The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) focusses on key aspects of life. Just as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures the value of goods and services produced during a time period, providing us with an indication of our financial wellbeing as a country, the CIW provides a measure of our we are doing in terms of health and wellbeing.
The work on the CIW began almost 20 years ago. At the root of the CIW are the Canadian values of democracy, diversity, economic security, equity, fairness, health, inclusion, safety and sustainability. The CIW features eight domains, with eight indicators in each of the domain, resulting in a collection of 64 indicators measuring wellbeing. Here are the domains (with some examples of the indicators being monitored):
1.Community vitality (percentage who report feeling safe to walk alone at night, crime rates).
2.Demographic engagement (percentage of voter turnout at federal elections).
3.Education (ratio of students to educators in public schools, high school completion).
4.Environment (emissions, energy production).
5.Healthy populations (self-reported very good or excellent health, self-reported diabetes).
6.Leisure and culture (time spent on social leisure activities, physical activity lasting more than 15 minutes).
7.Living standards (percentage of low income, employment rate).
8.Time use (percentage of adults who report high levels of time pressure, who give unpaid care to seniors).
A lot of consultation and expertise was involved in the development and refining of the CIW. Though not perfect, the CIW likely provides the best tool in existence to measure of our wellbeing. The first CIW national report was issued in 2011, with subsequent national, provincial and regional reports issued later.
The Association of Ontario Health Centres, with funding the Ontario Trillium Foundation, adopted the CIW and began incorporating it in their work to assess community needs, improve programs and services, raise awareness, inform decision making and advocate for health equity.
From this work emerged the Be Well Survey, with standardized questions best suited for a community primary health care setting. The Be Well Survey has a focus on the community vitality domain and factors such as belonging, inclusion and social connections.
Why this focus on belonging? Recently at the provincial conference of the Association of Ontario Health Centres, best-selling author and psychologist Susan Pinker spoke about her latest book ‘The Village Effect’. As part of the research for the book, Pinker found that “face-to-face contact matters”. The personal village around you will help you survive, and hopefully thrive. Pinker spoke of current research on longevity. The network of connections you have, this village you belong to, has the most impact on longevity, followed by the relationships with close family members and friends. This sense of belonging is more important to live a long life than not drinking, not smoking, exercising, immunization and other lifestyle choices or factors.
In her talk, Pinker also spoke about the creation of third spaces within our environment. First spaces are home, second spaces are work. Third spaces relate to the creation of social spaces in the environment where people can gather. She used the example of the red bistro tables and chairs which transformed New York’s Time Square from an area of crime to a public neighborhood space where people gather. Pinker encouraged the creation of third spaces in or near work environments to create these public gathering spots everyone can enjoy.
To improve health and wellbeing, we should be looking at how to connect people with their communities, and creating opportunities for people to belong. To measure our progress, we can use the CIW to “measure what matters”.
Anita Jean is Manager of Health and Social Programs at the NorWest Community Health Centres.
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