Surveys conducted by government organizations, private or not-for-profit organizations, or academic researchers are a common source of data for research. Each piece of data collected about a survey respondent is referred to as a variable, and each individual’s response is referred to as a case. Surveys may be cross-sectional (a snapshot of the respondents at one point in time) or longitudinal (repeated observations of the same respondents over a period of time.
Statistics Canada is the primary source of Canadian survey data, which is available in aggregate or microdata forms:
Aggregate data is often presented in tables, reports, or maps that provide a thematic overview or analysis of the survey results. The Statistics Canada Data page is a good source of aggregate data.
Microdata consists of the individual survey responses. Statistics Canada provides data from many of their surveys in Public Use Microdata Files (PUMFs). Some variables are excluded or grouped in PUMFs to protect respondent confidentiality.* UBC's Abacus data repository is a good place to find Statistics Canada PUMFs.
Survey data is accompanied by documentation to help you interpret it. Consult the user's guide, data dictionary, and other documentation for information about survey methodology and variables.
* Researchers who need more detail than the PUMFs may apply for access to Statistics Canada Master Files (this is not generally available for undergraduate work). See Research Data Centres for more information.
Administrative data is created as a result of life events or routine health care - sources include records of births and deaths, education, marriage, employment, visits to healthcare providers, and use of services or medications.
Much Canadian health data is not publicly accessible, and publicly available datasets may lack the detail you need to answer your research question. You may be able to request data from organizations such as PopDataBC, CIHI, or the Canadian Research Data Centres Network. Note that applying for data access requires a formal proposal, may take several weeks to process, and may cost money (student fee waivers may be available). Check for publicly available data first - see selected sources for Canada and BC.
Journalists, researchers, business owners, and citizens file Access to Information requests (in BC and other jurisdictions, called Freedom of Information requests) to gain access to unpublished government records. The resources below give guidance on making these requests.
Please note that FOI / ATIP requests may come with a cost, and it may take months or years to receive a response. It is best to be very specific about the records you are requesting, and do a thorough search of existing public information first (see Related Guides for selected sources to search or ask your librarian).