Although there is a wealth of information available on Canadian communities and the individuals who live in them, it is often not accessible to those who would most benefit from it: local and regional governments, public institutions, non-profit and private organizations, planning bodies, journalists, and other stakeholders. 

The Canadian Communities Policy Observatory will fill this gap.


What is the Observatory?

The Observatory is an interactive, web-based platform for analyzing and visualizing place-based data. Created using open-source technologies, the Observatory is designed to be used without special training yet enable sophisticated analyses and visualizations. It is also designed to be modular, so new data and new analysis and visualization modules can be added in the future.

Why do we need a Policy Observatory?

Manipulating, analyzing, and visualizing government data often requires special training and specialized software. The purpose of the Observatory is to break down these barriers. Empowering governments, public institutions, non-profit groups, businesses, planning boards, journalists, and the public with better data will support evidence-based decision-making and planning, improve public knowledge, and contribute to debates on Canada’s most important issues and dilemmas.  

Why focus on Canadian communities?

Canada comprises multiple regions and communities large and small. Recognizing this, national and provincial governments have adopted place-based approaches to addressing important problems. At the same time, local governments have taken new roles in the making and delivery of public policy. Multiple organizations from the Institute for Research on Public Policy to the Canadian Urban Institute have called for improved data to support policymaking at all levels and inform public debate. The Canadian Communities Policy Observatory answers this call by establishing a flexible platform for the sharing and analysis of data on our cities and communities, one that we hope will be embraced by usersand expanded in the future.

What will I be able to do with the Observatory?

At its launch, the Observatory will have four main features:

  • Visualize – Want to make a line graph comparing intergenerational income mobility in selected metropolitan areas? Or a map showing concentrations of ethnic groups in a city’s neighbourhoods? Or a scatter plot of average household income versus average rent by municipality? The Observatory will enable users to visualize variables in a variety of ways across both time and space.
  • Analyze – Want to make forecasts by extending past trends into the future? Or identify localities with similar characteristics? Or identify positive and negative relationships between key variables of interest? The Observatory will enable users to perform a range of useful analyses.
  • Communicate – Need to document and communicate your work? The Observatory will automatically generate PDF reports of any visualization you create or analysis you perform with explanatory text.
  • Mobilize – Have the capacity to analyze data yourself? You can download tables containing selected variables for selected geographic units. Want to query data extracts for use in your own web services? The Observatory includes an API.

When can I use the Observatory?

The prototype is being constructed over the summer of 2020. An initial version of the Observatory will launch in September 2020.

What data will be included in the Observatory?

At its launch, the Observatory will initially contain Canadian Census data for the quarter-century period spanning 1991 to 2016. Users will be able to access data at several levels of geographic aggregation: metropolitan areas (census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations), communities (census divisions and subdivisions) and neighbourhoods (census tracts).

In 2020 and 2021, we will incorporate additional quinquennial Census data going back to 1961. A major innovation is that we have developed a system that links all consistently defined variables across Census years. This will enable users to easily analyze stability and change over time—a task the previously required considerable effort and was often done on an ad hoc basis.

In the third stage we will add data from other sources in consultation with stakeholders:

  • Public health data
  • Municipal public finance data
  • Municipal performance measures
  • Housing and homelessness data
  • Election results

Can I add my data to the Observatory?

Absolutely. The Observatory is designed to accommodate additional data. As long as you provide data structured according to our open format, we will be happy to incorporate it, subject to review by our leadership team.

Why Western University?

Western has an international reputation for excellence in policy-relevant quantitative research by sociologists, geographers, economists, political scientists, and others.

Where does the funding come from?

Seed funding for the Observatory is provided by Western University’s Faculty of Social Science.