Urban Governance: A Sourcebook on Indicators

Part One

3. Measuring Good Governance

The Rationale

Good urban governance impacts not only cities but also the whole nation. Keeping a constructive tab on how the pulsating cities are being governed is important for sustainable and productive fusion between economic progress and human development. The lack or absence of mechanisms to measure progress can seriously jeopardize socio-economic development of the city and socio-political equilibrium of the nation.

This is particularly true in the light of two recent experiences. One is the South Asian experience of the Nineties, where several nations have begun mobilizing greater democratic participation of the governed in governance processes (through changes in their administrative structures and decentralisation policies). Though 'these local democracies are in a nascent stage, and their specific functional and fiscal domains are not well defined,' good local governance is their goal. If they fail, the credibility of their democratic institutions will suffer irrevocably. Therefore, this process towards decentralized democracy must be supported through close monitoring and regular review.

The other experience is the South East Asian economic downturn of the mid-Nineties, which some consider as an urban catastrophe – caused by bad economic planning & forecasting by urban managers. Until the disaster struck, those in urban governance did not have the ability or capacity to forestall or foretell the crisis. As a result, what can be termed as an urban failure brought economic instability to the whole of their nations. Many believe that better economic and managerial sense and sentinels in urban institutions could have at least mitigated the consequences.

Therefore, first as a performance monitor and then as a precautionary measure, national and sub-national authorities must concertedly pursue periodic assessment of municipal governance modes, modalities and processes to ascertain that they are compatible with the interests, needs, aspirations and priorities of the city and of the nation.

The Source Book is an aide toward such assessment. It explains how to go about setting up an assessment mechanism. It provides indicators as a tool. The first set of indicators is a subjective report card based on peoples’ perceptions and the second is a very objective set which is highly data based.

The following pages explains the uses of assessment.

The Uses of Impact Assessment

Assessment, Analysis & Action

Brief and, at times cursory, assessments of institutions, mechanisms, and processes often give rise to detailed in-depth analyses which provide good ‘leads’ to corrective or constructive action. Assessment, Analysis and Action are critical managerial inputs in every human endeavour. Constant review, evaluation, and revision are crucial for their course correction and direction. This Triple ‘A’ mid-course pulse-detector process is, therefore, an important management instrument. It helps understand the health and strength of any human endeavour, be it a profit-making business or a development-oriented service.

Assessment, Analysis and Action are all part of a greater vision to be transparent in governance. They also presuppose the potential of negative growth and negative development if urban processes are not properly planned, charted, checked and tended. Any assessment or impression, however brief or cursory it may be, must lead to careful in-depth Analysis. Analysis will help formulate Action that will include a long-term vision for city governance and strategies to realize that vision.

Correct assessment of urban systems and processes is important for policy and programme development for many are the dangers and pitfalls of uniformed policy construction. It is obvious that where objective assessment is absent, prejudices and assumptions colour the concepts and influence the actions. Availability of good database of indicators, therefore, can stimulate objective analysis and positive change processes.


Indicators also constitute benchmarks. With the initial database created, every subsequent application of the indicators will not only provide the current status, but also help plot the change of status from the point and time last measured. The need for regular assessment and for indicators for such assessment, therefore, can never be over-emphasised.

The pages that follow explain the commonly used indicator types from which the assessors can select ones relevant to their specific needs.

Different Indicator Categories *

Managing Governance is a task in itself. To manage, it must have a vision, goals, targets and broadly accepted performance measurements i.e. indicators. All stakeholders must have a consensus on what indicates Good Governance. There are many types of indicators of Good Governance that assessors must be aware of.

Categories of Indicators

They are of many different categories.

1. Input/output level indicators. These are generally used to assess the performance of functionaries and systems quantitatively. They may not help understand the behavioural and procedural processes of each endeavour but will depict the extent of resource investments made with the aim of bringing about a desired change.

2. Outcome/impact level indicators meant to assess the effectiveness of the efforts made to bring about change. These will indicate whether the desired change had actually begun to take place. They can be used only in summative evaluations at the end of a medium or long-term effort.

3. Condition-Stress-Response (CSR) indicators. They measure the ground realities (Condition); the challenges or problems (Stress) and the systemic approaches employed to meet those challenges (Response).

