USAID TIPS: Selecting Performance Indicators

This USAID TIPs provides a detailed view of the characteristics of good performance indicators and walks the reader through a process for generating indicator ideas and selecting the best options for custom and context indicators.


USAID Discussion Note: Complexity Aware Monitoring

This discussion note highlights the additional challenges that stem from the complex situations in which USAID delivers assistance and tries to monitor performance and outcomes.


USAID's Trade Indicators Handbook (revision forthcoming)

This handbook, developed as a ProjectStarter product, currently focuses on trade facilitation. It expands on indicator findings in the USAID evaluation, From Aid to Trade.

World Bank World Trade Indicators and Data

The World Bank has an extensive trade section on its website, including trade data on a range of indicators. Of particular interest for trade is the Bank’s Logistics Performance Index.

OECD Trade Facilitation Indicators: Transforming border bottlenecks into global gateways

This brief provides an overview of OECD trade facilitation indicators that identify areas for action and enable the potential impact of reforms to be assessed.

Custom indicators are measures that USAID Missions use in combination with standard indicators to monitor progress towards intended results. Many measures that USAID can select as custom indicators are widely used across the development community. For example, a country's economic growth rate is not a USAID standard indicator, but it is one that many Missions track along with the standard indicator growth in GDP per capita.

Custom indicators supplement USAID's list of standard indicators. Missions are encouraged to use them in combination with standard indicators for multidimensional results where a single indicator may not be adequate for assessing progress towards intended results. Custom indicators are also appropriate for results for which no standard indicator exists. The challenge for a CDCS development team lies in selecting the set of indicators at each Results Framework level that will do the best job in terms of sending program managers signals about whether intended changes are occurring.

Missions whose strategy involves a trade component have available significant resources for measuring changes in exports and imports, as well as for monitoring trade restrictiveness and the impact of trade facilitation initiatives on the time and cost required to move goods across borders.

International organizations track trade performance using a variety of measures. The World Trade Organization (WTO), for example, launched a new World Trade Outlook Indicator (WTOI) designed to provide "real time" information on trends in global trade. The WTOI was unveiled in Shanghai, China on 8 July, 2016, ahead of a meeting of G20 trade ministers.

WTOI graphic

For most Missions the indicator selection process is an iterative one, with initial ideas being refined as a consensus emerges about a strategy and its intended results.

Since it is expected that indicators included in a CDCS will actually be used, it is important that Missions be certain that collecting data on every indicator it selects is feasible and affordable in the country for which a CDCS is developed. For users who are new to indicator selection, looking ahead to the website section on Performance Management Plans (PMPs), where the methods that will be used to collect and analyze indicator data must be articulated, is highly recommended. Some Missions work on their PMP as they develop their CDCS to ensure that indicator feasibility issues are considered on a timely basis.

When considering performance indicators, a CDCS development team may find the simple worksheet illustrated below to be a useful aid. This Results Framework Indicator Annex is also available for your online use.

CDCS Performance Indicators Worksheet
Results LevelResults StatementPerformance IndicatorsType of Indicator
Development Objective (3)Broad-based economic growth1. Growth in real domestic product per capitaStandard
2. Real GDP growth rateCustom
3. Jobs created from exportsCustom 
Intermediate Result (3.1)Improved trade performance1. Foreign trade (X+M) as a percentage of GDPStandard
2. Total merchandise exports - valueCustom
3. Export Concentration IndexCustom

A Summary of Trade Results Indicator Use below from the same evaluation shows the frequency of use for indicators linked to each result in the Illustrative Hierarchy of Trade Results provided in this kit section. Frequencies for indicators used to monitor the CDCS level result Trade Performance Improved are shown below.

Custom Indicators Used in USAID Projects to Measure Trade Performance Improved
#Indicator Description
88Exports in targeted sectors/firms/districts - value
45Exports in targeted sectors/firms/districts - volume
16Total value of trade under trade agreements
10Exports to specific market or markets - value
9Exports to specific market or markets - volume
7Exports to specific market or markets - value
5Exports and imports to specific markets - value
4Total merchandise exports - value
3Total services exports - value
3Total exports (goods and services) - value
3Imports in targeted sectors/firms/districts - volume
3Export market share
2Imports in targeted sectors/firms/districts - value

The World Bank indicators for its Pillar 5 may also be worth considering.

World Bank Trade Indicators Pillar 5: Trade Outcomes
  • Real Growth in Trade
  • Nominal Growth in Trade
  • Trade Composition (share of goods and services)
  • Trade Composition (share of goods, share of services)
  • Trade Integration
  • Trade Balances
  • Shares of World Trade
  • Growth in Shares of World Trade
  • Product and Market Diversification
  • Tourism, FDI, and Remittance
  • Other Variables
 << Standard IndicatorsUpUsing Existing Baselines >>



A toolkit developed and implemented by:
Office of Trade and Regulatory Reform
Bureau of Economic Growth, Education, and Environment
US Agency for International Development (USAID)

For more information, please contact Paul Fekete.

Project Starter Program Cycle