Proxy indicator

Proxy indicator
Primary topic
Related topics
Methods and techniques

Proxy indicator is used to identify bottlenecks that hamper expansion of coverage levels. The identification of bottlenecks is performed in the following five broad categories: gaps in physical accessibility, human resources, suppliers and logistics, demand and use, and technical and organizational quality. Proxy indicators are used so that each intervention package can be adequately represented by a proxy intervention, which in turn has a proxy indicator for each corresponding constraint ( or bottleneck)[1].

Sometimes, it is not possible to associate an indicator to a criterion. When this happens, a proxy indicator should be used, i.e. variable in a logical relationship with the criterion and related to the effects of the alternatives through a functional, objective and potentially quantifiable link, even if, in reality, this relationship is not quantified. The proxy indicator thus assumes the role of an indirect ordinal estimator of the criterion and the degree of satisfaction of such a criterion can be evaluated through the value assumed by the proxy indicator[2].

Types of indicators[edit]

For a number of issues that are hard to address directly with an adequate indicator (e.g., missing data, insufficient knowledge of interactions), proxy or substitute indicators are widely used. Two broad kinds of proxy indicators can be identified:

  • Proxies as representations of complex system ( e.g., number of bird species instead of local ecosystem biodiversity)
  • Proxies as metaphors (e.g., treaty signature instead of degree of implementation).

The first type can be very useful for communicating complex issues, the second type of proxy indicator is prone to oversimplification and value-laden assessments. For instance, bird presence has been used as proxy for certain insect populations or even for biodiversity as a whole ( in the United Kingdom), suicide rates serve as proxy for a series of social issues, and used as a proxy for welfare. None of the indicators comprehensively represents the issue it is a proxy for, but each one should at least move in the same direction as that issue and thereby usefully detect and signal general changes. However, proxy indicators are much less suitable for identifying the precise dynamics of change and possible policy intervention levers[3].

Proxy indicators for agri-environmental public goods[edit]

Proxy indicator is membership in various natural conservation movements and the purchased areas for conservation. Increasing number of land trusts and purchased areas indicate there is demand for agri-environmental public goods. Individuals can participate in environmental and land trust that contribute to the conservation of natural resources associated with agriculture.

If we can understand the trends of these proxy indicators, it may be possible to find how public perceptions of agri-environmental public goods has changed over the years, although they do not necessarily show to what extent the public demands each agri-environmental public good. Some categories of proxy indicators are too general . Even within the same category of an agri-environmental public good, preferences are diverse. For example, regarding agricultural landscapes. Environmental preferences are different depending on social and demographic characteristics of population, such as age, income, place of residence and different scales (local, national, or global), but most proxy indicators do not reflect these differences. Furthermore, proxy indicators are not always statistically robust, and groups and visits to national parks may represent non-agri-environmental issues such as population density issue, and may not reflect the demand of agri-environmental public goods that much[4].


  1. A. Wagstaff 2014, p.63
  2. R. Soncini-Sessa, E. Weber, A. Castelletti 2007, p.81
  3. T. Hák, B. Moldan, A. L. Dahl 2012, p.54-55
  4. Public Goods and Externalities Agri-environmental Policy Measures 2015, p.33


Author: Michał Duch