Document Analysis

SEPN’s document analysis research compiles and analyzes existing documents and empirical data sets to examine policy dynamics in Kindergarten-Grade 12 (K-12) and Post-secondary Education (PSE) in relation to sustainability issues.

Read SEPN’s publications and learn more about SEPN’s impact.


  • Examine non-sustainability-specific and sustainability-specific policy to better understand how ministries of education and school divisions (K-12), post-secondary institutions (PSE), and Indigenous Education contexts are engaging with sustainability
  • Reporting on controversial issues in sustainability in formal education, including PSE fossil fuel divestment and K-12 eco-certifications research, which arose in response to current events and heavy media focus


This document outlines SEPN’s document analysis methods in detail. Codebooks are also available for General Documents and Sustainability-Specific Documents.

Overview of Document Analysis Projects

Sustainability Census of Canadian Ministries of Education and School Divisions

Educational institutions are a critical venue for teaching and motivating students to understand and act on sustainability issues. In Canada, provincial or territorial ministries of education, working with local school divisions, are responsible for the organization, delivery, and assessment of K-12 education.

To date, there has been little study of the inclusion of sustainability in education across Canada at the ministry of education or school division levels. To address this research gap, SEPN-Canada conducted a nation-wide census to examine sustainability uptake in the policies of all 13 provincial and territorial ministries of education and all 374 K-12 school divisions across Canada.

The research team collected policies, strategic plans, overarching curriculum guides/frameworks, and annual reports for all ministries of education and school divisions. Five sustainability domains were used to classify the documents collected:

  1. Governance
  2. Curriculum
  3. Operations
  4. Research
  5. Community Outreach

Sustainability Initiative (SI) scores were calculated for all school divisions in a province. The following sustainability-related variables were used to calculate the SI scores:

  • A sustainability policy
  • Mandates related to sustainability or environmental certification programs
  • Sustainability staff

Sustainability Census of Canadian Post-secondary Education

SEPN-Canada collected and analyzed publicly available data on sustainability initiatives for all Canadian accredited 220 post-secondary institutions and developed SI Scores to rank institutional uptake of four high-level sustainability initiatives:

  • Undertaking a sustainability assessment
  • Signing a national or international environmental or sustainability declaration
  • Having a sustainability office or officer
  • Having a sustainability policy

Policy Document Content Analysis

SEPN-Canada has analyzed sustainability specific and non-sustainability-specific policy documents from all 13 provincial and territorial ministries of education and a sample of 50 PSE institutions.

  • For non-sustainability specific high-level documents, SEPN examined key themes and priorities indicated in the documents including priorities as suggested in the policies’ text, how those priorities link to broader government policy, and how other priorities are being articulated in relation to (or not) priorities of sustainability
  • Sustainability-specific documents underwent a parallel content analysis, with a focus on sustainability-specific themes and language in policies and plans including approaches to sustainability and points of definitional trajectories, policy mobility, and points of tension among approaches

Document Analysis Databases

SEPN-Canada has conducted several systematic literature reviews and carried out large-scale, national-level data collection to collect relevant policy documents. As a result, SEPN has created a substantial data management network and has a wide array of database resources at its disposal, including:

Type of DatabaseDescription of DatabaseNumber of Articles
Literature Review DatabasesSystematic literature review on policy and sustainability/environmental education in K-12292
Systematic literature review of educational research on sustainability in PSE117
Review of survey research design, questionnaire design, and data collection methods102
Review of methods for researching inter-organizational networks150
DatabasesHighest level non-sustainability-specific and sustainability-specific documents from all provincial and territorial ministries of education and AANDC (e.g., annual reports, curriculum foundational documents)106
A census of sustainability features in all 220 Canadian accredited PSE institutionsN/A
A census of sustainability features in all 13 ministries of education and all 389 school divisions N/A
All university- and college-wide sustainability policies/plans from all the 110 Canadian PSE institutions with sustainability policies/plans 115
Strategic plans and other foundational documents, including completed sustainability assessments, from a sample of 50 PSE institutions in all 13 provinces and territories200+
All highest-level policy documents from each provincial and territorial ministry in Canada, including mission statements, the ministry’s key act, and other high-level policy documents415
High-level non-sustainability and sustainability document database of Canadian federal government & Pan-Canadian sustainability documents 82
High-level document database of international documents regarding sustainability in education47