Tracking Vital Signs for the Communal and Global Good

A healthy community is an informed community. Using local knowledge, community foundations identify civic priorities and support action that improves quality of life. At Community Foundations of Canada, our greatest asset is our network of local leaders and the knowledge they hold around issues in their communities like food security, healthy living, affordability and more. Using these local insights, foundations help direct resources to where they will have the greatest impact.

Our flagship national program, Vital Signs, aims to achieve this by measuring the vitality of our communities, inspiring civic engagement, and providing focus for public conversation. When we connect the dots between existing data to thoroughly examine issues such as poverty and unemployment, we can put that knowledge to work for people interested in giving.

Vital Signs was first created by the Toronto Foundation in 2001. Today, it’s a program that engages more than 85 communities around the world to mobilize the power of on-the-ground knowledge for greater civic impact. Community foundations in Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, United States, Bermuda, and New Zealand, to name a few, are all involved in the Vital Signs program. By gathering data, hosting conversations, and publishing reports on social and economic trends, Vital Signs participants can tell the story of how their communities are faring within a broad view of well-being.

One example of a community foundation using Vital Signs to make more informed decisions about the kinds of initiatives they fund and open up conversations about community priorities can be found in Montreal. In 2014, Mayor Denis Codere launched a census of homeless people living in the city that revealed an increasing number, particularly among women and single parent families. After the figures came in the following year, the Foundation of Greater Montreal (FGM) released its Vital Signs report and organized a panel. Inviting industry experts, media, and citizens to attend, the panel discussed the challenges faced by the homeless community, using data from the Vital Signs report to help guide the conversation. The result was improved communication between groups that regularly engage in collective work (like the local shelters, police force, and hospitals), and a renewed commitment to improving the quality of life for the homeless community in Montreal.

The impact of Vital Signs and other public-spirited initiatives can also be connected to a global agenda for action. In 2015, United Nations member countries adopted a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that target important areas of development with the intent of ending poverty and protecting the planet. As part of an international philanthropic movement, community foundations have an opportunity to further leverage our knowledge, partners, and activities to connect our local efforts to reduce inequality, build sustainable communities, end hunger, and more.

Already some are using Vital Signs to connect local priorities to global action. On Vancouver Island, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, one of 191 community foundations across Canada, is promoting sustainable development by mapping local data and community knowledge to SDG targets through their Vital Signs report. In doing so, the Trust is able to benchmark progress against a set of global targets and better understand the community’s contribution to an international agenda.

How are you leveraging the knowledge in your community? Get in touch with us to learn more about the Vital Signs program and how it can be adapted to your community.

About the author(s)

Director of Member Services
Community Foundations of Canada