Governance indicators can be categorized in different levels, depending on what is being measured.
Inputs/commitment indicators/de jure – At this level, the indicators might typically cover commitments made by countries, including national constitutions and signed treaties.
Process/responsibility/de facto – Examples of indicators here would cover whether parties were taking action to fulfil their responsibilities and commitments. This could include the existence of functioning institutions to ensure obligations are fulfilled.
Output/outcome/enjoyment/performance/de facto – These kinds of indicators are based on data reflecting actual outputs and outcomes of governance-related action and inaction, for example, indicators that measure whether citizens enjoy certain civil and political rights, or related to the number of people who are members of a political party. It also could include indicators that seek to measure the results of "commitment indicators" – for example, the percentage of government spending subject to independent audit. A preference often exists for outcome indicators over output indicators because they relate more closely to development goals. However, there remains a justifiable tendency to use output indicators for several reasons: (i) Outcomes are not always fully under the control of the agency that provides them, e.g., number of schools built (output) vs. number of children attending schools (outcome). They can be the result of several factors, many of which are outside policymakers' control; (ii) Outcome indicators generally change slowly, while output/input indicators change more rapidly, giving a better idea of the current situation; (iii) Outcome/impact indicators can be more difficult and more costly to collect.
Subjective versus objective indicators - Continual debates occur between users and producers of governance indicators over the relative usefulness of "subjective," or perceptions-based, indicators versus objective, or fact-based, indicators. Subjective indicators are not necessarily inferior to objective indicators, for several reasons. First, it is important to recognize important gaps between laws on the books and their implementation on the ground, and subjective measures can potentially highlight such differences. Second, the perceptions of citizens matter in their own right, and citizens take actions based on their perceptions. Third, some governance areas such as corruption leave no "paper trail," and it is difficult to come up with alternatives to perceptions data. In short, neither subjective nor objective measures in isolation should be thought of as a silver bullet for the problem of measuring governance. However, it is important to keep in mind that perceptions are founded upon events that people remember, and about which they have information; hence, perception and reality can be different. This will have its most serious effect at the two extremes of the scale. Furthermore, in countries with oppressive regimes, where debate is stifled and dissenters silenced, responses may indicate a positive view of the regime. Indeed, depending on which organization is conducting the research, responders may feel obliged to express support for the way the country is run.
Quantitative versus qualitative indicators – Qualitative and quantitative indicators have both important qualities as well as deficiencies. For the purposes of monitoring governance, quantitative measures are clearer and improve the comparability of measures over time. Qualitative measures, meanwhile, might be more advantageous when undertaking in-depth governance assessments by providing richer information to explain a more complex dynamic.