National Newswatch

The more you measure, the more you know.

 

Ottawa—The vast expanse of Canada outside its cities, towns and villages suffers from poor data on just about everything, says the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF).

In its third State of Rural Canada report, the CRRF said, “Data challenges have real world implications for rural places across Canada, impacting decisions, programs, and policies locally, provincially, territorially, and federally.

“Too often, data is seen as strictly academic and lacking practical application. By mobilizing success stories of innovative ways that rural places collect and apply

data, we can help others understand the importance of quality data and inspire creativity regarding how it can be used to address important issues,” the report said.

“In a world clouded by questions that can be manipulated to promote almost any answer, there must be a continuous commitment to critical analysis.”

Using data to inform better decision-making on rural matters involves having access to adequate data, possessing the capacity to analyze it and the skills to interpret and communicate results, the report said.

To show that good data can have a beneficial impact, the report noted the 2013 and 2018 Vital Signs report cards for Ontario’s Prince Edward County “boosted local support for the community foundation to address local issues such as the lack of affordable housing, inadequate local transportation, and local food insecurity.

“Another example shows how new navigational data is reducing the cost of transportation in the north, using radar images of ice conditions for route planning.”

“Understanding change over time, or comparing jurisdictions or places, requires the ability to benchmark and track,” the report said. “It is exceptionally challenging to accomplish this task in rural places without comprehensive repositories of data that are accessible and reliable. However, establishing baseline data and monitoring change over time is essential for understanding changes in a community or evaluating a program or policy.”

Building a better understanding of the importance and practical application of data in rural places are needed because they “have many important assets, but are at a disadvantage with respect to the availability and access to data, as well as its analysis and mobilization,” the report said.

“As a result, the data gaps and deficits they face are more detrimental to their effective development than found in most urban places.”

Achieving better rural data collection will require private and public funds to support local data collection and capacity-building, the report said.

“Support from upper levels of government is needed to help rural communities develop capacity, including human capacity to identify, access, and analyze

existing sources of data, as well as the capacity for communities to collect their own data. Resources, in the form of tools, technical assistance, and supports are critical, as are financial resources.”

Without adequate data, information on rural Canada is obscured or dominated by information on urban areas with the result that “we cannot understand the needs,

challenges, and opportunities that exist in rural places across Canada.”

Without proper data, rural communities are at a disadvantage in applying for federal and provincial programs, the report said. As an example of the problem, the report said the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation publishes regular statistics on vacancy rates only for communities over 10,000.

People have to be trained to read and use data to achieve evidence-based policy development and decision-making, the report said.

“Broadband is an important example not only of the difference in services between

rural and urban areas, but also of differences in data access. Canada’s National Broadband Internet Service Availability Map lacks geographic detail in rural places, presenting a challenge for local planners and practitioners who must instead rely on anecdotal data.”

Governments also need to how rural data separately so decision makers and others can “understand the needs, challenges, and opportunities that exist in rural places across Canada.”

Alex Binkley is a freelance journalist and writes for domestic and international publications about agriculture, food and transportation issues. He’s also the author of two science fiction novels with more in the works.
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