Step 4: Identifying Indicators and Targets

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
German-American physicist

“It will take more than one try to develop good indicators. Arriving at a final set of appropriate indicators will take time.”
Jody Kusek and Ray Rist 2004

Note: The literature on marine spatial planning and performance evaluation is full of peer-reviewed and grey literature publications on indicators, often with no or little reference to the management context in which indicators will be used. To read several exceptions, see Belfiore et al., 2006 or Pomeroy et al, 2004.

What are the principal types of indicators?

Marine spatial management indicators are usually organized into three types:

  • Governance indicators measure the performance of phases of the MSP process, e.g., the status of marine spatial management planning and implementation, stakeholder participation, compliance and enforcement, as well as the progress and quality of management actions and of the marine spatial management plan itself; governance indicators are particularly important at the beginning of the MSP process before real outcomes can be measured;

To read an article on governance indicators, see Ehler, 2003.

  • Socio-economic indicators reflect the state of the human component of coastal and marine ecosystems, e.g., level of economic activity, and are an essential element in the development of MSP plans. They help measure the extent to which MSP is successful in managing the pressures of human activities in a way that results not only in an improved natural environment, but also in improved quality of life in coastal and marine areas, as well as in sustainable socio-economic benefits;

To read an article on socio-economic indicators, see Bowen & Riley, 2003.

  • Ecological or environmental indicators reflect trends in characteristics of the marine environment. They are descriptive in nature if they describe the state of the environment in relation to a particular issue, e.g., eutrophication, loss of biodiversity or over-fishing).

To read a current article on ecological indicators, see Halpern, 2003.

Video: Deerin Babb-Brott on identifying simple, pragmatic indicators

  • Make sure your indicators are related to what your marine plan is trying to accomplish
  • In first-generation marine spatial plans, indicators will probably be more “process” than “outcome” oriented
  • For some indicators, e.g., the effects of MSP on a marine ecosystem, it will take time for monitoring to show changes
  • Simple indicators can still be informative
  • If a goal is to prevent development in ecologically important areas—and no development occurs, then that is a simple measure of success

Task 1: Identify Indicators for Management Actions

What are the characteristics of good indicators?

No universal set of indicators exists that would be applicable to all marine regions. However, a small set of well-chosen indicators is good practice. Similar to SMART objectives, characteristics of good indicators include:

  • Relevant to the management objectives (Step 2) and management actions (Step 3);
  • Readily measurable: on the time scales needed to support management, using existing instruments, monitoring programs, and available analytical tools; they should have well-established confidence limits, and should be distinguishable from background noise;

  • Cost-effective: indicators should be cost-effective since monitoring resources are usually limited. There is often a trade-off between the information content of various indicators, and the cost of collecting that information. Simply put, the benefits should outweigh the costs;

  • Concrete: indicators should be directly observable and measurable, rather than reflecting abstract properties, are desirable because they are more readily interpretable and accepted by diverse stakeholders;

  • Interpretable: indicators should reflect aspects of concern to stakeholders and their meaning should be understood by as wide a range of stakeholders as possible;

  • Grounded on scientific theory: they should be based on well-accepted scientific theory, rather than on poorly validated theoretical links;

  • Sensitive: indicators should be sensitive to changes in the aspects being monitored; they should be able to detect trends or impacts regarding things that are monitored;

  • Responsive: they should be able to measure the effects of management actions so as to provide rapid and reliable feedback on the consequences of management actions; and,

  • Specific: indicators should respond to the aspects they are intended to measure and have the ability to distinguish the effects of other factors from the observed responses (Ehler and Douvere 2009).

A Tip on the “Right” Number of Indicators

Since each indicator implies an explicit data collection activity for measuring it, the key questions on data collection and management should be considered. Too many indicators can be difficult to track and may be a drain on available resources. Reducing the number of indicators is always preferable to trying to include too many.

Video: Leo DeVrees on different types of indicators used in the Netherlands

  • MSP in the Netherlands uses three types of indicators:
    • Indicators to show Parliament progress on implementing MSP
    • Indicators to measure the state-of-the-environment
    • Indicators to show how MSP has improved management of marine areas

Task 2: Identify Interim Targets

Many of the outcomes of marine spatial management plans will take years, if not decades, to realize. Interim targets are important to ensure that the management actions are resulting in measurable incremental steps toward the eventual outcome.

For example, if an objective is to produce 25% of energy supply from offshore renewable sources by 2025, an interim target could be to produce 10% by 2015 and 20% by 2020.

Target setting is a critical part of evaluation. In order to determine progress, it is necessary to not only measure the indicator, but identify beforehand a target for that indicator. Planning teams may hesitate to set targets, afraid that they may not accomplish them, or sometimes it is just difficult to predict targets. However, target setting helps to keep the marine spatial plan’s expected results realistic, to plan resources, track and report progress against these targets, and to inform decision-making and uphold accountability.

Knowing whether your indicator exceeds or under performs its target helps to determine if your management actions are progressing according to plan, or whether there may need to be adjustments to the implementation or time frame. Generally, a good rule of thumb is that variance from the target greater than 10% should be explained in periodic reports.

Do targets change? Absolutely. Data collected during evaluation often leads to reassessing and adjusting targets accordingly.


Video: Charles Ehler on the relationship between management actions and indicators

  • Indicators let you measure whether a management action has achieved its objective
  • If objectives have not been achieved, then management actions should be modified or replaced
  • As conditions change, monitoring, evaluation and adaptive management allows management actions to change in response

Go back to Step 3: Identifying Marine Spatial Management Actions or continue reading Step 5: Establishing a Baseline for Selected Indicators

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