Indications of progress? Assessing the use of indicators in UNHCR operations
In recent years the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has placed increased reliance on the use of internally generated indicators as a tool of governance. In an effort to improve project planning the organization has become a prodigious producer and consumer of indicators that variously map refugee conditions on a country level, within camps, in urban programs, and in returnee areas.
Indicators are considered to be a boon for policy-makers charged with balancing protection and operational needs on a global basis, in that they recast complex factscenario issues into quantitative data that is susceptible to ranking and comparative analysis. However the increased emphasis on indicators as a tool for governance also raises concerns regarding the production, use and dissemination of data. This paper seeks to apply insights of recent scholarship in the indicators field to governance by indicators in UNHCR operations. The use of indicators by other actors in international refugee law falls outside the scope of this paper.
Practice within UNHCR is particularly ripe for analysis given the organization’s growing reliance on indicators in internal decision-making and the breadth of its operations. The Global Appeal 2011 Update estimates that more than 36 million people worldwide fall within UNHCR’s mandate as “persons of concern”. The organization works in 125 countries, and has declared a “long-term vision of establishing and systematically using a set of agreed standards and indicators for planning and measuring the impact of its operations”.