Measuring national wellbeing, not just GDP

“Shared destiny” is the belief that our society is often best shaped through collective action and that the sum of a good society and what it can achieve is greater than the diverse parts which constitute it.

From the beginning we asked Canadians about what mattered to them and their families, about their aspirations for their communities and the types of information they felt would empower them to act. The response was, quite clearly, that their top priorities were all facets of a good and measurable quality of life. Common values cut across geographic regions and citizens’ social backgrounds and demographic characteristics, like fairness, diversity, equality, inclusion, health, safety, economic security, democracy, and sustainability.

Black and white photo collage from CIW report cover

Their concerns were also about the opportunity for equal access—to healthcare, to clean air and water, to safe neighbourhoods, education, secure jobs, leisure time, cultural activities and civic participation. All interconnected, and necessary to ensure Canadians benefit from all dimensions of wellbeing together with the economic growth and standing of our country.

The World Bank reports Canada’s current (2011) GDP at 1.736 trillion US dollars, and increasing despite adverse global conditions. But can we say that our lives have improved alongside economic growth? Until now, Canada did not have an answer to this question. GDP is a number that tells us about one dimension of our wellbeing–our economy. The CIW as a partner to GDP provides Canadians with a fuller picture of wellbeing that measures real life, for real people. We start with eight domains that focus on key aspects of life—

Community vitality- paper dolls holding handsDemocratic engagement- voting ballot with canadian flagEducation- graduation hat and diplomaEnvironment- picture of the earth

Community vitality
Healthy populations
Living standards

Democratic engagement
Leisure and culture
Time use

Healthy populations - apple with heart shape cut into itLeisure and culture- theatre masksLiving standards- house with red roofTime use- picture of analog clock

—and use them to measure what really matters to Canadians. Each domain is made up of a wide range of measurable indicators, represented as percentage changes over time, like student to educator ratios in public schools, average commute times, median incomes, greenhouse gas emissions, self-rated health levels, and time spent in social leisure activities. Things that matter in the daily lives of Canadians and their families.

Canadians said Wellbeing frames their aspirations. Understanding the interconnectedness of many aspects of wellbeing, and using it to fuel evidence-based and community-focused decision making, is the key to getting there.

Imagine a Canada where a healthier population takes some pressure off resources needed for treating those who are ill, allowing funds to flow into other policy areas like access to early childhood education and job retraining programs which promote more long-term wellbeing. Access to education programs throughout life leads to higher quality job opportunities and life skills that allow Canadians to make informed choices about their wellbeing–things like food consumption, sustainable practices, and making more time for social involvement and volunteerism. Actions that in turn produce a higher wellbeing status, a better environment, and more vital communities.

On October 23 we’re releasing our 2012 national report. We hope it leads you to ask questions. Can more be done to ensure that Canadians benefit from improved wellbeing in addition to economic growth?

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