Written by Jacky Habib
The Adopting Common Measures program is highlighting key social purpose organizations across Canada and showcasing their impact and the progress they are making towards a more sustainable future for Canadians in keeping with Canada’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
As municipalities and organizations look to measure and track their social and environmental impact, the solution may lie in following the lead of Winnipeg, where a community foundation together with residents have been closely tracking data on everything from high school graduation rates to residential waste going to landfills for the last decade, particularly as they connect to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
In 2008, when the United Way Winnipeg wanted to more closely track its impact, the foundation approached the Winnipeg-based think tank International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). At IISD, the measurement and indicator team together with United Way Winnipeg consulted with over 800 community members to understand what issues they cared about and wanted to see tracked.
Based on this, IISD developed a set of indicators which would be tracked on an open dashboard called Peg — a common nickname for the city of Winnipeg — to ensure that both United Way Winnipeg and the broader community have access to data on topics and on issues that matter to locals.
“What we learned through our work with them is that there is a gap. There is a need for these types of tracking tools [which help visualize impact],” says Hillary Rosentreter, a policy advisor at IISD.
Developing a Tech Tool to Track Data
This realization came at a challenging time for IISD, as their website crashed, funding was reduced, and they urgently needed to decide how to align the existing Peg indicators with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the official SDG indicators.
In response, IISD used Peg as a flagship model to develop the Tracking Progress tool, which can be used by cities and communities around the world to track indicators that matter to them and the communities they serve.
IISD also decided not to use the UN’s official SDG indicators, but to map the existing Peg indicators to SDG targets.
“This way we could keep the bottom-up [and] community-driven approach to measuring community wellbeing, while allowing Winnipeggers to explore how their work contributes to the globally shared SDGs,” says Stefan Jungcurt, who leads the SDG indicators and data team at IISD.
When small teams or individuals lack advanced data skills or statistical knowledge, Tracking Progress is intended to provide an affordable way for communities to track, visualize, and share data, says Rosentreter.
How Communities are Tracking Their Progress Towards SDGs
The tool — currently in use by 40 organizations — is a customizable template, displays data over multiple years and visualizes it in various formats including bar graphs, line graphs, or maps. It also links indicators to the Sustainable Development Goals to show users how their community is progressing towards social and environmental goals.
For example, the Victoria Foundation, a member of the Community Foundations of Canada in Victoria, British Columbia, is using Tracking Progress on their own platform to track data including poverty rates of single parents, immunization rates, residents’ perceptions of safety, and more, all from official sources such as Statistics Canada.
According to IISD, presenting data in this way helps decision makers quickly gauge progress and trends over time, report on the results of policy interventions, and better advocate for evidence-based policy.
In Trinidad and Tobago, residents have adapted Tracking Progress to help them track the effects of climate change, such as flooding, year over year in their communities. The data is being used to help increase community resilience and inform policy, such as changing building codes or adjusting zoning to prevent people from living in flood-prone areas.
“They’re using the tool to… predict that trajectory [of climate change effects] and help them make smart decisions instead of just kind of hoping for the best,” Rosentreter says.
Shifting Indicators to Reflect Current Social Context
When IISD hosted a voluntary local review of Peg in 2021, engaging communities on how they track social progress and what matters to them, they learned it was time to renew the consensus on which indicators best reflect Winnipeg’s wellbeing, as they were developed over a decade ago. With recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, climate events, and reconciliation, Winnipeggers have shifted their views on what matters and what should be tracked.
According to Jungcurt, a key challenge in this will be to adequately include Winnipeg’s Indigenous population in the process and find indicators that reflect their views, values, and concerns.
“Many socioeconomic indicators ignore Indigenous perspectives. We have to decolonize Peg and bring SDG implementation and reconciliation together,” he says. “To use an Indigenous concept, we have to bring Two-eyed seeing to Peg [a concept used to describe seeing Indigenous knowledge from one eye and Western knowledge from the other] and reflect it in data.”
While Jungcurt says IISD doesn’t know what the solution will look like, they are looking to co-create it alongside Indigenous Peoples.
This featured profile is a part of the Adopting Common Measures (ACM) program led by Social Innovation Canada. If you’re part of a Canadian organization working towards the SDGs and would like to share your impact story, please reach out to the ACM team at firstname.lastname@example.org.