And this is only the first step towards implementing an effective performance management model. There are various methodologies, tools and good practices that can help in this process, many of which have already been developed or adapted for use in the public sector. Below are some articles and success stories that should help you with your search:

Tobias Schroeder


Tobias Schroeder

MBA in Strategic Management from UFPR. Business and market analyst at SoftExpert, a software provider for enterprise-wide business processes automation, improvement, compliance management and corporate governance.

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