ESRI study identifies key performance indicators (KPIs) for monitoring the impacts of Ireland's rural development

A new ESRI study, commissioned by the Department of Rural and Community Development, identifies a range of potential key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be used to monitor the impacts of rural development in Ireland. The report identifies KPIs that, in line with the National Wellbeing Framework, measure general levels of well-being in rural areas and other KPIs to measure the impact of particular scheme/fund-based measures, such as those being implemented to support remote working, revitalising rural towns and villages, and revitalising jobs for rural Ireland.

The research identified a range of KPIs relevant to the government’s Our Rural Future: Rural Development Policy 2021-2025: a whole-of-government policy for the economic and social development of rural Ireland over the period 2021 to 2025.

This study specifically focuses on the scheme/fund-based measures being implemented under Our Rural Future and assesses how these measures can be monitored in an effective, outcome-centric way. In identifying the KPIs to monitor this policy’s effectiveness and subsequent rural development policies, attention is paid to the extent to which the identified KPIs are available for particular spatial levels.

Key findings:

  • Examining changes in KPIs in rural and urban areas to measure the impacts of rural development is of limited value as such an approach masks a large amount of variation across such geographic areas. Instead, a more realistic approach is to develop indicators using the current Central Statistics Office (CSO) six-way urban–rural classification that will allow for the impacts of rural development to be measured and compared in, for example, cities, smaller towns, semi-rural and highly rural areas.
  • The study identified 45 KPIs to monitor the effectiveness of Our Rural Future’s scheme/fund-based measures at the six-way urban–rural classification level. However, only nine are currently available at this required spatial level.
  • The authors also identified 69 KPIs to monitor changes in overall levels of well-being within rural communities, but only four are currently available at the required six-way urban–rural classification level.
  • Given the differences that exist across rural areas, best practice encourages the use of stakeholder engagement in identifying the most appropriate indicators to use for each rural area.

This study has an important role to play in assisting the government and the CSO in developing measures which will better depict the increasingly dynamic rural community in Ireland, how it is developing and evolving, and the degree to which the government is achieving its objectives and targets with regards to the development of rural Ireland between 2021 and 2025, and beyond. 

Ensuring all government statistics are available at a spatially disaggregated level is key, and enhanced use of the CSO’s six-way urban–rural classification is a key recommendation of the report.

Dr Elish Kelly, an author of the report and ESRI Senior Research Officer, commented:

“The DRCD is being proactive in wanting to establish a framework to monitor the impacts of rural development policies in Ireland. To assist the Department in doing this, and in its capacity to effectively monitor the effectiveness of rural policy initiatives, it is imperative that efforts are made to achieve a rapid increase in the number of KPIs available under the six-way urban–rural classification.

Welcoming the ESRI report, Minister Humphreys said: 

“My Department delivers a large range of different schemes worth over €400 million each year. This funding has a hugely positive effect on communities, and I want to ensure we are measuring the wider impacts of this investment and Government wide actions in place through Our Rural Future. 

I welcome the publication of this ESRI report which will support our evidence informed policy decisions, and complement work across Government on developing Irelands Wellbeing Framework. Ultimately this helps ensure we make the best decisions for our rural communities and marginalised groups across Ireland.”