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Are We Making Progress in Social Development and Quality of Life? How will we know?

Introduction - the Ontario Social Development Council

Since the earliest editions of the Ontario Health Promotion Email Bulletin in 1997, one of the most frequent contributors has been Malcolm Shookner, executive director of the Ontario Social Development Council. He has sent us reports and summaries of the Quality of Life Index project, involving more than 20 communities across the province in identifying indicators, researching provincial and local data, analysing it and publishing local, regional and provincial reports. Malcolm has also kept us informed of the cross-Canada consultations to review progress on the 1995 World Summit on Social Development; on the organizational changes, evaluation and capacity building of social planning councils and resource centres; and grounding social development work in current realities and priorities. Despite ever-diminishing resources, the OSDC has continued to focus on 3 key parts of its mission: building community capacity, social reporting and renewing the social safety net. In 1999, two new priorities were approved by the OSDC Board for 1999 - international social development and renewing OSDC's representation with communities on issues.

In the last few weeks, we have received regular notices from Malcolm reporting from Geneva on the United Nations (UN) sessions on social development, and also on the release of the Spring 2000 Quality of Life Index for Ontario, the sixth report in the series from OSDC and the Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO). It provides a ten year look at progress made, setbacks, and a set of benchmarks for the beginning of the 21st century. As we note that Malcolm Shookner is leaving OSDC, and preparing to move to Halifax, it is fitting to dedicate this issue of the Ontario Health Promotion Email Bulletin to the extraordinary body of work that he has undertaken and has provided to Ontarians as a means of looking critically at the progress we are making in building our healthy communities. This feature grows from the dispatches from Geneva on social development around the world, and links back to three communities in Ontario reporting back on how the Quality of Life Index is helping them to measure progress and evaluate their initiatives.

Making Progress? Reports from the World Summit on Social Development and Ontario's Quality of Life Index Initiative.

A. At the Global Level - Geneva 2000 UNGASS on Social Development

Canadian NGOs (non-government organizations) in Geneva for the UN General Assembly Special Session on Social Development expressed disappointment about the lack of progress during negotiations for new initiatives to end poverty, unemployment and social exclusion. The Special Session was convened by the General Assembly in Geneva from June 26-30, 2000 to review progress made since the World Summit for Social Development in 1995. Malcolm Shookner of the Ontario Social Development Council, sent regular updates on the Geneva sessions and negotiations on solutions for global issues, which form the base for the following section.

On the second day of UNGASS the Canadian NGOs met with the federal delegation. Malcolm Shookner and Josephine Grey (National Anti-Poverty Organization) called for the Government of Canada to acknowledge that Canada has a serious problem with poverty and no national policy to address it. Recent reports from the United Nations have shined an international spotlight on these problems. UNICEF has ranked Canada #17 on the poverty index for children in the developed world, with over 15% of Canadians under 18 living below the poverty line. The World Health Organization has ranked Canada's health care system #30 for its efforts to serve all sectors of society.

The Canadian delegation was reminded that Canada's compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will come up for review again in 2003. The review in 1998 resulted in a report that was very critical of Canadian social policies and their lack of accountability for the protection of human rights.

The issues that were tackled at this global session were huge, and vital for the 21st century. Some of these issues included:

· An enabling environment for social development, requiring a fundamental change in the global economy in order to distribute wealth more equitably.

· The eradication of poverty

· The goal of full employment

· A shared understanding among key international organizations (UN, World Bank, IMF, World Trade Org.) about the social dimensions of globalization and the relationships among trade, development, poverty, labour issues, and gender equity.

· Common indicators for social development are needed to measure progress at the national and international. This is an issue that should be addressed in Canada, about the Canadian situation, not only poverty in other countries.

Setting goals to measure progress in reducing poverty and improving quality of life took centre-stage in Geneva. At the start of this special UN session, a report called « A Better World for All » was issued by four major international organizations (UN, World Bank, International Monetary Fund and OECD) stating that 'world poverty can be significantly decreased by 2015. The report focuses on seven interrelated development goals, set during world conferences in the 1990s, which, if achieved in the next 15 years, will improve the lives of millions of people. The seven goals are: halving the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day; enrolling all children in primary school; empowering women by eliminating gender disparities in education; reducing infant and child mortality rates; reducing maternal mortality ratios; promoting access to reproductive health services; and promoting environmentally sustainable development.

At the same event, the World Bank released its own report "New Paths to Social Development: Community and Global Networks in Action", saying that social policies and programs often do not reach poor people. The World Bank report examines two factors that affect social development: international networks for global public policy, and community networks used by poor people to reduce poverty. Increasingly, the study suggests, governments and international organizations must cooperate with both forms of network to achieve sustainable social progress. See the OHPE Bulletin 164.2 Resources message for the link to both documents on the Internet.

