Social indicator work and efforts to measure societal progress have been part of the Canadian landscape since the late 1960s. And yet, this field of research has received only periodic public attention, insufficient interest during economic slowdowns, and modest traction at the national level.
In the 1990s, however, there was renewed interest by academic, research and public institutions in the use of broader measures of wellbeing. Examples of these initiatives include the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) and regional and provincial work using the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). While some provinces made progress in Canada, the response of the federal system was weak and even the NRTEE's indicator initiative failed to deliver the expected results or produce a long-term legacy.
As far back as 1999, the Atkinson Charitable Foundation (ACF) recognized the need to create an independent and credible national voice to measure the economic, health, social and environmental wellbeing of Canadians. Some of the key historical events that have led to the development of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) Network and its signature product, the Canadian Index of Wellbeing include:
- The ACF convened a group of index experts from across Canada, including Statistics Canada. The question was posed, "What would it take to create a tool that truly measured Canadian wellbeing?" The general consensus was full support for the creation of an index and a clear recognition that such a long-term initiative would require financial support for research, communication and publicity, and a management structure.
- The ACF supported the Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN) project "Asking Citizens What Matters for Quality of Life (PDF)". The project involved consultations with 346 participants in 40 discussion groups across Canada.
- Working with CPRN, the ACF developed a prototype of quality of life national indicators. Read the Indicators of Quality of Life in Canada: A Citizens' Prototype (PDF).
- The first issue of Reality Check magazine (PDF) was published to raise the profile of new and innovative ways of measuring progress, link together researchers and practitioners in this field, and introduce the concept and importance of wellbeing indicators to opinion leaders across Canada.
- The ACF convened a cross-Canada roundtable of leading indicator experts and practitioners. Participants recognized the need to elevate the profile of wellbeing measurement from local, provincial, and regional levels, to a national platform.
- The ACF hosted a national working conference of over 60 indicator experts, practitioners and potential users from government, academia and community. Key participants later helped establish a Canadian Research Advisory Group (CRAG) committed to developing the CIW.
- CRAG began work on the first five domains of the CIW: Living Standards, Healthy Populations, Community Vitality, Education, and Time Use.
- Thanks to the assistance of local United Way of Canada/Centraide Canada agencies and CIW partners, EKOS Research Associates conducted 19 focus groups in 14 communities (approximately 250 participants) from Whitehorse, Yukon to St. John's, Newfoundland. The roundtables included diverse representation from government, business, media and local and national Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). They talked to Canadians in both official languages, conducted an Aboriginal Peoples Roundtable in Winnipeg and a Multi Faith Roundtable in Toronto. They also conducted 14 one-on-one interviews with 'opinion leaders', from senior editors at various newspapers to senior public officials, politicians, and business leaders. The purpose of these discussions was to pilot test the concept of the CIW, to engage key stakeholders, and to seed a community of users. Read the report on round one public consultations (PDF).
- The ACF invited leaders from prominent NGOs and government to participate in a CIW workshop to review and provide feedback on the results to date. Members of the CRAG made presentations on the CIW framework, on the research results from the Living Standards and Healthy Populations domains, on preliminary work in several other domains and on two possible models of presenting results in a composite index.
- A second stage of roundtables was conducted across Canada by Capacity Strategic Networks. All together, 13 roundtables (approximately 185 participants) were conducted in Prince George, Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Chatham-Kent, Toronto, Ottawa (one with government, one with NGOs and one with community groups), Halifax, and St. John's. The purpose of this round of consultations was to update local stakeholders on the development of the CIW, to receive feedback on the specific framework that had been developed, and to create a network of local champions. Read the report on round two public consultations (PDF).
- A third public and stakeholder consultation took place in Toronto. This workshop invited a small group of policy advisors and community leaders to comment on emerging stories from the Living Standards, Healthy Populations, and Community Vitality domain reports. In addition, the workshop introduced the preliminary findings from the domain reports for Democratic Engagement, Education, and Leisure and Culture. Finally, the workshop introduced a working prototype of the composite index based on indicators from the available domains, and discussed and considered a variety of the technical issues underlying its creation and communication.
- Release of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing's first three domains on Living Standards, Healthy Populations, and Community Vitality (June).
- Release of special report "The Economic Crisis through the Lens of Economic Wellbeing (PDF)" (July).
- Release of special report "How are Canadians Really Doing? A Closer Look at Select Groups (PDF)" (December).
- Release of the Democratic Engagement (January), Time Use (June), Leisure and Culture (June), and Education (October) domain reports.
- Release of special report Caught in the Time Crunch: Time Use, Leisure and Culture in Canada (PDF) (June).
- CIW Network moved to permanent home within the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo (January).
- Release of the Environment domain report (April).
- Release of the first complete version of the CIW's signature product, the Canadian Index of Wellbeing composite index (October).
- Conducting first CIW Community Wellbeing Survey in the City of Guelph.
- Release of the second Canadian Index of Wellbeing composite report "How are Canadians Really doing?" (October).
- Conducting second and third CIW Community Wellbeing Surveys in the City of Kingston and Waterloo Region working with Community Foundations in each case.
- Receiving first International Impact Award from Community Indicators Consortium (CIC) for our work with the City of Guelph.