May 14, 2019


Event Description:

On 8 May 2019, Statistics Canada organized a panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges of empirically measuring Canada’s “super” diversity, the socio-economic disparities facing some communities, and the knowledge gaps limiting the design of inclusive public policy. This half-day event featured a keynote address by Anil Arora, the Chief Statistician of Canada, on the evolving ethnocultural situation in the country with specific attention to how that reality is measured in Vancouver.  


In the last few decades, empirical research and sophisticated data collection have significantly increased public awareness and understanding about Canada’s urban “story.” But knowledge gaps about the lived experience of diverse communities and the underlying causes of local socio-economic disparities persist. For example, the increasing disparity between income and housing cost and availability presents a formidable obstacle for youth, religious, and cultural groups seeking to participate more meaningfully both socially and economically. The scale and scope of these challenges require a coordinated and integrated and approach which Statistics Canada is trying to address with the establishment of a Gender, Diversity, and Inclusion Hub.

Host: Statistics Canada

VSIR Thinking Points:

  • Canada’s soft-power resides with the diversity and resilience of its urban communities. Data interoperability, open data governance, and interdisciplinary research approaches are key to optimizing Canada’s diversity “dividend.” In Vancouver, it is reasonable to expect that the city’s data collection capabilities will need to become more robust and responsive as it continues the process of integrating newcomers and forging external linkages with the global knowledge economy. More granular data collection (ie., Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey) and sophisticated data analytics can establish a baseline understanding of social resiliency and mobility within metropolitan Vancouver. Furthermore, cost-effective advancements in geographic information services (GIS), data visualization, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) create scalable opportunities for identifying new relationships among data sets, increasing their research and analytical value.
  • Communities with similar demographic profiles can vary tremendously with respect to their social mobility and resilience to external “shocks.” The quality of the social infrastructure (ie., places and organizations that foster mutual trust, accidental encounters, and casual interactions) can often be a determining factor. But these intangibles may not be “visible” in the quantitative data. Since each community has a unique combination of historic, demographic, cultural and institutional resources, strategic investments in distributed knowledge systems will be key to optimizing wealth creation and reducing income disparities. Moving forward, creating opportunities for more active participation, greater transparency, and power-sharing in the design of urban research projects might present some of the most significant knowledge management choices.  
  • Notwithstanding the proliferation of cost-effective and user-friendly digital platforms that accelerate information flows, our ability to make data-driven policy decisions remains hampered by outmoded concepts such as “visible minorities.” This is a term which has little relevance in cities like Richmond and Burnaby where immigrants comprise more than 50% of the population. Developing policy solutions for complex socio-economic problems often requires more insight, interpretation, and critical thinking – not more data. In fact, strategy is often more important than data collection and analytics. Strategy formulation usually begins with pertinent relevant questions (ie., What do we not know that we need to know?), not the relentless pursuit of answers.  

Concluding Remarks:

In recent years, the Government of Canada has made great efforts to upgrade its data collection capabilities, gain a better understanding of how newcomers are integrating, and measuring different aspects of urban inequality. However, senior federal officials should not assume that research methods of the recent past will be appropriate in the near-term future. Optimizing the benefits that Vancouver and other Canadian cities can offer to its permanent and temporary residents will require an equal measure of social intelligence, non-linear thinking, and discovery-driven learning – even if this means surveying the same “terrain” multiple times before the answers are found.  

Agenda and Speakers: