Annex B: Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators methods for indicator selection, development and production

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As part of its broader commitment to transparency in environmental decision-making, the government has made the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) program a permanent feature of its environmental reporting. CESI has significantly expanded the number of indicators to measure progress towards the goals and targets of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS), and its data is found throughout this report. The indicators tracking the progress of the FSDS are prepared by Environment Canada with the support of other federal government departments, such as Health Canada, Statistics Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, as well as provincial and territorial government departments. Designed to be relevant to the Government of Canada's policies, the indicators are built on rigorous methodology and high-quality, regularly available data from surveys and monitoring networks.

The CESI program provides objective and comprehensive information on environmental trends in a straight forward and transparent manner. It ensures that national, regional, local and international trends are readily accessible and presented through the use of graphics, explanatory text and interactive maps, through which users can drill down for local data. CESI further supports transparency by publishing comprehensive explanations of indicator methodologies and making indicator data available for download, through both the CESI and the Open Data Pilot Project has also changed formats, moving from an annual report to a web site to which indicators are frequently added and updated as new data becomes available.

The CESI program implements key steps to ensure the quality of indicator data and information, including indicator selection, indicator development and production.

Selecting the indicators and applying the criteria

Indicator selection informs the choice of indicators and data to ensure effective measurement of progress of the goals and targets of the FSDS. Criteria adopted from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Bellagio Principles, and the Statistics Canada Quality Assurance Framework were applied in choosing appropriate indicators. These criteria include:

  1. Policy relevance (represents the FSDS goals and targets or otherwise related to Environment Canada's mandate);
  2. Utility (meets the needs of decision-makers and the public in that it is understandable and provide relevant context for decisions);
  3. Soundness (provides consistent and solid methodology, is scientifically credible and comparable over time); and,
  4. Data availability (uses existing high-quality data with adequate coverage).

Indicator selection is done in conjunction with the setting of FSDS targets as part of each three-year cycle of the FSDS. Existing indicators are reviewed and new ones considered in the context of the goals and targets. Indicators are selected based on consultations between scientists, indicator specialists, policy analysts, program managers and other experts in relevant government departments and agencies. The focus of these reviews begins with the first criterion of policy relevance, since the indicator must be relevant for measuring or estimating trends in the final outcome in the environment by FSDS goal or target area. Considerations then broaden to assess the extent to which an indicator can fully meet the criteria. An "indicator profile" is prepared that captures metadata on the indicators (indicator description, partner contacts, data availability, methodology, caveats, etc.) and documents how an indicator meets the criteria. Information on the limitations of the indicator is included. Data availability, for instance, can often be qualified if coverage is limited or a time series is not available. In some cases, an indicator proceeds even with limitations, given that it is the best available information. Over time, the aim is to bring about indicator improvements to meet the criteria more effectively.

Developing the indicators

For new or improvements to existing indicators, a development process is used along the following steps:

  1. Research and consultation (may be done in sequence or together):
    1. Background research on the issue and measurement strategies to develop one or more options for what parameters will be tracked and how they will be presented. (This may include supplemental work on regional, local and international versions of the indicator if appropriate.)
    2. Consult with science experts and data providers in the issue area to discuss and revise the option(s).
  2. Technical proposals are prepared, based on the indicator profiles and the research and consultations that have been done. These help to document development decisions and to outline methodology direction and rationale (with options if appropriate).
  3. Finalize with partners the data sources and methods for selecting parameters, calculations and reporting the indicators.

Producing the indicators

Indicators proceed through the production process as per the following steps:

  1. Indicator data collection:
    • Data is obtained from source program partners and data transformation processes are confirmed.
    • Data for interactive maps is obtained from source program partners, and this includes relevant mapping data and metadata along with confirmation of data transformation processes and the mechanism for ongoing integration into the CESI mapping application.
  2. Data, Sources and Methods (DSM) documentation:
    • The DSM is developed to present the metadata for the indicator. It includes an indicator rationale, a description of methods, spatial and temporal coverage of the data, and caveats and limitations.
  3. Indicator calculation and content development:
    • The indicator is calculated based on the data obtained from source program partners, and calculated in accordance with the DSM documentation. The indicator content is developed based on the results of the calculation, and by providing contextual interpretation of these results through explanatory text and graphical presentation of the indicator.
  4. Technical review:
    • The indicator content and DSM are provided to source program partners and other relevant partners for their review and comment. Their requested changes are documented in a disposition table that also notes actions taken to address specified comments.
  5. Final approvals:
    • The indicator content and DSM are provided to the management of program partners and Environment Canada senior management for final approvals.
  6. Final production steps and public release:
    • Translation and web product development are completed, including the final production images used for indicator charts and testing of the interactive mapping application. After these steps, the CESI indicator is released publicly.

Underlying all this, Environment Canada undertakes exploratory research to determine if new indicators are possible to fill existing gaps or forthcoming environmental policy priorities detected in national and international fora.

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