A Conceptual Framework for Visualizing Composite Indicators


Composite indicators (CIs) are common measurements and benchmarking tools used to measure multidimensional concepts such as well-being, education and more. Indicators and sub-indicators are selected and combined to reflect a measured phenomenon. Measurement iterations produce a series of time-oriented data, which stakeholders, as well as the general public, might be interested in interpreting. Visualization of a CI is highly recommended, in order to facilitate interpretation and enhance understanding of indicator components and their evolution over time. In recent years, a variety of CI visualizations have been published including various visualization techniques. Indeed, visualizing a CI is a complex and challenging issue, involving many design choices. However, there is a lack of guidelines and methodological approaches for CI visualization design. We suggest a framework that provides a systematic way of thinking of CI visualizations. The framework is intended for two uses: as a design tool when constructing a new CI visualization, and as an analytic tool for systematically describing, comparing and evaluating CI visualizations. The suggested framework is the outcome of both a top-down process, based on CI construction and information visualization literature, and a bottom-up process, in which 35 existing visualization applications of popular CIs were analyzed. We use Munzner’s visualization analysis and design framework (Munzner in Visualization analysis and design, CRC Press, Boca Raton, 2014) in an adaptive way, considering the specific challenges and characteristics of CI visualizations, in order to develop and discuss a systematic view of the data, tasks and methods for visualizing CIs. We demonstrate the use of the framework with a case study analyzing the popular OECD Better Life Index visualization tool.

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Source: http://www.oecd.org/std/47917288.pdf. (Color figure online)

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Source: NRI, World Economic Forum, Switzerland, 2015—http://reports.weforum.org/globalinformation-technology-report-2015/report-highlights/. (Color figure online)

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This research was done as part of the National Israel ICT project by The Center of Internet Research (http://infosoc.haifa.ac.il) supported by the Israel Internet Association-ISOC-IK; the I-CORE Program of the Planning and Budgeting Committee and The Israel Science Foundation (1716/12); and the Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Studies.

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Correspondence to Yael Albo.


Appendix 1: List of Analyzed CIs Visualization, Retrieved on 7/2015–3/2016

No. CI name Views Category Organization
1 Better Life Index 9 General OECD
2 The Good Country Index 3 General Developed and funded by Simon Anholt
3 Global Competitiveness Report 2 Economy World Economic Forum
4 Index of Economic Freedom 5 Economy The Heritage Foundation
5 Bloomberg Innovation Index 1 Economy Bloomberg company
6 PISA-Program for Int. Student Assess 4 Education OECD
7 EPI—Environmental Performance Index 6 Environment The Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy
8 Sustainable Society Index (SSI) 5 Environment the Sustainable Society Foundation
9 Environmental Vulnerability Index (EVI) 2 Environment The South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and their partners
10 Euro health consumer index (EHCI) 3 Health Health Consumer Powerhouse
11 Global Hunger Index (GHI) 3 Health The International Food Policy Research Institute
12 Global Corruption Barometer and Corruption Perceptions Index 2 Politics Transparency International
13 Worldwide Press Freedom Index 3 Politics Reporters Without Borders
14 Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) 5 Politics The World Bank Group
15 Global Militarization Index 2 Politics Bonn International Center for Conversion
16 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 4 Politics The World Justice Project (WJP)
17 The Global Peace Index 3 Politics The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP)
18 Human Development Index 10 Society United Nations Development Programme
19 Quality of Life Index 5 Society Numbeo
20 SIGI-social inst. and gender index 2 Society OECD
21 Save the Children 1 Society Save the Children International
22 Global Slavery Index 4 Society the Walk Free Foundation
23 KOF Globalization Index 3 Society KOF, ETH Zürich
24 Global Gender Gap Report 4 Society World Economic Forum
25 Legatum Prosperity Index 12 Society Legatum Institute
26 Social Progress Index 7 Society The Social Progress Imperative
27 World Giving Index 4 Society Charities Aid Foundation
28 World Happiness Report 3 Society the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network
29 IDI- ICT Development Index 5 Technology The United Nations International Telecommunication Union
30 UN e-Government 6 Technology United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA)
31 The Web Index 8 Technology the World Wide Web Foundation
32 the global innovation index 5 Technology Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization
33 Networked Readiness Index-NRI 16 Technology World Economic Forum
34 Academic Ranking of World Universities 3 Education Shanghai Ranking Consultancy
35 QS University rankings 4 Education QS Quacquarelli Symonds
  Total 164   

Appendix 2: CI Visualization Framework Components—A Short Description

Component Section Short description
What 3.1 CI Data types
 Items 3.1.1 The measured organizations (e.g. cities, countries, universities etc.)
 Indices 3.1.2 The different measurements that reflect the multidimensional phenomena
 Values 3.1.3 Item’s performance in a measurement, expressed by ranks, scores, or raw data.
 Time 3.1.4 Performance evaluation timing, usually at regular intervals (e.g. once a year)
Why 3.2 CI domain questions. The goals of the CI visualization use
 High-level tasks 3.2.1 High-level goals for interacting with a CI visualization tool
 Consume Consuming existing CI information tasks: Present, Discover and Enjoy
 Produce Using a CI visualization to generate new material: Derive and Record
 Low-level tasks 3.2.2 Low-level tasks described by items, indices and time
 Items Sub-tasks distinguished by the number of items in focus: Ranking, Overview, Profile, Compare and Correlate
 Indices Single vs. multiple indices in focus of relevant sub-tasks
 Time Existence of tasks’ focus in trend, i.e. change in values over time
How 3.3 Design choices for constructing a CI visualization
 Encode 3.3.1 Visual mapping and visualization methods for CI data types
 Mapping Matching of CI data to appropriate marks and visual channels
 Methods Visualization techniques suitable for CIs
 Manipulate 3.3.2 User interactions that change the view over time: Filter, Select, Navigate, Sort and Self-Encode
 Facet 3.3.3 Splitting the display into multiple static CI views

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Albo, Y., Lanir, J. & Rafaeli, S. A Conceptual Framework for Visualizing Composite Indicators. Soc Indic Res 141, 1–30 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-017-1804-0

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  • Framework
  • Visualization
  • Composite indicator