Measuring wellbeing the Region
How are things?” That’s a pretty common question – and most of us know that, if we were to truly offer a complete answer, it might take a while. “Things” are often quite complex.
If that’s true for individuals, imagine how complicated it gets when the question is “How are things in Waterloo Region?”
In fact, how can you even begin to answer the question?
Enter Wellbeing Waterloo Region, a collaborative effort on the part of a large number of the public entities in the region. Wellbeing Waterloo Region exists to answer the question – and first of all, to develop a methodology that means the answer will be valid and useful to organizations who want to help provide answers of things in the Region aren’t as good as they might be.
Lorie Fioze is manager of strategic planning for the Regional Municipal of Waterloo, but she is currently seconded, half-time, to be the convenor of Wellbeing Waterloo Region. She’s enthusiastic about what the collaborative is accomplishing, what is being learned, and most importantly, what is being done with the information gathered.
She told Exchange that Wellbeing Waterloo Region was created because, although there are many fine organizations in the community meeting specific needs, “overall, there are still people falling through the cracks, and we’re not a community where everybody thrives.”
The answer – or at least, the beginnings of an answer – were to bring together all of the social service groups “so collectively, we can move the needle on wellbeing, we can pool our efforts, and work differently to bring change.”
The first challenge was to identify key needs in the community – the “cracks” through which people were falling. Doing so was, and continues to be, a multi-faceted endeavor.
The collaborative went out and listened to the community. “We engaged the public in a year and a half process. We did surveys, focus groups, community forums. We did outreach to groups that might not participate in a typical community forum event.”
But that is only one of two ways Wellbeing Waterloo Region gathered information. Says Fioze, “Its’ really been driven by public engagements and data.”
And where do they get the data? She explains, “We looked at measurement frameworks from across the globe, and we landed on the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, which is through the University of Waterloo.” Dr. Bryan Smale is director of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, and Fioze and her colleagues were coached by Smale for over a year, as they developed a list of 194 “indicators of wellbeing… issues that are important in our community.”
When it came time to do the first evaluation of wellbeing in the region, says Fioze, it became clear that not all 194 indicators could be factored in at the outset. “We started with 80 indicators which we could get now… that’s the quantitative stats, the hard data.”
“Overall, there are still people falling through the cracks, and we’re not a community where everybody thrives.”
But they didn’t use raw data. They took their findings, “and we worked it through the community and came up with how we pick the top priorities.”
Three concerns emerged on top – healthy children and youth; affordable housing; and social inclusion. Even those felt overwhelmingly broad for a first effort, so “we wanted to narrow down the focus a bit,” explains Fioze.
For example, with affordable housing, “we narrowed the focus down to chronic homelessness…. We heard the public say loud and clear, that we can’t be a thriving community if we have people living on the streets.” So the outcome, so far, is the creation of “a catalyst group” bringing all the partners involved in this issue together to develop a common strategy and collaboration action.
When it came to the healthy children and youth priority, Wellbeing Waterloo Region learned that another collaborative group was putting together an application for a $50 million smart cities federal grant. WWR made all their collected information available to the smart cities group, who saw this was an ideal element to their grant project, because “part of the requirement for the grant is they want to see some kind of innovation or infrastructure that will help make your city smart, and will address a social issue” – in this case, the issue of high school graduation rates and the need to engage children and youth. Results of this grant application should be known by the end of June.
Social inclusion was the third priority identified by WWR, and Fioze is blunt about the reason this is important. “We heard across the board was that in our wellbeing system, the agencies, the providers – there were all kinds of barriers around racism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, all the ‘isms’. People said if we could just get our existing services to be aware of that, and break down barriers for groups that aren’t doing well, that would be like light years.
“So the first action was, we offered a series of eight different trainings for all our working groups. Two hundred and forty five people have been trained in health equity. We’re hoping this will get people thinking differently.”
“We have very tenuous funding because of the province. Now we only have funding up to the end of this year.”
Wellbeing Waterloo Region has just completed a new survey, incorporating more than 80 of the wellbeing indicators, and Fioze believes these findings will reveal more “cracks” that can be addressed more effectively.
But she admits that results can seem confusing. For instance, most recent findings by WWR show that 75% of regional residents say they are satisfied with life in general, but 40% struggle to juggle work and non-work activities, and 40% report that someone in their family struggles with mental health issues. She says, “Overall, we look really good, but underneath, we’re paddling really, really hard. Work is becoming more complex, more demanding, less time with family, less time with friends, less time for socialization, even people who are doing well financially are doing less well in their wellbeing.”
She adds, “Those who have no money are doing even worse.” In fact, WWR’s latest date show that 9% of the population struggles to pay their bills on time, and 20% have two or more jobs.
A lot of the resources for Wellbeing Waterloo Region comes from the collaborators – Fioze stresses that although she is on loan from the Region, this is not a regional project, it is a genuine joint effort. The funding for the most recent survey comes from 16 partners – the region, the seven local municipalities, the Crime Prevention Council, the Waterloo Region Police, the Local Health Integration Network, the United Way, three community health centres, and the KW Community Foundation.
Fioze gives a shout-out to the Community Foundation. “The KW Community Foundation has been amazing, they’ve been with us from the very beginning.”
Today, it’s not the beginning that Fioze is focused on – it’s the immediate future. Provincial government changes have meant “we have very tenuous funding because of the province. We were all set to get a Trillium grant and then everything went by the wayside with the new government. So now we only have funding up to the end of this year. We’re trying to figure out how we sustain this – it doesn’t need a lot. We have a bare bones budget. We are looking for funds to try and sustain us after December.”
For more information, visit .
Like many news organizations, we know we need to find a way to keep journalism available and accessible. We have to grow and build every year, which means we need to ask for your help. We need you to buy a subscription, to continue to enjoy the content our community deserves. Through a subscription you provide support for the development of great local stories, receiving great value in return. Exchange strives to continue to pursue the great contextual stories Waterloo Region and Guelph develop. Stories that inspire us during challenging times. Factual and honest profiles of some pretty spectacular people. Exchange Magazine is editorially independent - with your subscription, we can continue to bring Exchange Magazine's independent journalism to you and to the other engaged individuals who believe in the pursuit of prosperity and who need to understand the lay of the land, before they help change it for the better.
Thank you for your continued patronage,
Exchange Magazine for Business Editorial Dept.
Exchange Magazine digital Issue is published 4 times a year. With your subscription you will enjoy the digital version of Exchange Magazine Quarterly. Designed for desktop, tablet and mobile devices.