Best Practice Report


Establishing vision, baselines, and targets / Baselines and reference levels

4. Baselines and reference levels

Balance purpose and practical considerations in establishing the basis for developing and communicating baselines.

Baselines are used to inform policy design and to provide a basis for setting targets and assessing the impact of policies. While it is difficult to assess baselines in isolation from targets, considering their specific elements can inform best practices. It is possible to establish targets without developing a baseline, for example by measuring against a historic or arbitrary reference level. However, more robust baselines inform and lend credibility to targets.

Baselines are by their nature uncertain, as they tell stories about the future. Literature suggests that for baselines to be credible, it is important to draw on a broad group of stakeholders in developing the baseline and to ensure transparency about the assumptions used. As with targets, baseline setting is both a technical discipline and a matter of political choice. Robustness of a baseline can be ensured by choosing the right scope and tools, the choices for which are critically dependent on availability of data and human capacity. Whether a baseline is efficient depends on its appropriateness in use for policy design or measurement, and the resources invested in its establishment.

Note that in many cases it is difficult to assess the impact and robustness of a baseline without understanding the relationship to the target.