The Canadian Index of Wellbeing

A made-in-Canada tool to measure what matters 

Like most countries, Canada lacks a single, national instrument for tracking and reporting on our overall quality of life. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was never designed or intended to be a measure of social progress, or overall quality of life. It fails to capture quality of life in its full breadth of expression. The good news is that a powerful new tool has been developed to help us measure wellbeing in a rigorous, comprehensive way and to evaluate our progress. 

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) is an internationally recognized research and evaluation framework that examines, tracks, and reports on how people are really doing in respect to the broad determinants of health. Equipped with 64 indicators, the CIW compiles quantitative data on eight interconnected quality of life domains, or categories, Canadians really care about: Community Vitality, Democratic Engagement, Education, the Environment, Healthy Populations, Leisure and Culture, Living Standards, and Time Use.

From the start, the initiative has been rooted in the Canadian experience. The CIW’s development involved extensive consultation with Canadians about the values they believe should guide this country: fairness, diversity, equity, inclusion, health, safety, economic security, democracy, and sustainability. Only then, researchers created the eight domain framework and set out to look for indicators. 

By releasing national, provincial and regional reports that provide an integrated snapshot of wellbeing in Canada and how we are faring along with how decision-makers can develop policies and programs that better reflect our needs and values, the CIW enables us to “connect the dots” between social aspirations, public policy and hard evidence. This powerful tool is now being applied at the provincial, regional, local and organizational level to define success, measure impact and inform the development of programs, services, and policies to improve health and wellbeing.

Members of the Association of Ontario Health Centres (AOHC) have emerged as early adopters in exploring how they can apply the CIW to improve their efforts delivering primary health care in combination with health promotion and community development activities. With generous support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, there are now over 30 early adoption sites applying the CIW in a variety of innovative ways: assessing community needs, developing strategic plans, growing partnerships around shared priorities, measuring, evaluating, and improving programs and services, and raising awareness among decision-makers and the public about the need for better informed public policy focusing on health equity.  

How can the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) improve the quality of life in Ontario?

We also are imagining the positive collective impact if other sectors start applying the CIW in their efforts to improve health and wellbeing in the domains where they have most influence. It’s exciting to imagine the possibilities if multi-sectoral CIW initiatives are scaled up more widely across the province.

To this end, AOHC released a concept paper called: Measuring What Matters: How the Canadian Index of Wellbeing can improve quality of life in Ontario. (view online) The paper outlines the ways the CIW framework can be applied at the provincial, regional and local level to improve health and wellbeing. It also offers details about how the CIW is already being put into action by municipal governments, funders and a significant number of Ontario’s Community Health Centres.

The information we’re offering in this paper, about how the CIW can be applied, is relevant to a wide range of players: frontline service providers, provincial and professional associations, Local Health Integration Networks, municipalities, the justice system, non-governmental organizations, public servants, political and opinion leaders, and people that are interested in the wellbeing of communities.

We’re inviting each of these audiences to review the paper and consider its central idea: that the CIW can serve as a powerful tool to kick start a more effective community health and wellbeing movement in Ontario.

Here are some questions to start the conversation:
  1. What’s your take on the potential of the CIW to improve health and wellbeing? How might it be applied to the challenges you or your organization are trying to address?
  2. If you are already applying the CIW framework in your organization or community, and we haven’t mentioned it in our paper, can you share this idea with us? And how would you like to “connect the dots” between what you are doing and other nearby regions or the province as whole?
  3. Do you have an idea for a new way to use the CIW?
  4. The CIW framework is constantly evolving and improving. Going forward, how could it be adapted or improved to be applied in different settings?
  5. What are some of the ways we could all work together to build CIW communities of practice, at the local, regional and the provincial level?
  6. Working together, can we use the CIW to build a strong effective community health and wellbeing movement in Ontario?