Step 2: Interpretation of indicators

Goal: Interpret the indicators and draw conclusions for the city to generate insights.

Situation: At its core, the role of indicators is to "simplify, focus, and compress the immense complexity of our changing environment to a manageable amount of relevant information" (Bîrgovan et al. 2022). Cities that are trying to adopt a circular economy strategy also have discovered the need for indicators to track and report their progress. However, the lack of data for such indicators is often an obstacle for towns implementing a circular economy strategy. Without this hindrance, cities could more easily self-assess their achievements, identify hurdles and possibilities, and adjust their growth trajectory towards circularity by measuring their performance.

Indicators that are based on the MFA serve to identify the inefficient use of natural resources, energy and materials at a macro-level. As a result, indicators are among the most important tools for monitoring the development of resource efficiency as well as long-term sustainability and policies related to those. Resource flows can provide a holistic picture of their movements through the economy, while associated indicators can mirror that situation in a way that is less abstract and more easily communicable. In addition, the indicators can illustrate how material flows shift within and between regions. You can help by interpreting the data in the form of indicators, by paying attention to two aspects:

  1. Evolution over time: To analyse evolution over time, data from at least two periods in time (in the past) that are at least five years apart are necessary, your two reference years. Even better would be to have data for a longer period, such as every five years for twenty years, for a total of four data points.
  2. Goals: Numerous indicators can be tied to EU or national objectives. This provides a clear sense of the city's standing and contribution.


  1. Add your indicator table from the previous step to the report. (See explanation in Online Report > How to copy a table from a spreadsheet into the report)
  2. Compare your indicators to EU or national targets that they can be connected to. This gives the city a good understanding of their standing and contribution. For this you can use some of our collected benchmark values, or other values that you know of.
  3. State qualitative insights for the indicators, including answers based on the exemplary questions and tips below. For this, generally, it is also valuable to have and analyse direct and indirect indicators in conjunction. Since indirect indicators are often given as a percentage (share), which is a value that is not indicative of the magnitude or significance of a flow, a value that is rather informed by direct indicators, both types of indicators together give each other context.
  4. Add the text to field 20 in the UCA online report form or your own report.

Questions and tips for analysis

  • Which indicators were met?
  • How did they perform over the years?
  • Where is room for improvement?

Tips: In order to know what an indicator value means or represents, you need to compare it to something. Either you compare it to time and show that something has increased or decreased. For this you can refer to the percentage change between the two reference years. - Moreover, we suggest that you compare the indicator values to reference values to benchmark the indicators. - If you have other values, such as the recycling rate goals of your country for example, then you can use those too. Remember to state the sources for those in your report. - Consider also the data quality when interpreting the indicators, as it speaks to the robustness or reliability of the results.