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The Edmonton Well-being Index (or GPIs: Genuine Progress Indicators) was commissioned by the chief economist of the City of Edmonton, Canada in 2008 as A system of measuring the progress of the City relative to its 10-year strategic plan (The Way Ahead). The other desired purpose of the GPIs was to inform and guide annual budgeting by the City of Edmonton. The 2008 report was updated for a second time in 2009.

The Edmonton Well-being Index analysis is a replication of the 2001 Alberta GPI (Genuine Progress Indicators) study by the Anielski et. al. of the Pembina Institute; the Alberta GPI was a prototype sustainable well-being accounting system piloted for Alberta using 50 indicators of well-being analyzed over a 40-year study period (1961 to 1999).

The purpose of the Edmonton Wellbeing Index and wellbeing assessment was to answer the following question: Is Edmonton’s economic progress sustainable in terms of other quality of life and well-being conditions?

To help answer this question, the GPI analysis examined the trends and interrelationships of economic growth (measured in terms of real GDP per capita) with 47 other indicators of well-being (see table). The result is a state of well-being account for the City of Edmonton. The 2009 Edmonton GPI accounts of well-being shows a mixture of both positive and negative trends in Edmonton’s economic, social and environmental wellbeing.

Edmonton Genuine Progress Indicators

Economic Social Environmental
Economic growth (real GDP per capita)

Economic diversity

Trade balance

Family median after-tax income

Weekly wage rate

Personal consumption expenditures

Transportation expenditures

Income taxes

Savings rate

Household debt

Value of public infrastructure

Value of household infrastructure

Poverty rate

Income inequality

Unemployment

Underemployment

Paid work time

Unpaid work time

Leisure time

Volunteer time

Commuting time

Life expectancy

Infant mortality

Obesity

Suicide

Youth drug use offences

Auto crashes

Family disputes

Crime rate

Problem gambling

Voter participation

Educational attainment

Conventional crude oil and natural gas reserve life

Oilsands reserve life

Natural gas energy use

Electricity energy use

Agricultural land

Timber sustainability index

Forest fragmentation

Green space

Wetlands

Water quality index

Air quality index

Greenhouse gas emissions

Carbon budget

Hazardous waste

Landfill waste

Ecological footprint

The overall results of the Edmonton GPIs for a single year are set up using a 1-100 index system, so that 48 wellbeing indicators can be compared to each other and across time, indexed based on a base year (1981) or an optimum wellbeing condition for each indicator over time.

The analysis also contrasts Edmonton’s real GDP per capita with a composite Edmonton Wellbeing Index – comprising all 48 economic, social and environmental indicators — as well as the sub-aggregated Economic, Social, Environmental Indices.

The results showed that between 1981 and 2008, Edmonton’s real GDP per capita has risen, albeit irregularly, while the Edmonton Wellbeing Index rose slightly in the early mid-1980s above the 1981 benchmark year, peaked in 1983 then declined steadily hitting a low in 1998. Since 1998, the overall Edmonton Wellbeing Index has been steadily increasing though has not yet reached the 1981 benchmark-year level.

The strategic planning department along with the Chief Economist, found the GPIs/Wellbeing Index very useful for tracking overall economic, social, health and environmental well-being conditions and trends providing decision makers with a high-level overview of well-being of the city providing important context to policy and budgetary decisions and providing citizens with a high-level wellbeing profile. Another key feature of the GPIs was that it provided City strategic planners and analysts the capacity to assess the interrelationships and correlations between key economic indicators and social, health and environmental indicators of well-being. This provided decision makers to conduct ‘what-if’ future projections of well-being. Ultimately it was possible to link well-being indices to municipal programs and services to ascertain impacts and value for municipal capital and operating spending.

Unfortunately, in April of 2012 the Mayor and Council, with recommendations by the City’s Chief Financial Officer, voted against maintaining the Edmonton Wellbeing Index indices for the purposes of informing annual budgeting. This was unfortunate since in 2012, Bhutan had recommended the adoption of a new economic paradigm based on well-being and happiness (The Gross National Happiness Index), to UN members and nations.

Is there a lasting legacy of the Edmonton GPI work?

While the formal Edmonton GPI work and updates to the indicator set ended in 2012, the lasting impact of measuring well-being impacts of policies, programs and services has taken on greater importance in Edmonton. Two examples include the End Poverty Edmonton initiative that resulted in a well-being impact evaluation framework developed for the City of Edmonton that would be the basis of measuring well-being impacts of the various poverty reduction strategies and actions.

A second example of well-being impact analysis is the development of a well-being assessment system for Edmonton’s Capital Region Housing Corporation, which provides affordable housing to 9,000 low-income Edmonton households. Well-being became central to CRHC’s mission statement. A well-being perceptional impact analysis survey was piloted by Anielski with a sample of CRHC residents providing a well-being baseline upon which to measure the future impacts of CRHC’s buildings and programs based on lived well-being experience and perceptions. So, well-being-based decision making has found life within policy portfolios and other programs of the City of Edmonton.

During the period of the Covid-19 pandemic, the City of Edmonton and a new mayor and council, have expressed renewed interest in restoring the GPIs and are interested in exploring a new well-being accounting and reporting system. A suggestion has been made for the City to experiment with a combination of objective well-being indices complimented by a citizen well-being survey of subjective well-being to inform future decision making.

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