Drawing on a semi‐autoethnography of a development project in northern Ethiopia, this article engages the role and power of indicators in the development sector. It both demonstrates and questions the power usually ascribed indicators when seen as an authoritative bureaucratic tool, while also showing how actors – and I was one of them – at various levels of the aid chain merely perform compliance with the indicators as a way to manage new and externally imposed demands. As the indicators ‘travel’ from the top, through the aid chain’s multiple nodes, to the level of beneficiaries, they convey policy priorities top‐down, but are seemingly complied with bottom‐up, demonstrating both their formative power and the scope for brokerage and manipulation of externally imposed policies. Interestingly, this form of brokerage and reactivity from below are also enabled and orchestrated by the top, i.e. by the same actors who conveyed the indicators, to maintain and reproduce aid relations.