Council Regulation (EC) 1698/2005 on support for rural development by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) obliges all Member States (MS) of the European Union to carry out monitoring, and establish a system of ex-ante, mid-term, ongoing and ex post evaluations, for each rural development programme (Art. 84 to Art. 87). The ‘Common Monitoring and Evaluation Framework’ (CMEF) defines the requirements of monitoring and evaluation, and specifies a number of quantitative common indicators applicable to each programme. 

Since common indicators may not fully capture all effects of programme activity, for example in relation to national priorities and site-specific measures, it is necessary that Member States and programme partnerships define additional indicators for each type of indicator in a flexible manner, but in accordance with the general principles of the CMEF. This approach is more strategic and consistent than earlier evaluation approaches. However, significant issues remain: (i) the linkages between the different levels of indicators (e.g. from result indicators at measure and axis level to impact indicators at programme level); (ii) the linkages between indicators and different rural development measures (iii) the complexity and data requirements of existing and additional impact indicators; (iv) counterfactual development for measures implemented across large areas, and (v) the quantification of net impacts of the Programmes at the macro-level and establishing causal-effects relationships.

Environmental impacts of rural development measures are strongly influenced by site-specific circumstances, may take a long time to emerge and often depend on a range of other intervening factors. Recent ethodological developments, for example in relation to environmental farm planning and modelling, environmental impact assessments, life cycle assessments, spatial econometrics, regional modelling of farming, and mixed method case studies have improved the understanding and capacity of analysing the impacts of farming and forestry on the provision of public goods in different rural environments. Recent advances in the development of indicators, data availability and geographic analysis provide new opportunities to address existing key challenges of the CMEF.