However - bringing together international networks and community networks will take more than these two reports. The NGOs rejected both reports, particularly concerned that the UN would release a document before the Special Session had a chance to discuss the issues or to participate in its preparation.

The reports also portray poverty as a problem only in the South, since no statistics or targets for poverty reduction in the North are included. To some, these releases were seen as an effort by the IMF and the World Bank to re-position themselves as champions of poverty eradication without changing any of their policies.

In the same week, the UN Human Development Report 2000 was released in Paris and Geneva. Canada is still ranked #1 in the Human Development Index (HDI) 2000. But a high HDI value does not automatically mean low human deprivation. Canada ranks #11 in the Human Poverty Index for developed countries (HPI-2). This poverty rating reveals disparities within countries. More than 10% of people in Canada are income poor, with the income poverty line set at 50% of the median disposable household income.

The report notes that information and statistics are a powerful tool for creating a culture of accountability. "Activists, lawyers, statisticians and development specialists need to work together with communities to generate information and evidence that can break down barriers of disbelief and mobilize changes in policy and behaviour." Social development organizations in Ontario and across Canada can play strategic roles in this process.

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B. Finding Indicators of Change in Quality of Life

i) Across Canada - two views of quality of life indicators

The Treasury Board of Canada's recently released Concept Paper on Quality of Life stresses the importance of in defining indicators and determining measures that are acceptable to citizens in show progress of federal governments. This paper (see OHPE 164.2 Resources) discusses defining, measuring, and reporting on QOL, and suggests a framework for a federal performance measurement and reporting process. "... Reporting on the outcomes achieved on shared societal goals is intended to provide information to citizens in order to engage them. to allow citizens to hold governments accountable."

Is it enough to set goals for quality of life, and inform citizens, rather than involving people and organizations in the determination of the goals, the measures and the methodologies? The Canadian Policy Research Network takes a different view.

A non-government research and analysis organization, the Canadian Policy Research Network (CPRN), also wants to find out what Canadians believe to be indicators of progress as a society through their Quality of Life Indicators project. They commissioned two papers to look at past experiences of social-economic-health indicators and the scope and limitations of existing indices. Through consultations and focus groups, the CPRN is beginning the drafting of indicators - a long and slow process.

ii) In Ontario - a Ten Year Look at Progress, SetBacks and Benchmarks

We can learn from the experiences in Ontario of developing indicators and definitions of quality of life with community organizations and partners who have knowledge, concerns and goals for change to be assessed. The Quality of Life Index Project, sponsored by the Ontario Social Development Council (OSDC) and the Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO), has since 1996, developed a tool in the Index to measure and monitor changes in living conditions that affect the quality of life in 20 participating communities.

Quality of life is defined as:

"The product of the interplay among social, health, economic and environmental conditions which affect human and social development."

The purpose of the Quality of Life Index (QLI) is to provide a tool for community development which can be used to monitor key indicators that encompass the social, health, environmental and economic dimensions of the quality of life. The QLI can be used to comment frequently on key issues that affect people and contribute to the public debate about how to improve the quality of life in our communities and our province.

Following an intensive literature review by members of the Provincial Working Group, led by the OSDC, it was determined, that a high level of health contributes to increased prosperity and overall social stability. They were careful to include both positive and negative measures in order to provide a balanced perspective on quality of life.

The following indicators are included in the Quality of Life Index:

SOCIAL: Children in care of Children's Aid Societies; Social assistance recipients; Public housing waiting lists.

HEALTH: Low birth weight babies; Elderly waiting for placement in long term care facilities; New cancer cases.

ECONOMIC: Number of people unemployed; Number of people working; Bankruptcies.

ENVIRONMENTAL: Hours of moderate/Poor air quality; Environmental spills; Tonnes diverted from landfill to blue boxes.

The Quality of Life Index has been calculated for Spring 2000. This report, the sixth in the series on The Quality of Life in Ontario is the first report of the new millennium. It can be downloaded in summary or full length in Word or Word Perfect at

The quality of life in Ontario, as measured by the Quality of Life Index, is improving and has reached 97.7 in the Spring of 2000. However, Ontario remains below the benchmark of 100 for the Quality of Life Index established in 1990. The lagging social indicators - the "social deficit" - continue to undermine progress in other sectors. The environmental indicators have led the upward trend, though air quality has been declining since 1998. The growing gap between the economic and social indicators shows that the pursuit of economic growth doesn't yield the dividends it once did.

This provincial QLI report is issued twice yearly. Local indexes are calculated in 13 communities across Ontario. Three of these communities are described below.

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C. Indicators of Quality of Life Progress in 3 Ontario Communities

i) Community Development Council of Quinte

Since 1996, the Community Development Council of Quinte, in partnership with the OSDC and the SPNO, has attempted to monitor the quality of life in Quinte. By monitoring the progress and setbacks experienced by communities in the period of time spanning 1990 and 1999, the CDC of Quinte, in co-operation with partners, has witnessed the progress and setbacks of community quality of life in Quinte. As such, the community has gained new insight into the inter-play between each of four sectors that contribute to community quality of life.

