The use of indicators in international development has increased exponentially since
the 1990s. Composite and proxy indicators are used to measure a wide range of
concepts but their shortcomings have been widely critiqued. Through a review of
over 300 documents, this paper gives a brief history of the rise of “indicatorology”
and then summarizes the key challenges in three categories: technical/operational,
political/strategic and epistemological/conceptual. Technical challenges faced by
development practitioners revolve around the over-simplification of complex issues
and the conflation of the goals with indicators. Political challenges involve the
inherent power of indicators and the implications they have for policy making.
Epistemological challenges question how to balance scientific rigor with local
knowledge in the creation and use of indicators. A database of all publications used
in this research is being made accessible to development practitioners and
researchers via Massey University – watch this space!
Prinson, G & Purcell, G. (2013). Measuring, defining, and valuing change: A database on development indicators for policy-makers, activists, and researchers. Palmerston North. N.Z.: Massey University. Institute of Development Studies