This article seeks to address knowledge gaps on sustainability indicators (SIs) in rural and natural resource-dependent communities, considering how they are used to contextualize sustainable development priorities and support local governance. We build on recent scholarship on the potentials of SIs for stimulating societal transformation, extending this inquiry into rural and resource-based communities which have been under-represented in SI research. The governance challenges facing rural Canada, as well as its geographic and socio-economic diversity, provide a unique context for examining these issues. We provide relatively uncommon synthetic findings by compiling an inventory of SI initiatives across 39 rural communities and regions of Canada. Using the Community Capital Framework, we examine grey literature and academic publications related to each initiative spanning from 1999–2019 to determine the breadth of sustainable development priorities considered. Informed by collaborative and multi-level governance frameworks, we explore how these initiatives are used to support multi-stakeholder collective action. This article finds that rural Canadian SI initiatives prioritize socio-cultural capital, with relatively fewer economic and ecological indicators, while identifying a typology of SI use and inter-related governance dynamics informing how these priorities and indicators are determined. Although some initiatives display highly collaborative and bottom-up processes, many rural Canadian SI initiatives are characterized by a data-driven approach that, when met with local capacity gaps, fails to contextualize standardized datasets to reflect rural realities. We encourage more in-depth investigation of these findings and comparison of Canadian experiences to other jurisdictions.
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