In the fourth Quality of Life Index Project Report released by the Community Development Council of Quinte in spring 2000, they note that the quality of life is higher at 104.9 in 1999 than the 100 affixed to the base year in 1990. However, the Quinte community has suffered a decline in quality of life between 1998 (109.1) and 1999. The summary of their setbacks notes that:

Children Admitted to Care on the rise, a trend unique to Quinte

Bankruptcies are on the rise

New cancer cases are on the rise.

Long Term Care Wait Lists are growing progressively each year

While there has been an increase in the number of people employed, 1999 ends with record numbers of people having left the labour force.

The CDC of Quinte is the sponsor for the QLI project website and the Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO) website and linkages. They have played a key role in the provincial QLI working group and in undertaking the research and analysis involved.

ii) Halton Social Planning Council (HSPC)

The primary purpose of the HSPC is to build and strengthen the community of Halton, by: identifying community needs

developing community awareness of identified trends and needs

facilitating and supporting community response

facilitating communication and coordinated planning to meet needs

advocating for change

The third in a series on The Quality of Life in Halton published by the Council, finds that QoL has improved, risen to 94.3, up from 85.2 in 1998 (it is below the benchmark of 100 established in 1990). While there is good news from the economic and social indicators - lower rates of bankruptcies, fewer toxic spills, fewer low birth weight babies and reduced unemployment; there also have been setbacks - poorer air quality, more elderly waiting for long term care placements and continuing high, yet declining, social assistance caseloads.

iii) Algoma Social Planning Council (ASPC)

The QLI for Sault Ste. Marie provides a valuable tool for monitoring and fostering the socio-economic health of Sault Ste. Marie, particularly for the current strategic planning initiative "Building an Extraordinary Community [BEC]." This cross-sectoral, tri-government and community based planning process, reporting to the Sault Ste Marie Council, has a very broad planning and implementation process, with nine Solution Councils. To measure their progress of their process and results, they looked for benchmarks and suitable indicators. The ASPC helped to define indicators for the overall process and to link the work of BEC to the Quality of Life Index, developing locally specific indicators, with each of the Solution Councils. Various sectors within the City are prepared to share information and collaborate in the QLI project, data collection and evaluation.

The 1998-99 Quality of Life Index report for Algoma indicates a need for improving the Quality of Life in Sault Ste. Marie, particularly in the areas of social and economic health

The Quality of Life Composite Index for the City of Sault Ste. Marie in 1997 was 71.1. The City's QLI has decreased since the base year (1990). Other reports that examine a larger number of indicators (e.g., the Algoma Community Health Status Report, 1996) should be examined in order to obtain a more comprehensive picture of the city's status. the exercise of collecting this type of data is an indicator of a community's wellness since it demonstrates the willingness of many sectors to share their information and pool their efforts in order to work on those problem areas. The ASPC QLI project has received the support and collaboration of numerous partners (see page 2), as well as key community leaders. This interest and collaboration is an indication of community health which cannot easily be measured by an index.

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D. Issues in Measuring and Monitoring Quality of Life

A number of issues were identified by these communities, and by Malcolm Shookner and others at an international conference on Quality of Life in February 2000 in Singapore. The Ontario QLI project one of a handful of projects on the international stage which attempts to objectively measure quality of life within a holistic framework. There were common concerns about measuring and monitoring quality of life (QOL):

· Comprehensive, holistic frameworks for QOL are still in early stages of development.

· If one were to characterize all of the QOL indicators, including both positive and negative attributes, in two words or less, it would be "income distribution."

· The most important objective of measuring QOL is informing policy-makers and bringing about positive change where indicators show a lack of progress.

· Measurements of the QOL are moving targets, with an extremely short shelf-life.

· Monitoring the quality of life has become linked to regional development by reinforcing the relationship between economic prosperity and community well-being.

· Recognising that notions of livability vary between different communities of people, but that it is grounded in places, there is scope for new studies of community QOL.

· Key Indicators of QOL should be regionally focussed and differentiated.

q Quality of life studies provide a critical starting point for mobilising the capacity of regions, leaders, and local communities through self-assessment.

The Algoma SPC in their report also addressed some of the limitations of multiple communities gathering data for a set of standardized indicators of QoL:

* limited number of indicators

* the starting point is not the same for all communities, nor is it the same for the province

* methods used in gathering and reporting the data are not always consistent from one community to another

* not all communities can access data for each year

These points are helpful reminders of how indicators can be developed and used in community capacity building and health promotion. More community stories, of successes, learnings and approaches would enrich our understanding and application of quality of life indicators and assessments in health and social development.

For additional references and resources related to the above compilation of OSDC initiatives, please see the Resources message of OHPE bulletin #164.2, published July 11, 2000.