Identifying indicators for your goals
These types of goals state what a Water Fund is attempting to achieve. Currently, many water funds create goals that are based on current funding and short-term actions.
These can continue to be generated, but should be considered indicators of progress towards a long-term goal, and put in those contexts.
Generating indicators for incremental change should track status and change in attributes that are related to the overall goals. Sometimes these are used to assess the effectiveness and/or impact of actions in order to illustrate progress, evaluate actions, and adaptively manage implementation. These are generally “leading” indicators of the types of impacts that are stated as goals. For instance, evaluating sediment, water quality, or base flow provide information on the status of the environment, but do not directly measure the resultant impact on water supply services. And, they do not measure any benefit to people. Clarity on what information indicators provide, and how the information from them is used is critical to understanding the difference between tracking progress towards a goal, and tracking change in a leading indicator of the water system within a project. In addition, creating meaningful and measureable indicators is critical.
A 10% reduction in annual sediment loading over 5 years is generally not going to make a difference to a municipal water supply in terms of process, cost, or water supply disruption in the long term, (and it is difficult to measure or model accurately). However, it may be something that used to indicate progress towards the end result of no disruptions in municipal water supply due to sediment related issues.
A clear understanding of what that overall reduction target is should be known and stated as a hypothesis. However, even if that reduction target is met, it may not result in zero disruptions, resulting in further sediment reduction actions to achieve the goal for the Water Fund.
Similarly, reductions in phosphorous or nitrogen loadings may be tracked to evaluate progress over time. However, similar challenges for monitoring and modeling exist. Monitoring sediment and nutrients provides information on the environmental characteristics and processes, and can be useful to evaluate the effectiveness and incremental impacts of actions, but they do not measure the benefits to water security in a direct way, such as measuring the number of days of water service disruption does.
A statement such as a 10% reduction in sediment concentrations is generally not very meaningful because sediment concentrations vary with flow. A more appropriate statement may be relating a 10% reduction in suspended sediment concentrations in relation to peak and post-peak flow volume during rain events.
A 10% improvement in water quality is an example of a problematic indicator. Water quality is determined by a suite of indicators, including nutrients, bacteria, oxygen, and toxins. Water quality is not described by a single number. Additionally, concentrations of pollutants change in relation to flow and seasonal sources. It might make more sense to define a particular season and assess the concentration of a specific pollutant in relation to flow volume.
A 10% reduction in storm peaks is not related to an action. Perhaps a 10% reduction in storm peak flows in relation to precipitation amounts is something more meaningful and measureable, and can be shown to be the result of actions, but otherwise would be achieved by less severe rain events.
Ensure that leading indicators are chosen with care and provide the information necessary to assess change related to a goal, and that direct indicators to assess progress towards a goal are put in place as well.
Milestones for financial investments, stages of water fund development, implementation, and other components can and should be developed to assess and report project status and progress, and adaptively manage when necessary. However, these types of milestones are defined for components of Water Funds that result in achieving the impact goals, and are not overall goals themselves. They are necessary outcomes to achieve impacts. (See CbD refresh guidance on monitoring).