The world's governments have identified reducing the rate of biodiversity loss as a global priority. However, we lack robust measures of progress toward this target. Developing indicators that are generally representative of trends in global biodiversity has presented the scientific community with a significant challenge. Here we discuss the development and implementation of the IUCN Red List Index with a new sampled approach, permitting the assessment of the conservation status and trends of large, speciose taxonomic groups. This approach is based on the IUCN Red List and measures trends in extinction risk through time. The challenges in developing this new approach are addressed, including determining the species groups to be included in the index, identifying the minimum adequate samples size, and aggregating and weighting the index. Implementing this approach will greatly increase understanding of the status of the world's biodiversity by 2010, enabling the first assessment of a number of key groups.