The System of Community Accounts is a standardized, centralized, integrated source of social and economic data built for the use of government departments, organizations, and citizens. It brings together administrative and survey data from a variety of community, provincial, national, and international sources. The system’s data accounts, organized under a well-being framework, and its companion set of analytical tools provide citizens and policy makers with key social, economic, demographic, and health data that would otherwise be unavailable, too costly to obtain, and too time-consuming to retrieve and compile.
In the late 1990s, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador committed itself to a common social vision for the province that went beyond measuring economic progress and focused on communities, regions and people. With the knowledge that evidence-based decision-making was essential to implementing successful programs and policies, the Government recognized that achieving this vision required an integrated approach supported by a centralized source of quality data.
In partnership with Memorial University, the Newfoundland and Labrador Statistics Agency (NLSA)championed the design and development of the System of Community Accounts, or simply “Community Accounts”, to meet this need and make a provincial social vision possible
The Well-being Framework
Unlike its sister System of National Accounts, which are primarily focused on production and associated statistics such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the Community Accounts organize data in various domains according to a well-being framework but are linked to a subsidiary framework, which emulates the System of National Accounts. The framework recognizes that while increases in GDP indicate a growing economy, this is not the same as general social progress. Linking the production framework with the well-being framework marks one of the true innovations and unique features of the System of Community Accounts.
The System of Community Accounts is the first online system to bring all the dimensions of well-being together under one framework, and to provide a comprehensive set of indicators for its measurement using multiple data sources. A composite indicator does not yet exist but is under development. Dr. Doug May, an economist at Memorial University in Newfoundland, is the system's conceptual architect, and has worked together with the Community Accounts team of the NLSA since 1996 to bring it to life online. He has also worked on the development of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing and is a member of the CIW’s Canadian Research Advisory Group (CRAG).
The well-being framework encompasses two major account categories – the Production Accounts and Well-being Accounts. Currently, the Well-being Accounts comprise a subset of eight accounts, depicted in the inner circle of blue boxes portrayed here. The Production Accounts comprise the outer portion of the framework and demonstrate how production and environmental factors interact and impact well-being. Together, these organize the structure of the Community Accounts’ online content.
All too often, nationally available data are aggregated to geographic levels not appropriate or not relevant to provinces and their residents. Choice is an essential aspect of the Community Accounts. Users can access information in any of the account areas at the level of neighbourhood, community, rural municipality, census consolidated subdivision (local areas), economic development zone, health authority, school district, and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada region.
Choice, accessible tools and aids, and an organizational framework that applies across geographic scales appeal to a wide range of users. The strength of the Community Accounts and one of the System's unique features is that it contains data for all communities within the Province as well as for the neighbourhoods of cities and larger towns.
Nine major user groups of Community Accounts have been identified:
- General public
- Government departments and agencies
- Regional health authorities
- Regional economic development boards
- Municipal offices
- The voluntary and community-based sector
- The private business sector and public corporations
- The educational sector, particularly various divisions of the university
- Individual researchers
Public data accessible online are used by these groups to provide descriptive information about neighbourhoods and communities. They are also analyzed to inform decision-making, develop policy and evaluate programs.
The outreach strategy of the Accounts' team is to target students in the K-12 school system as well as members of smaller communities who are interesting in documenting and preserving their identity and unique culture and heritage.
For seasoned and new data users, much of the potential of Community Accounts lies within the system’s analytical features. A variety of user-friendly data analysis tools and visualization aids such as Hans Rosling’s motion charts are available online and are located within four main activity areas: profiles, tables and charts, well-being and indicators, and maps. Each activity area organizes the data according to the various well-being and production accounts.
Fast forward fifteen years and the Community Accounts have successfully contributed to building a provincial social vision by making reliable information available and accessible. They have liberated more data at the community level, such as employment insurance information. They have led to the development of new and more community-appropriate measures of well-being, such as the Newfoundland and Labrador Market Basket Measure of low income. And, they have engaged communities on issues that matter to them.
Today, the Community Accounts team is working with several communities in Newfoundland and Labrador to share culture and heritage resources online, and to incorporate this information into the well-being framework.
Awards and Recognition
In 2009, the System of Community Accounts was recognized and endorsed by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology in its final report of the Senate Subcommittee on Population Health: A Healthy, Productive Canada: A Determinant of Health Approach. The Subcommittee recommended: “That the Government of Canada support the development and implementation of Community Accounts, modeled on the Newfoundland and Labrador Community Accounts, in all provinces and territories.”
In 2006, Community Accounts made the “short-list” for the United Nations Award for Public Service. In 2003, Community Accounts won two awards. The Newfoundland and Labrador Statistics Agency was the recipient of the National IPAC (The Institute of Public Administration of Canada) Award for Innovative Management. The theme for 2003 was "In the Know, Managing Knowledge". The Agency was also the recipient of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador 2002 Public Service Award of Excellence, which recognizes individuals and teams who have made outstanding contributions to the public service in Newfoundland and Labrador.