Exploring Community Well-being: Understanding and Supporting Rural Development

By: Dr. Wayne Kelly
July 14, 2023

Community well-being refers to the quality of life and happiness within a community. It is often used interchangeably with terms like quality of life, life satisfaction, and vitality. Community well-being can either be seen as a combination of individual well-being and happiness or as a separate concept representing the whole community.

Because of its similarities to other ideas related to quality of life and life satisfaction, as well as the different approaches to understanding well-being, there is no agreed-upon or established definition of community well-being.

Most definitions of community well-being focus on social, physical, and economic health of a community, the happiness of the individuals living there, the available amenities, and the quality of the natural and surrounding environment. Rather than focusing on a specific definition, it is often more helpful to concentrate on these characteristics or core elements of well-being in frameworks or measurement tools. For example, in Canada, the Canadian Index of Well-being is a popular framework that focuses on qualities like healthy and thriving populations, the ability to make collective decisions, and access to leisure and cultural activities.

At the national level, well-being is increasingly important for governments when evaluating and planning development. The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) has developed measurement tools and frameworks to assess the impact and benefits of policies on rural well-being in countries like Australia, Israel, and Wales. At the national level there are numerous examples of well-being frameworks as well. The OECD has also created a framework for measuring well-being and progress.

Furthermore, the concept of well-being is gaining prominence within the context of economic development. Six countries, including Scotland, Finland, Wales, New Zealand, Iceland, and Canada, have formed an alliance around the idea of a well-being economy as a core pillar for future growth and development. These countries recognize the importance of delivering human and ecological well-being in the 21st century. It is noteworthy that Finland, Iceland, and New Zealand rank among the top ten happiest countries according to the 2023 World Happiness Report. Increased attention to well-being through policy, evaluation frameworks, and economic strategies demonstrates that countries understand the significance of quality of life, happiness, and well-being for individuals and communities.

When considering well-being at the community level, there is a current emphasis on how to measure it. The Canadian Index of Well-being is one approach based on a framework with eight different domains and eight indicators in each domain, resulting in 64 well-being indicators. Other approaches to measuring well-being were shared at a recent panel during the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation’s conference. These different approaches included tailored regional or provincial approaches to well-being in BC and PEI, the adoption of the Canadian Standard’s Association rural standards for well-being in Ontario and an overview of the rural proximity and quality of life measures from Statistics Canada. All of these approaches had valuable insights and indicators for measuring rural well-being. 

At RDI (the Rural Development Institute), we share a strong emphasis on well-being. Our research, projects, and written work revolve around various aspects of well-being, and previous posts have focused on the connection between outdoor recreation and well-being and the intersection between well-being and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At RDI, we have a particular interest in comprehending community well-being at the local and regional levels within rural areas. While general definitions and common frameworks for measuring community well-being are valuable and can provide guidance, we are increasingly convinced that community well-being is best defined at the local level. Communities are best able to identify what community well-being truly means to them and determine the specific dimensions of well-being that require local measurement and understanding. RDI is enthusiastic about collaborating with communities and partners to deepen our knowledge and provide support for well-being within the context of rural development.

Stay tuned for more reflections on well-being and for research on its role in rural development!

OECD Rural Well-being

OECD Well-being Dashboard

Well-being Economy Governments

World Happiness Report 2023


Moving In, Moving On & Moving Up: Living Well in Rural Canada 2023 Conference

Measuring Well-being in Rural Places panel https://pheedloop.com/EVESBHKSTXEQT/site/sessions/?id=SES3JSCKBBA4QH2ET 

RDI Imaginig Rural Futures Blog posts