Frequently Asked Questions - Human Development Dashboards 1-5

The dashboard approach has become popular for monitoring development outcomes. The 2020 Human Development Report features five colour-coded tables also termed dashboards covering five topics: quality of human development, life-course gender gap, women’s empowerment, environmental sustainability and socioeconomic sustainability. The colour-coded tables evaluate progress of human development by highlighting levels and changes of various indicators.

The dashboards visualize grouping of countries by each indicator, thus partially, contrary to a complete grouping by a composite measure, which combines all listed indicators after making them commensurable. A good example of a complete grouping is the grouping of countries into four human development groups by the Human Development Index (HDI). The complete grouping by a composite index depends on the way the component indicators are combined into the index. On the other hand, the partial grouping does not require any assumption on normalization, weighting or the functional form of the composite index. A partial grouping may depend on the predefined values considered as thresholds needed for grouping, such as what is considered a good performance or as a target to be achieved.

The decision was to group countries to a small number of groups, say three, according to the values of an indicator achieved by countries. Countries are divided into three groups of approximately equal sizes (terciles): the top third, the middle third and the bottom third. A distinct shade of a selected colour is attached to a group of countries with a similar level of performance. The colour-coding scale graduates from darkest to lightest.

The darker shade represents the top third group; the moderate shade represents the middle third; and the lightest shade represents the bottom third of countries. Partial grouping of countries applies to all indicators listed in five dashboards. Sex ratio at birth of Dashboard 2 is an exception—countries are divided into two groups: the natural group (countries with a value between 1.04-1.07, inclusive), which uses darker shading, and the gender-biased group (all other countries), which uses lighter shading. See Technical note 6 at for details.

When grouping countries into tercile groups according to each indicator, the intention is not to suggest thresholds or target values for any indicator, but rather to allow a crude assessment of country’s performance relative to others. A country that is in the top group performs better than at least two thirds of countries; a country that is in the middle group performs better than at least one third but worse than at least one third; and a country that is in the bottom third performs worse than at least two thirds of countries. The observed ranges of values that define tercile groups for all indicators in dashboards 1-5 are given in Technical note 6 at

Countries with values of ratios around 1 form the group with the top achievements in that indicator. Large gaps in favor of men are treated equally as large gaps in favor of women.

In dashboard 4 on environmental sustainability, countries are not grouped by percentage of total land area under forest, but rather by the change in forest area since 1990. The reason is to respect the fact that the forest area is in a way determined by environmental and climate conditions, while the recent change in forest area is caused by men’s activities. Similarly, in dashboard 5 on socioeconomic sustainability, indicator military expenditure (% of GDP) was not used for grouping of countries, instead the ratio of education and health expenditure to military expenditure was used for grouping and coloring. The reason is that military expenditure was not considered as an indicator in this table, but rather as an auxiliary indicator.

Group aggregates were not used to define the tercile groups. However, based on the value of an aggregate, it was placed in a tercile group and coloured accordingly.