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Canada's General Social Survey on Time Use: Challenges and Potential
2. Policy relevance
2.1 Overview of GSS consultation
Each step in the development of the GSS is done through consultations with our federal government partners. In particular, strong relationships have been built with Human Resources and Social Development Canada, Canadian Heritage, Justice Canada, Health Canada and others.
These departments rely heavily on the GSS for social information to better understand the lives and experiences of the Canadians they are mandated to serve. For example, Human Resources and Social Development Canada is mandated to help to strengthen Canada's social foundation by helping families with children, persons with disabilities and seniors. Canadian Heritage is responsible for national policies and programs that promote Canadian content, foster cultural participation and active citizenship. Justice Canada works to ensure that the Canadian justice system is fair, accessible and efficient. It also makes and reforms laws as needed. Health Canada's mission is to help Canadians maintain and improve their health.
In the early stages of development, GSS managers at Statistics Canada speak with other ministry contacts to better understand the emerging interests and needs of the policy departments. Inline with these consultations and the need for time series data, Statistics Canada makes a presentation to the Policy Research Data Gaps (PRDG) group suggesting a topic for the next cycle. The PRDG is an interdepartmental forum for the identification of data gaps and for collaboration in the development of new data products of broad horizontal interest across several federal departments. It has provided part of the funding for the GSS since 1998, along with Statistics Canada. A consultation document is circulated to the policy departments through the Policy Research Initiative (PRI) to discuss the survey needs in more detail. The PRI conducts research in support of the Government of Canada's medium term agenda. (The PRDG is coordinated by the PRI.) At this point, all departments are asked to participate in bilateral consultations on the section(s) of the survey that are of most value to their priorities.
Through the development of the survey, these departments can play different roles. In the early stages of survey development, they usually indicate the policy and program areas that could be improved with better survey data. Later, they often play a subject matter specialist role and provide links to appropriate terminology and knowledgeable researchers. At the time of the qualitative testing and pilot test, interested departments are given a copy of the draft questionnaire for comments. Finally, they are informed of any changes that need to be made to the content after the pilot test, either because the survey is too long or a specific set of questions is not well understood by respondents.
The GSS also consults with its external advisory committees, academics and researchers. The provincial government focal points are also involved early in the consultation process to better understand provincial needs. The focal points are provincial statistical contacts who deliver information (including Statistics Canada data) to provincial government departments. As applicable, divisions within Statistics Canada are also consulted; for example, the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics is very involved in the victimization cycles of the GSS.
2.2 Consultation on time use
As data on time use were last collected in 1998, the 2003 GSS would normally have been devoted to time use. Our federal government department partners, however, expressed a strong interest in the need for a survey on social capital. Time use was intended to be part of the 2003 GSS on social capital. Pilot testing showed, however, that collecting detailed social capital data and a time use diary created an unreasonable respondent burden. For policy relevant reasons, the decision was made to collect comprehensive social capital content and the time use content was deferred to the 2005 cycle.
The development of the 2005 cycle began in the fall of 2003. An initial meeting was held with the PRDG to discuss a proposal for the survey. It was outlined that there were growing calls for an up-to-date time use survey in Canada. Federal government departments had used the time use diary to see how Canadians juggle work, learning, care giving, leisure and other activities in a 24 hour period. It is an important source to better understand the characteristics and impact of unpaid work and time crunch. With the coming retirement of the baby boom generation, data on time use would also support policy discussions in the areas of the labour market, retirement activities and social support.
There was also the possibility of adding some short modules on other topics. In the previous two cycles on time use, the focus content was on cultural and sports participation.
Time use surveys were also important internationally in 2003. The U.S.A. was currently collecting national data for their first time survey and seventeen European nations were participating in the Harmonized European Time Use Survey.
In the late fall, a request was sent to the PRI participants inviting them to participate in discussions with respect to the development of the survey. It was emphasized that Statistics Canada was committed to providing time series comparability with data from the three previous cycles. And as with previous cycles, the survey would include a 24 hour diary that collected detailed information on the respondent's activities during the reference day as well as a complementary diary of child care activities. As with all GSS cycles, information on household characteristics and socio-economic indicators such as education, labour force participation and income would also be collected. Because of the complexity of the time use diary, it was expected that only five minutes of focus content could be added.
A similar message was sent to the provincial focal points at the same time. Input was also obtained from various academics who had done extensive research using time use data.
2.3 Policy relevant content development
The most important requirement that was voiced by all clients was the importance of maintaining time series integrity with the time use data that was collected in 1998 and 1992; and to a lesser extent, the first time use survey in 1986. The following outlines the data needs of the federal government departments who provided input to the consultation phase.
One of Health Canada's policy interests is the well-being of Canada's children. This department has used the 1986, 1992 and 1998 data to show that despite today's pressures, parents of young children are spending more time with them than a decade ago. Healthy living is another important policy objective for Health Canada. The information from the current and previous surveys is helpful to examine whether Canadians who participate in sports activities are healthier. It is also useful in evaluating the relationship between leisure participation and health and well-being. They supported the inclusion of the module on sports and cultural activities.
Lastly, another of this department's responsibilities is the well-being of seniors. It will be using the 2005 data to examine the transportation mobility of seniors; that is to say, their ability to drive and availability of alternative transportation. Barriers to mobility cause loneliness, isolation and reduced quality of life. The addition of the transportation modules, therefore, was also of interest to their analysts.
As part of its responsibility to provide Canadians with the tools they need to prosper in the workplace, the Department of Human Resources and Social Development (HRSDC) is dedicated to establishing a culture of life-long learning. To support policy and program development in this area, the department asked that a series of questions be added on work-related training.
Sport Canada supports the development of the sport system to strengthen the contribution that sport makes to Canadian identity, culture and society. One of its specific goals is to increase the proportion of Canadians who participate in sports. The 1992 and 1998 surveys were the primary source of data for reports on sports participation in Canada. As the department planned to update this report, the maintenance of module on sports participation was important to them.
The modules on participation in cultural activities, amateur sports, voluntarism, sense of belonging and trust were of interest to Canadian Heritage in order to provide them information on social participation at different points in the life cycle. As the culture policies of the department are designed to enhance Canadians' participation in and access to cultural and recreational facilities and products, it uses the time use data to ensure that their policies are meeting changing consumer demands.
One of the recent major projects of the Policy Research Initiative (described above) is to investigate the relevance and usefulness of social capital for the purposes of developing and assessing government programs and policies. The measurability of the resources produced by social networks as a core element of social capital is an important aspect of this project. The PRI was particularly interested in the addition of modules on social networks in C19.
Part of Transport Canada's mandate is to help ensure Canadians have a reliable, safe and sustainable transportation system. The department was interested in questions on access to a vehicle, use of public transportation and reasons why respondents did not use public transportation. How access to transportation influences time use was also of interest.