* The works of Jeb Brugmann and Graham Pinfield that appeared in Local Environment, vol. 2, No. 1 & 2 pf CLEPS, South Bank University, London, February and June 1997 under the titles, "Is there a Method in Our Measurement?" and "Use of Indicators in Local Sustainable Development Planning" were helpful in compiling this chapter.

Each of these categories and indicators has its own advantages and disadvantages. Each type has its own:

  • specific rationale for existence;

  • direction and purpose;

  • methodological complexities;

  • data requirements;

  • purposive standards & conditions; and

  • application modes.

Some of the better known and used categories of socio-economic indicators are as follows. 

Integral Indicators: portraying the results of multiple linkages between/among different sectors & factors.

E.g. Rate of employment, for it points to municipal facilitation processes, economic credibility level of the city, confidence of investors in city governance, municipal planning priorities etc.,

Rate of malnutrition, for it points to the impact of numerous interactions among many causative sectors. They indicate the performance levels of income distribution, household food security, consumption habits and patterns, food storage and handling systems etc.


Trend Indicators: linked to processes pointing to quantity or speed patterns of change.

E.g. Rate of change in municipal expenditure in select areas, for it indicates the direction or trends of municipal spending on priority areas of concern.


Distributive Indicators: linked to equity issues of resources, income and services.

E.g. GINI index of Income Disparity for it establishes a standard and estimates the distance between the standard and state of performance.

Predictive Indicators: linked to assessing trends and processes and making futuristic projections. These are basically forecasting models.

E.g. Estimated rate of increase in municipal revenue. It determines possible projections into the future on the basis of past patterns and probable future trends.


Conditional indicators: portraying results achievable under assumed conditions or changes, or both.

E.g. Rate of female participation in municipal governance. It assumes that neither the life style patterns of urban women nor the constitutional and statutory provisions for such participation will change.


CSR Indicators: A mix of the above, linked to Condition, Stress & Response (CSR). It is a simple model for measuring local conditions but not for comparative purposes. This particular type of indicators is directly responsive to municipal needs. It measures how the governance system is responding to either the situation (condition), or the problem/s created by the situation (stress on the governing system or on the governed) or the way they are resolved (Response) or to all. CSR indicators are a logical amalgam of many of the above-said indicator categories pointing to input or outcome or impact level accomplishments. Their construct is not too complex. They are easy to substantiate, understand and use.

 E.g. Percentage of time of the council meetings devoted to review human resource needs for good governance.

Important Issues to Remember

In Assessing Governance

It is useful for those who use indicators to know the following. That will put them in a constant state of preparedness when confronting issues of definition and analysis.

¨ Indicators are often value-laden. Therefore, the users must decide beforehand the moral minima or the minimum set of values that their indicators must represent.

¨ There is often a tension between scientific rigour required of any indicator and the available municipal and community capacity to use them. If not properly resolved at the outset, this tension can later make the indicators redundant or unusable. There is also the tension between the perspectives of generalists and specialists.

¨ Public participation is an important activity to collect and analyse of data for indicators. However, approaches to indicators and assessment generally suffer from a popular notion that all city level indicators can be better collected by the public. There is no doubt that they can be better collected through public participation. But, one has to also understand that there are numerous data that the public itself cannot collect, process and analyse for the lack of technical and scientific knowledge and skills needed to determine the different dimensions of the CSR regime analysis. Remember that indicators are not simple; they are simplifications of complex problems.

¨ If indicators are only for a social construct, and not for managerial use, diverse indicators are not necessary. Then, it will help measure the social processes only. But mere academic appraisals as such will hardly help bring about changes in governance. The best is to weave both, managerial information and social experience into one set of indicators.

¨ However simple the tools may be, they must be subject to scientific scrutiny.

¨ Indicators must not be developed without properly understanding the end result required. For examples, if sustainability is not properly defined and clearly understood, there is no way that indicators can be developed to measure it.

¨ Using indicators as performance / output measurements is simple, justifiable and more precise viz. a viz. measuring change and processes. Simple, because the project output targets have already defined the indicators; justifiable, because the indicators are automatically pursuing some priority interventions established by the community; precise, because it measures very precise, targeted development.

¨ There is a tension between the North and South about indicators as a whole. G77’s view that indicators are imposed on the developing countries as subtle development controls; that they violate national sovereignty; that while the rich nations are unwilling to reduce their consumption to sustainable levels, they are trying to get the poor to change and live frugally according to standards set by them; that it is not sustainable development first but economic progress etc.

