Frequently Asked Questions - Dashboard 2: Sustainable Development

The dashboard approach has become popular for monitoring development outcomes. The 2016 Human Development Report experiments with two new colour-coded tables also termed dashboards, Life-course gender gap and Sustainable development. The colour-coded tables evaluate progress of human development by exposing the levels and changes of various indicators. The Life-course gender gap dashboard focuses on gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Sustainable development dashboard underscores the environmental, economic and social aspects of sustainable development. Though it does not convey a definitive conclusion on country achievements, the dashboard approach can be effective in presenting and visualizing data on selected indicators. The approach could be extended to other areas of human development.

Sustainable development dashboard contains a selection of indicators that cover environmental, economic and social sustainable development. It mixes indicators on level and rate of change. Environmental sustainability indicators included are related to renewable energy consumption, carbon-dioxide emissions, forest areas and fresh water withdrawals. Economic sustainability indicators look at natural resource depletion, national savings, external debt stock, government spending on research and development and diversity of economy. Social sustainability is captured by changes in income and gender inequality, by changes in multidimensional poverty and by the old-age dependency ratio projected to 2030.

Sustainable development dashboard contains a selection of 15 key indicators that cover environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainable development.

  • Environmental sustainability indicators represent a mix of level and change indicators related to:
    renewable energy consumption, carbon dioxide emissions (per capita and average annual change since 1990), change in forest area and fresh water withdrawals. Forest area as percentage of the total land area is also given in the table but it is not used for comparison. Instead, the total change in forest area between 1990 and 2015 is used.
  • Economic sustainability indicators look at: adjusted net savings, external debt stock, natural resources depletion, diversity of economy measured by the concentration (of exports) index and government’s spending on research and development.
  • Social sustainability is captured by looking at: changes in income inequality measured by average annual change in income quintile ratio between 2000 and 2014, changes in gender inequality measured by the average annual change in gender inequality index between 2005 and 2015, changes in poverty measured by the average annual change in population in multidimensional poverty between 2005 and 2014, and old age dependency ratio projected for the year 2030.

Most indicators in the dashboard are expressed in their original units. For example, as an illustrative indicator of economic sustainability, the UNCTAD’s “concentration index (exports)” is used. A value of the index closer to 0 indicates that country's exports are more homogeneously distributed among a series of products indicating a well-diversified economy (and less concentrated exports). On the contrary, values closer to 1 reflect exports concentrated highly on a few products. Indicators of social sustainability are expressed as average annual change (%) over the specified period: for change in income inequality over 2000-2014, for change in gender inequality over 2005-2015 and for change in poverty over 2005-2014. Negative value of change indicates reduction. The old age dependency ratio is given as a projection for 2030 based on the medium fertility scenario.

Three colour-coded partial grouping of countries is used to visualize achievements of countries in these indicators. The intention is not to suggest the thresholds or target values for these indicators but to allow a crude assessment of country’s performance relative to others. Countries are divided according to the value of each indicator into three groups of approximately equal sizes (terciles). Thus there is the top third, the middle third and the bottom third of countries. A distinct colour is attached to a group of countries with similar level of performance. The darker shade of green represents the top third group; the moderately shaded green represents the middle third; and the lighter shade of green represents the bottom third of countries. Partial grouping of countries applies to all indicators listed, except for forest area (% of total land area). Although the area of land covered by forest is a key piece of information for forest policy, it was not used directly for country grouping in this dashboard. The size of forest area depends on many geological, geographical and historical factors, thus not only on the undertakings of the current generation. Instead we are assessing the change in forest area as a measure of the importance of forests in a country or a region. It aids monitoring the extent of planned and unplanned deforestation, as well as restoration and rehabilitation of forests.

For each indicator countries are divided into three groups of approximately equal sizes (terciles)—the top third, the middle third and the bottom third. See Technical note 7 at for details about observed ranges of values and the number of countries in “tercile” groups for indicators in Sustainable development dashboard.

This dashboard could serve as a good tool for evaluation of progress towards sustainable development. The colour-coded table shows the levels and progress on various indicators that indicate the environmental, economic and social aspects of sustainable development. In Sustainable development dashboard, no conclusive relationship between sustainability and the level of human development index has emerged. A country performing well on economic sustainability does not guarantee it can as well keep the same level of performance on environmental and social sustainable development. The dashboard approach seems to be an appropriate vehicle for data dissemination and visualization, aiding policy analysts and researchers in assessment of important aspects of sustainable development.