rainbow banner

Data Stewards

Data Stewards

As communities work to achieve the SDGs, data stewards have a vital role to play. Extending far beyond just data management, data stewardship builds trust and increases the local understanding of key challenges by harnessing the power of data – that is both existing and community-generated. Their work supports communities in making sense of their local realities and driving forward solutions based on data and local insights. Through their dynamic work, these stewards meet immediate needs and lay the groundwork for a future where decisions are informed by community need, impacts are measurable, and progress towards the SDG is achieved together.

Strategies and Activities for Data Stewardship

There is growing interest in the SDGs locally and the kind of data that can be used to measure progress in communities. Data stewards are instrumental in localization processes because they not only help communities to find the data they need, but assist in interpreting and making meaning from the data so that local actions can be taken. How data is used (or not used) in communities is what drives decision making – increasing the utility of data for decision making is the vital work of data stewards. With deep knowledge of communities that surround them, data stewards are helping to craft data driven stories and deliver insights.

Example: Vital Signs – Harnessing the power of data for communities 

VitalSigns is Canada’s most extensive and wide-spread community data program, led by community foundations across the country with national support from Community Foundations of Canada (CFC). In 2017, CFC started to explore how Vital Signs – an already widely used tool for measuring and reporting on community well-being – could be aligned to the SDGs. CFC identified that the SDGs aligned well to existing Vital Signs thematic areas and offered a new perspective on how data could help dive forward the SDG mandate of “leave no one behind” (Timmers & Sidney, 2021). Through network learning and support, CFC shared insights and guidance with community foundations across Canada to connect their Vital Signs reporting to the SDGs. Today, a growing number of communities, like Guelph, Saskatoon, Clayoquot Biosphere Trust among others, have aligned their community Vital Signs reports to the SDGs. These community foundations and their data partners are increasing their capacity for community leadership and data stewardship – supporting a range of SDG actions in their communities.


Timmers, S. and A. Sidney. (2021). Localizing the 2030 Agenda With Community Data: Lessons From the Community Foundations of Canada’s Vital Signs Program. The Foundation Review, 13(4). https://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1591&context=tfr


Data can only drive change if it is accessible to and used by communities. Data stewards can help facilitate widespread access to data by creating and managing the places where data is stored for use by community changemakers in real-time. Digital data platforms designed for local use, can be created and managed by data stewards in the public or non-profit sectors and play an important role in localization. The Tracking Progress Tool developed by International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD) has been designed to support the work of community-based data stewardship – lowering the costs and technical knowledge required to manage and share local data. Tracking progress has been implemented in a number of communities and regions in Canada, including Winnipeg and Victoria to align local data to the SDGs.

Example: London and Middlesex Vital Signs Data Hub

As stewards of community data, London Community Foundation (LCF) not only publishes their Vital Signs reports and supports a Vital Conversation series to increase awareness of these priority areas and how progress is being made across the community. To help make this data more visible and useful to the community, LCF developed the London and Middlesex Vital Signs Data Hub – a digital platform that brings together existing data from sources like the National Health Survey and Census and community-generated data from organizations and agencies working actively towards the SDGs. The LCF managed data hub is unique in how it combined existing and community-generated data to paint a more fulsome picture of SDG progress – highlighting how community actions are moving the needle towards the global goals. As a community grantmaker, LCF is uniquely positioned to gather and share community-generated data from a wide range of organizations across the region and play the role of data steward tracking progress towards the SDGs.

The way that data is gathered, presented and used has the potential to perpetuate inequalities and push those left behind even further back (Jungcurt, 2022). Data stewards play a critical role in helping communities see and measure the factors that push them behind, ensuring that the indicators we rely on for decision making reflect the experiences of those who are most marginalized. Inclusive Monitoring to Leave No One Behind in Canada is a national project aimed at improving how we see and understand who is being left behind through data. This kind of initiative, and the information provided is valuable to local data stewards as they work to develop tools, methodologies and resources to find, validate and share data that reflects the experiences of marginalized groups in their own communities.

Example: Unseen Commuters – Stories and data highlight local experiences of mobility injustice

Cover of Unseen Commuters book

Emerging from a research collaboration in London, Ontario, a data inspired resource brought forward evidence of the challenge through a series of fictional stories inspired by real life experiences. The free e-book was designed to help demonstrate how individuals experiencing mobility poverty are stripped of  fundamental human rights including the right to safety, freedom of movement and the right to live. The challenges that many of us face because of mobility poverty are not new. However communicating the true impact is challenging with available data and numbers often falling short. As a result, people living with mobility poverty and their lived experiences are still invisible. By bringing together data and stories, the book aims to demonstrate both the breadth and depth of the issue and highlight existing data gaps and make critical connections to the SDGs.


Jungcurt, S. (May 22, 2024). Citizen-Generated Data: Data by people, for people. International Institute for Sustainable Development. https://www.iisd.org/articles/insight/citizen-generated-data-people

Tracking Progress Tool, International Institute for Sustainable Development. https://www.tracking-progress.org/

Vital Signs Guidebook for Canadian Community Foundations, Community Foundations of Canada. https://communityfoundations.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/EN-Vital-Signs-Toolkit-2023.pdf 

LIP Data: A resource for data and information about Local Immigration Partnerships (LIPs) across Canada. International Institute for Sustainable Development. https://lipdata.ca/

Inclusive Monitoring to Leave No One Behind in Canada. International Institute for Sustainable Development. https://www.iisd.org/projects/inclusive-monitoring-leave-no-one-behind-Canada

Bern Data Compact for the Decade of Action on the Sustainable Development Goals. United Nations World Data Forum.https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/hlg/Bern_Data_Compact_October_6_2021.pdf

See the SDG Changemaker Library for more relevant resources.

Convening for SDG Localization in Mid-Sized Cities

Mid-sized cities have been identified as places where innovative approaches to social and economic transformation are emerging. Across Canada these mid-sized cities – ranging in size from 50,000 and 500,0000 people – are incredibly diverse with adaptive qualities which offer opportunities to develop, test and co-create strategies for sustainable development.

Designed and delivered with this context in mind, SDG Cities demonstrated how the SDGs could be activated in mid-sized cities to make progress on SDG localization. 10C Shared Space and the Pillar Nonprofit Network worked locally to increase understanding of the SDGs and their relevance to local communities. By sharing local stories of SDG action and integrating SDG language into their own program impact communications and storytelling, both 10C and Pillar demonstrated how the SDGs could truly be used as a “shared language”.  By tapping into the strength of their existing networks 10C and Pillar supported SDG action within their communities and beyond. Raising awareness about the SDGs amongst local changemakers by hosting “Vote for the SDGs” election town halls at 10C or Pillar’s #PolicyTalks which introduced local nonprofits to the SDGs as collective advocacy tool. Informed by the needs of local changemakers, they also developed knowledge hubs and learning opportunities, such as SDGs 101, and a series of SDG training sessions as part of the SDG Cities Academy.