Developing Performance Indicators for Rural Scotland: A Scoping Study

Scoping project assessing suitability of existing performance indicators to rural Scotland.

Executive Summary


This scoping study was commissioned by the Scottish Government for the purpose of investigating issues associated with developing performance indicators for rural Scotland. The study focuses on the extent to which existing national performance indicators are relevant to rural Scotland and explores the availability of suitable data sources.

The specific objectives of the study were:

  • To review the indicators in the National Performance Framework and assess their relevance to rural Scotland.
  • To review existing indicators in other strategies and assess their relevance to rural Scotland as well the availability of data sources for the indicators identified.
  • To review approaches used to monitor progress for rural areas in other countries and to extract lessons for transfer where appropriate to the Scottish context.
  • To summarise the issues associated with developing a set of rural performance indicators.

With rural policy in Scotland mainstreamed, there is a need to ensure that the particular issues and needs of rural areas are captured in indicator sets such as the Scottish Government's National Performance Framework.


The scoping study was primarily desk based, reviewing strategy and policy documents along with relevant literature on performance indicators. The key themes considered to be critical to inform the development of performance indicators in rural Scotland were identified. In order to assess the relevance of indicators to rural Scotland, indicators were categorised as follows:

  • Predominantly Urban: Issue/indicator is of greater significance in urban areas.
  • Nationwide: Issue/indicator is potentially equally significant in both urban and rural areas.
  • Predominantly Rural: Issue/Indicator is of greater significance in rural areas.

It should be noted that applying these categories to the indicators inevitably involves a degree of subjective judgement and our interpretation is open to debate.

A review of availability of data sources for indicators in other strategies was conducted. This encompassed Scottish Government strategies and statistical outputs, as well as strategies of relevant Scottish Government agencies. It assessed existing indicators against strategic objective, theme, relevance to rural Scotland (as defined above) statistical source, geographic detail and continuity of data.

An exploration of approaches used in comparator European countries was also conducted. Countries were selected on the basis of their scale, geographic location and extent of rural territory.


The analysis of the 45 indicators in the Scottish Government National Performance Framework found that the majority of the indicators (25) could be classified as nationwide, 16 predominantly related to urban areas and four predominantly rural. Although there is some subjectivity associated with judgement as to the category into which an indicator falls, overall it can be concluded that the National Performance Framework contains many indicators that are relevant to rural Scotland.

The analysis of the 62 indicators from the other strategies found that 30 of the indicators could be classified as nationwide, 23 predominantly related to rural areas and nine predominantly urban. Again, although there is some subjectivity associated with judgement as to the category into which an indicator falls, overall it can be concluded that there are many existing indicators that are relevant to rural Scotland with the analysis showing a breadth and depth of current performance indicators in use in Scotland.

The 62 indicators in the other strategies were also assessed in terms of geographic detail and continuity of data and other criteria deemed necessary for a good performance indicator. The topics covered by the indicators were wide ranging but only a minority met all of the required conditions necessary to fulfil the criteria of being a good performance indicator. Few of the Predominantly Rural indicators were published on a regular basis and at a suitable geography. However, many of the Nationwide indicators are relevant and available at the geographic detail necessary to monitor progress in rural Scotland.

A more detailed review of monitoring approaches was conducted for three comparator countries: Finland, Germany and the Republic of Ireland. Although it found differing approaches to monitoring in the countries, partly as a result of different approaches to rural policy, it did not suggest any specific indicators that could be readily adopted in rural Scotland.


This scoping study has identified that a large number of performance indicators already exist that are relevant to rural Scotland. The National Performance Framework provides a sound base against which to assess progress in rural Scotland, comparative to the rest of the country. Other indicators also exist that could be used to monitor change in rural Scotland. It is therefore important that full use is made of existing indicators.

The scoping study has also found that there are issues surrounding availability of appropriate data in terms of level of geographic detail and frequency of data. Further work may be required if some of the existing indicators are to be developed specifically for rural Scotland.

Overall, the scoping study suggests that there is no immediate need to develop new performance indicators for rural Scotland, at least until it is clear that full use is being made of existing indicators and that there are gaps in relation to monitoring progress in rural areas. If such gaps are identified, there is a long list of potential indicators and, therefore, a need to consider how a comprehensive and concise set of indicators could be selected and reported against. Developing such a set would require careful consideration of the methodological issues explored in this report, the outcomes to be achieved and the relationship of indicators to outcomes.

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