Vancouver launches health data dashboard to drive collective action

7th April 2021 Sarah Wray

Vancouver has published a new open data dashboard to track progress against 23 health and wellbeing indicators.

These include datasets on the number of children living below the poverty line, the number of households spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and the proportion of adults who have a sense of community belonging.

As well as the most recent data for each indicator, the dashboard includes target figures and the current status of the city’s progress towards that goal.

Mary-Clare Zak, Managing Director, Social Policy and Projects Division, City of Vancouver, told Cities Today that the online dashboard has been a longstanding goal since the launch of the Healthy City Strategy in 2014.

She said: “One of the foundations of the Healthy City Strategy is that it needs collective efforts — policy change from all levels of government, investments in social infrastructure, access to services, a healthy non-profit sector, individual efforts to make community connections. We want everyone in the city to see themselves in this strategy and be able to make a contribution to our shared goals.”

The dashboard comes as Vancouver is in the midst of two public health emergencies: overdose deaths from a toxic drug supply, alongside the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zak commented: “One important thing we’ve learned from these emergencies is that the need to continually focus on upstream social determinants is critical. This data will show us who is disproportionately impacted when a crisis occurs and what investments need to happen to avoid crisis in the first place.”

Governance

The launch represents the first phase of the project and there are plans to expand the dashboard to include additional indicators, as well as neighbourhood-level and disaggregated data for different populations. The city is also working with Indigenous communities to identify more decolonised ways of collecting and analysing the data.

A report published last year by British Columbia’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner called for provincial governments to collect and use disaggregated demographic and race-based data to address systemic racism and inequities. It emphasised that the process must include the community.

“One important piece that we’re still working on is data governance,” Zak said. “As we publish more disaggregated data that shows which communities in Vancouver are most impacted by health inequities, we need to do it in a way that is not just the local government telling stories about a community, but instead is telling a story with the community that leads to policy change.”

Indicators

Technical and financial support for the dashboard was provided by the Partnership for Healthy Cities, a global network of cities for preventing noncommunicable diseases and injuries. The partnership is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies in partnership with the World Health Organization and the public health organisation Vital Strategies.

Ariella Rojhani, Director of the Partnership for Healthy Cities, said: “Data transparency is essential for generating accountability. Using an open data portal, the public is readily able to monitor how responsive a city is to community need and to demand action when necessary. It’s also imperative for creating public trust.”

She said Vancouver’s Healthy City Dashboard is innovative in the way that it includes indicators extending beyond ‘traditional’ health service and outcome measures by also encompassing social and economic determinants of health, and in the way that the city is using the data to engage the community.

“The Partnership is hopeful that Vancouver’s dashboard will inspire cities around the world to replicate the broader, open approach,” she commented.

Dashboards

The pandemic has spurred an increase in cities sharing data, including health trends, via dashboards.

Rojhani said: “The COVID-19 pandemic certainly underscored the need for readily available data in order to support rapid decision-making. I think governments were also reminded of how important it is to share the data with the public in order to provide justification for the restrictive public health and social measures used to control the spread of the virus.

“Whether or not the emphasis on open data and dashboards becomes a longer-term trend will depend entirely on whether or not cities and countries continue to place value on having good data, make commensurate investments in their systems and actually use the data to support decisions,” she added.

Some of the data in Vancouver’s  dashboard is from before the pandemic, such as income poverty data which is derived from the last Canadian census in 2016.

“But it’s still an important story to tell because adequate income is a key determinant of health, or the ‘determinant of determinants’,” said Zak. “A lack of a decent income impacts everything else.”

Image: Dave Kim on Unsplash

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