Watch-Tower Sentinels of Governance

 To stimulate and achieve good governance, there must be interest –groups that would keep a constant watch over the way the city is being managed and governed. They will act like a watch tower sentry who, from atop a lofty platform, is able to gain a birds eye view of the things that happen around it.

To achieve good urban governance, there must be sentinel watch-towers constantly assessing the performance of municipal administration and civil society participation. The primary responsibility for this lies with those who reside within the city. For long-term sustenance and effective impact, such sentinel systems can exist within and as part of the municipal governance mechanism, provided that such arrangements do not tamper with the independence of assessment. Many NGOs doubt that such possibilities exist, but there is evidence that municipal systems are fast becoming interested in partnerships where independent research and analysis is respected and promoted. Any monitoring outside the established governance system will be a mere cosmetic with little or no chance of effective impact.

Municipal performance in all major potential impact areas must be consistently monitored, reviewed and, where necessary, revised to keep them on track toward the desired goals of investment and development goals. The potential impact areas are numerous and often diverse and complex. Unethical or irresponsible interactions between and among them can:

  • derail the charted course to growth and development;

  • reduce the economic and social benefits of growth;

  • warp the distribution of those benefits; and

  • increase the costs of social benefits delivery.

With effective monitoring of the way the cities govern the course of their development, it will be easier to administer timely preventive measures. It is better than taking post-facto curative or remedial actions. The realm of prevention requires participation, rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, consensus and equity building and accountability as part of a broad strategic vision.

Each city must have sentinel groups to constantly assess, monitor and review city governance. The Group must be small but representative of the city population. It must come from different stakeholder groups such as the private sector, NGOs/CBOs and the Government. The purpose is to stand as a sentinel watch-tower all the time with love to all and malice to none and thus, help the city administration and civil society with a regular, constructive feedback from the point of view of those being governed.

These interest-group can act as sentinel watch-posts over their specific areas of expertise, interest of influence, e.g. job creation, poverty, transparency, participation, solid waste management, etc. They can perform this role through periodic studies, surveys and also by using the Report Cards and the list of Objective Indicators of Good Governance given in Part II of this book.

Global Efforts in the Development and Use of Good Governance Indicators

The use of indicators to assess human and social behaviour began with the Creation Story. At the end of each of the six days that He was engaged in creating the universe, God did an assessment and review daily and found that the day’s work was good. Then, He gave Adam and Eve a self-assessment indicator – the Tree of Knowledge in the garden of Eden. The tree untouched was an indicator of good human behaviour and good governance of their own affairs.

Since then, the indicators movement has taken numerous positions, directions and shapes rekindling and refining human quest for higher attainments and more content living.

Until recently, the statistics bureaus all over the world courted simple but seemingly composite indicators like Gross Domestic Product and Per Capita Income to measure the growth path of nations. Realizing their inadequacy and wealth-centric nature, in the 1970s, the United Nations institutions introduced the Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI) and Human Development Indicators (HDI). However, they too had limitations. They were not intended to measure development processes until after the impacts were visible which many considered as an act of closing the stables after the horses have fled.

Disenchanted by their inability to capture the methods and attitudes employed to achieve the end results, the world community buttressed the existing measurement modes with a conceptual framework that insisted on good management of democratic institutions, their vision, processes and personnel. The series of international conferences that started with the Children’s Summit in New York (1990), capped by many others including the Earth Summit in (1992) Population Summit in Cairo (1994), Social Development Summit in Copenhagen (1995) and the World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995) and ended with the City Summit in Istanbul (1996) highlighted the importance of redefining the tools of measurement of success of development and encouraged the member states to develop and use indicators more susceptible to needs and aspirations of sustainable development. Stimulated by the said events, a series of good governance indicators have since been produced to assist in the task.

First in the series was the Summit Goals for Children adopted in 1990. Then came many others including the indicators for Rapid Urban Environmental Assessment UNDP, (1993), WHO’s 27 Indicators of Healthy Cities (1994) and UNDP's 130 Indicators for Sustainable Development (1996) and UNCHS/HABITAT Global Urban Observatory’s 49 core indicators and 124 supplementary indicators (1997).

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