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 will be 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.

The Observatory and related projects are led by Western University’s Network for Economic and Social Trends with the generous support of the Faculty of Social Science

Why do we need a Policy Observatory?

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. 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. 

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.

Canadian Neighbourhood Change Explorer 1951–2021

A web portal to explore how Canadian neighbourhoods have changed over time.


Access harmonized census data and digital boundaries.

Canadian Longitudinal Tract Database 2.0

Bridge census tract level data across all census years from 1951 to 2021.

When can I use the Observatory?

We are currently constructing a prototype web portal. An initial version of the Observatory will launch in 2024. The UNI·CEN Canadian Neighbourhood Change Explorer 1951–2021, created in partnership with Esri Canada Inc., launched in March 2024. It allows longitudinal exploration of census tract-level information.

What data will be included in the Observatory?

At its launch, the Observatory will initially contain data assembled by UNI·CEN, the Unified Infrastructure for Canadian Census Research. Created at Western, UNI·CEN contains aggregate Census data at seven levels of geography: Canada as a whole, provinces, metropolitan areas (census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations), communities (census divisions and subdivisions) and neighbourhoods (census tracts). The UNI-CEN database contains all available univariate Census Data from 1951 to 2021, and 1851–1951 data will be added soon. 

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

Will I be able to 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. Please contact for more information.