Communicating on ERDF performance
using
common indicators


**NEW** May 2020: COVID-19 specific indicators proposed

During 2020, many countries and regions will amend their ERDF and ESF programmes to transfer funds to actions targeting the COVID-19 response. Several programmes have discussed with the Commission their plans to add programmes specific indicators for new actions targeting the COVID-19 response to capture the outputs from expenditure.
In order to exploit programme specific indicators, which could be commonly applied across Member States, the Commission services proposed on 12 May 2020 a voluntary list of such indicators to the Member States, to be used when relevant. The use of the unique codes and names will allow the Commission to make use of the monitoring done by the cooperating programmes. A wide use of these codes and indicators would be highly valued for accountability, transparency and communication at the National and EU levels.  A significant number of  programmes took up these specific indicators in the 5 months to 12 October when the targets were published in a new CORONAVIRUS DASHBOARD. The first reports of implementation are due in May 2021.

Introduction

The 2014-2020 ERDF (and Cohesion Fund) programmes saw reinforced use of common indicators to measure the investment outputs, in line with similar practices under the other ESI Funds.  Those developments accompanied other performance related improvements such as more robust setting of objectives, clearer target setting and the 2014-2020 "performance framework" linked to the "performance reserve".
One of the effects of an increased focus on performance is that indicators must no longer be the concern of a few technicians. The use of indicators and the need to monitor and report on performance must be a shared responsibility and be an essential part of all meaningful debates on the policy.
In this article we outline the recent development of ERDF common indicators, encourage you to explore the common indicators and look at trends for the future. 
The most visible product of the indicator system 2014-2020 is the presentation of "achievement" tiles for common indicators by fund and by theme on the ESIF open data platform.
You can explore the ERDF achievement tiles on the ESIF Open Data. Here you see a static image of one ERDF tile from January 2019 with explanations of what is displayed.  The key indicator variables are 
  • Planned: the target value set in the adopted programmes; 
  • Decided: the value from decided (selected) projects; 
  • Implemented: the value achieved (completed) by the selected projects.

Explore the progress over time with a common indicator 

ERDF programmes are multi annual, running for up to 10 years. A programme may have thousands of projects starting and finishing at different times.  The indicators provide a useful monitoring tool to look at progress towards the initial target at EU, national and programme level, across the project portfolio. 

The chart below allows you to explore the 46 indicators (chose one at a time!) and to see the national contributions to progress using the filters.

... with data available by Member State  ... 

Below you can see the country targets (planned), project pipeline (forecasts) and implemented values (achieved). 

TIPS: Use the filter in (top right) to explore other indicators (one at a time!!) or progress over time; click on view data to see a full screen view 

... and in more detail by programme. 

Again use the filters to look at programme targets and progress by year.

The ERDF 2014-2020 : 52 common indicators (including sub sets) across multiple themes 

How did we get to the current system?

The current systems of common indicators developed based on experience over years, specific to each fund (common indicators in 2014-2020 are common to the programmes financed under a specific fund).  The indicator concepts and indicators are adapted to the fund-specific objectives, the target sectors and the intervention rationale applied.  Common output indicators are the product of a monitoring system that seeks to measure the direct deliverables of the project supported.  
RACER criteria are recommended by the Commission when defining monitoring indicators (relevant-acceptable-clear-easy-robust).  Two of the key questions influencing the choice of common indicators and their definition are :
-       Are the indicators a meaningful measure of the interventions and objectives of the specific fund?
-       Are the indicators readily available without creating excessive cost and burden for managers and beneficiaries?
For 2014-2020 the answers to those questions were developed in partnership with the stakeholders and experts from the Member States over several years of reflection. For the ERDF, for example, the list of common output indicators was expanded compared to the period 2007-2013, the common indicators were made "obligatory when relevant" and the definitions and methods for collecting and reporting indicators were reinforced.
In more detail, the process of conceiving the common indicators 2014-2020 was influenced by the following: 
  • The broad findings of the 2000-2006 ex post evaluation (2010), which showed weaknesses in how many programmes set objectives and monitored progress in a way that could be a basis for any kind of success criteria or clear accountability;
  • There was learning from the monitoring and administration of the core indicators 2007-2013 (introduced in 2009), cf. Strategic report (2013);
  • The work of the High Level Expert Group  2010-2011 provided inspiration for the intervention rationale and monitoring system (especially outcome indicators). The work  of the group found on this page  with other deliverables such as this: https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/sources/docgener/evaluation/doc/performance/outcome_indicators_en.pdf;
  • During the development of the the Concepts and Recommendations paper (2015 - 2018 revision) there was a detailed consultation process with the Member States:
    • First draft + Consultation in October 2011, followed by several iterations until 2013
    • Pre-Final draft : October 2013 (widely shared with MS)
    • Final document: March 2014 (after the adoption of legislation). The revision in September 2018 was linked to the adoption of the Omnibus regulation modifying the 214-2020 Common Provisions and Fund regulations.

Are there too many indicators?

This question is raised at the highest level of the EU Institutions. Indeed, it would be simpler to communicate on a few, easy to aggregate indicators at the EU level. 
In particular, the European Court of Auditors raised the question of the relevance of so many programme specific indicators, their (lack of) use and the difficulty of aggregation to EU level.
On the other hand
  • different stakeholders have different needs and some propose a broad range of indicators (many already available to them and specific to their region or Member State).
  • Another explanation for the seemingly large number of EU common indicators is the very wide thematic scope of actions and sectors financed by the ESI Funds.  For the ERDF for instance there are 46 common indicators. Is that too many?
Perhaps more pertinent questions are "do the common indicators capture the key achievements in the different thematic areas?" or "are there areas where we do not capture key achievements?"
With a view to preparing the ERDF proposals for the period 2021-2027 the Commission launched several work streams in 2017.  In addition to the continuous review of experience with the reporting of 2014-2020, the Commission ordered a study of the Member States and programmes experience with the common indicators 2014-2020 in order to inform that legislative proposals of May 2018.  Check it out in the links below.

Want to explore more resources?

Author: REGIO.B2 - J. WALSH - REGIO-EVAL@ec.europa.eu - Date of text: revised 04/2020 
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