Data and Tools for Policy Research - Community Social Data Strategy Empowering the Local Level

John Anderson and Nathasha Macdonald, Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD)

John Anderson is Vice-President, Strategic Partnerships and Alliances, and Nathasha Macdonald is a CSDS Research Officer, both with the CCSD.

The Community Social Data Strategy (CSDS) is a new initiative from the Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD), in partnership with Statistics Canada.1 This participatory project democratizes access to social data at the community level. The result is improved research, policy and advocacy capacities at the local level. The adage that knowledge is power has been extended to community knowledge is community power, and is one of the foundations of this project.

The CSDS involves 13 communities across Canada, with more to join soon.2 Each community builds a consortium to administer the project. It usually includes the city or municipality and organizations such as the Social Planning Council and the United Way. These consortia then access and share very large amounts of Statistics Canada social data on life in their communities.

These data are highly detailed and comprehensive. They paint a picture down to the neighbourhood level (census tract or dissemination area) and cover work, housing, low-income levels, and much more. The data are primarily from the 2001 Census, but also include all major Statscan products and the small areas administrative data gathered from tax files. A special run of data on low-income called the Urban Poverty Project is also provided to complete data sets at the neighbourhood level. Together, these data sources provide comprehensive information that cross-tabulates lowincome neighbourhood status by family, visible minority, and Aboriginal status to name just a few themes.

The CSDS initiative is particularly well suited to examine issues of low income in our cities. The Poverty by Postal Code report produced by the CCSD and the United Way of Greater Toronto showed that it is not enough to look at low-income changes or comparisons by city. The real story of deepening and growing concentrations of poverty is in the neighbourhoods. The CSDS is designed so communities can develop a set of indicators for what is happening in their own backyards.

Consortia targeting the issue of poverty have been established either around purchasing the complete package of data or just the urban poverty data. These projects provide a great opportunity to help build and strengthen the research and advocacy capacities of organizations in cities both large and small.

Developing a local consortium maximizes the use of Statscan data. It is also a highly effective tool for sharing administrative data from municipalities, health units, and many other non-profit organizations. In this way, these consortia can become real local hubs of information and empower municipalities, nonprofits, and local citizenry.

It costs up to two-thirds less than what any city would pay to buy these data on their own. But even more important than the price, the initiative enables communities to share both the costs and the data with any number of non-profit organizations in their region.


  1. For more information on the CCSD, please visit <>.

  2. Regions already involved in the CSDS include Calgary, Edmonton, Halton Region, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Peterborough, Red Deer, Region of Peel, Region of York, Toronto, Waterloo Region, and Simcoe County.