As a response to the growing need to harmonize international work on indicators and to focus on the challenge of creating a single sustainability index, the Wallace Global Fund initiated the collaboration of several leading international experts in the field. To this end, the Consultative Group on Sustainable Development Indicators (CGSDI, or CG for short) was established in 1996. Its mission is to promote cooperation, better coordination and strategizing among key individuals and institutions that work on developing and using sustainable development indicators, and to reach consensus—if at all possible—on a robust index for sustainable development. A feature of the CG is that it was organized from the outset as an Internet-based working group, which allowed participation of members from many countries. A coordinating secretariat was established at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) in Winnipeg, Canada. Dr. Peter Hardi, Senior Fellow and then Director of the Measurement and Indicators Program at IISD, has become the coordinator of the CG.

After a year of intense communication over the Internet—including reviews of existing aggregated indices, debates over potential conceptual frameworks and background conversation on technical matters pertaining to indicator construction—the CG, on its first face-to-face working session in Middleburg, Virginia, in January 1998, settled on a conceptual framework for developing an aggregated index of sustainability and a supporting information system. This framework became known as the Compass of Sustainability and was refined throughout 1998.

From January to May 1999, the CG focused on connecting its work with the indicator initiative of the Bellagio Forum for Sustainable Development, the first stage of which was a Science and Policy Dialogue Workshop. During the Dialogue, an instrument panel metaphor, the Dashboard of Sustainability, model received strong endorsement by all participants.

During the following years the CG and its Secretariat have developed several iterations of the Dashboard of Sustainability, which has gained international recognition. The UN CSD and IUCN invited the Secretariat to present the Dashboard at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. Ever since, the CG is working on further applications of the Dashboard and on the theoretical problems of index construction and aggregation.

The latest addition to the collection of Dashboard presentations is the Millennium Development Goals Dashboard.