In An Evaluation of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Quality of Life Reporting System, Bonnie Janzen examines the FCM system’s suitability for determining a community’s quality of life index. Typically, community quality of life measures use multiple indicators and/or summary indices, such as broad-based community involvement, specific and appropriate theories to guide the work, reliable and valid data and indicators, and a combination of objective and subjective indicators. Janzen details the FCM reporting system’s strengths—its collaborative approach with communities, reliable data sources, and use of proven indicators—and its weaknesses, namely a lack of an explicit governing theory, limited community level data, and certain key missing indicators.
There are currently sixteen Canadian municipalities participating in FCM’s Quality of Life Reporting System, using fifty-three quantitative indicators grouped into eight general areas: population resources; community affordability; community stress; community participation; employment; housing; health; and safety. FCM requires that indicators be available both nation-wide and annually, meaningful at the community level, and understandable to the layperson. Accordingly, FCM’s indicators lean toward general rather than specific qualities of participating communities.
Among the FCM system’s strengths, Janzen cites the active involvement of participating communities in developing indicators, the effect of which is to strike a balance between national (i.e. FCM technical representatives) and community perspectives (i.e. the actual community members). FCM is careful to utilize only reliable sources for its data (e.g. Statistics Canada). A further strength is a holistic approach, acknowledging that individual components, such as social, physical, economic, and health indicators, necessarily interact with and influence each other. FCM indicators are also sensitive enough to acknowledge that social divisions, such as age or gender, influence how different members of a community regard quality of life, and therefore take these differences into account when making overall community assessments. Further to this point, FCM pays special attention to lower income groups, so as not to skew toward the economically advantaged.
In Janzen’s view, FCM’s methodology suffers from a lack of an explicit theory or model to bring a common foundation to its many indicators. Absence of an overall definition of quality of life limits the force of any conclusions that the system might put forth. Another weakness is a strict reliance on only objective indicators. While such evidence comes from reliable sources, it ignores rich resources of qualitative (i.e. subjective) evidence. There are also no indicators that take into account the physical environment’s influence or the availability of leisure activities and opportunities. Additionally, FCM’s community health indicators reflect a more traditional and narrow view that emphasizes mortality rates, rather than more holistic and progressive health models. Finally, the FCM system lacks control for indicator variation, such as how different age groups influence variables like crime, income, or charitable donations.
This report provides a balanced critique of the FCM system, concluding with an evaluation of two methods for calculating a quality of life index. Such critiques play a vital role in better honing our abilities to determine a community’s quality of life