VANCOUVER FOUNDATION 2010 VITAL SIGNS - CITIZEN SURVEY
The Vancouver Foundation is the largest of Canada’s 160 community foundations, and has been working to improve BC’s communities since 1943. The Foundation manages more than 1,200 endowment funds with a market value of $720 million, and in 2009 distributed $61 million to BC charities and communities.
Vital Signs is one of the Foundation’s major initiatives. Vital Signs is an annual community check-up conducted by community foundations across Canada that measures the vitality of our communities, identifies significant trends, and assigns grades in a range of areas critical to quality of life. Vital Signs helps guide the Foundation’s granting programs and inform donors about issues facing the region. Vital Signs has been conducted annually in Metro Vancouver since 2003, and has been based primarily on factual data (e.g., demographics, health, economic and environmental indicators) collected from a variety of reliable sources, such as Statistics Canada and Metro Vancouver.
Hard factual data tells one story of life in the region, but people’s perceptions may tell a different story, and the Foundation has been searching to find out how best to capture such perceptions in an effective way. In previous years, the Foundation has struggled to find a credible approach to measuring citizen perceptions in a way that effectively complements the factual results and enhances understanding of the factors that contribute the most to quality of life.
For its 2010 Vital Signs project, the Vancouver Foundation turned to Environics Research to develop and implement a new approach to measuring public opinion. Environics designed a cost-effective online survey methodology to measure opinions of a representative sample of 1,200 Metro Vancouver residents (stratified by local municipality) to provide a more scientifically valid and credible basis for representing the population than was used in previous years. The research also involved a careful redesign of the process by which citizens were asked to assess the 12 critical areas covered by the Vital Signs project; citizens were invited to evaluate each area as they saw it at present, and also to flag priority areas for improvement in the future. The survey was developed in close consultation with the Vital Signs project team, and conducted in July 2010.
The survey results showed how Metro Vancouver residents view the quality of life in their communities, and revealed results that were in some ways predictable and other ways surprising:
- Most residents are positive about the overall quality of life, with almost nine in ten rating it to be excellent or good, and agreeing that Metro Vancouver is “a vibrant, lively and appealing place to live.” Features that contribute most include Vancouver's unparalleled geography and scenery; its temperate climate; its recreational opportunities; its friendly social atmosphere and its multicultural diversity.
- This favourable assessment notwithstanding, Metro Vancouver receives a mixed assessment across the 12 specific Vital Signs areas (on a grading scale ranging from “A” to “F”). Residents give resasonably positive marks in terms of the arts, culture and leisure (B) and the health and wellness of its citizens (B), but are more critical in such areas as economic equality (D+) and housing, especially with respect to affordability (D).
- Most notably, the survey revealed that what matters most when gauging quality of life is the degree to which residents feel connected to one another – in terms of their sense of belonging to the community and trust in their neighbours. Strong social connections aren’t as tangible as beautiful mountains, a good job or a nice house, but they appear to be essential in shaping residents' experience of their communities and personal sense of well-being.
The Vital Signs report was released publicly in October 2010, and for the first time the public opinion results proved to be most compelling part of the Vital Signs story. The importance of residents’ sense of belonging was the featured part of media coverage and has prompted some local community organizations to think more carefully about the role of connectedness and belonging in their programming. Through this experience, the Vancouver Foundation is now giving more attention to how public opinion and perceptions will play a role in future Vital Signs projects.
See the 2010 Vancouver Foundation Vital Signs Report.
See the 2010 Vital Signs Media Release.