Author Archives: Alexander Taciuk

Twitter Chat: Civic Participation on the Geoweb

We Grow Food Trading Table ...   #FoodisFree #WeGrowFood

For her Ph.D. research, Victoria Fast explored how urban food assets can be crowdsourced onto the geoweb — civic participation in action.

All cylinders were firing by the time we wrapped up our Nov. 23 Twitter chat on meaningful civic participation on the geoweb. There were many parallel conversations that we hope will continue among participants and the wider Geothink community into the future. Here we share a few highlights, as well as a transcript of the chat.

  • We should ask what criteria define “civic participation”? Even passive or unknowing involvement may qualify as meaningful participation.
  • Intermediaries (infomediaries) are major mediators of the geoweb — leading projects, supporting learning, and providing citizens with tools and open data access. Librarians were identified as important infomediaries.
  • The geoweb can enable citizen participation on all levels of ‘meaning’. Yet we need to be mindful of who is being left out & not blame the excluded.
  • There can be different benefits from short-term engagements such as hackathons and long-term involvement such as contributing to OpenStreetMap. But both can trigger enduring civic interest.
  • It can be useful to consider when geoweb contributions using open data do not qualify as civic participation.
  • Both time-decay (sustainability) and distance-decay (activities concentrating around intermediary’s location) are issues that can affect civic participation on the geoweb.

Transcript

 

 

Local News Research Project map of Toronto news coverage

Crosspost: How is your Toronto neighbourhood portrayed in the news? Check it out using these interactive maps

This post is cross-posted with permission from April Lindgren and Christina Wong at Local News Research Project. 

By April Lindgren and Christina Wong

Introduction
Concerns about how neighbourhoods are portrayed in the news have surfaced regularly in the Toronto area over the years. But are those concerns valid?

Interactive maps produced by the The Local News Research Project (LNRP) at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism are designed to help Toronto residents answer this question. The maps give the public access to data the research project collected on local news coverage by the Toronto Star and the online news website OpenFile.ca. The maps can be used by members of the public and researchers to:

  • get an overall sense of where news in the city is – and isn’t – covered
  • compare patterns of local news coverage by two different news organizations
  • examine the city-wide geographic patterns of reporting on crime, entertainment and other major news topics
  • examine news coverage in each of Toronto’s 44 wards including how often the news stories and photographs reference locations in a ward
  • see what story topics are covered in each ward

The maps are based on the Toronto Star’s local news coverage published on 21 days between January and August, 2011. Researchers have found that a two-week sample of news is generally representative of news coverage over the course of a year (Riffe, Aust & Lacy, 1993). The data for OpenFile.ca, which suspended publishing in 2012, were collected for every day in 2011 between January and August.

Click here to see the maps or continue reading to find out more about news coverage and neighbourhood stereotyping, how the maps work, and the role of open data sources in this project.

 

Local news and neighbourhood stereotyping
The decision to explore news coverage of Toronto neighbourhoods was prompted by concerns expressed by citizens and local politicians about how certain parts of the city are portrayed in the local media. Residents were furious (Pellettier, Brawley & Yuen, 2013), for instance, when Toronto Star columnist Rosie Dimanno referred to the city’s Scarborough area as “Scarberia” in an article about former mayor Rob Ford’s re-election campaign (DiManno, 2013). Back in 2007, then-mayor David Miller went so far as to contact all of the city’s news media asking them to cite the nearest main intersection rather than reporting more generally that a particular crime occurred in Scarborough (Maloney, 2007). In Toronto’s west end, the local city councillor suggested negative connotations associated with the Jane and Finch neighbourhood could be diffused by renaming it University Heights, but the idea was vehemently rejected by residents (Aveling, 2009).

A study that investigated how Toronto’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods were covered by the Toronto Star concluded that there was very little coverage of news in these communities (Lindgren, 2009). The study, which examined Toronto Star local news reporting in 2008, also found that crime tended to dominate the limited coverage that did take place and suggested the problem could be rectified not by ignoring crime stories, but by increasing coverage of other sorts of issues in those communities.

 

Exploring the maps
The interactive maps allow users to explore local news coverage in the City of Toronto. A sample of local stories and photographs from the Toronto Star (the local newspaper with the largest circulation in the city) and OpenFile.ca (a community-based news website) were identified and analyzed in 2011 to capture data about story topics and mentions of geographic locations.

These maps make the data available to the public in a way that allows users to explore and compare media coverage in different areas of the city. Users can zoom in on a neighbourhood and discover all of the locations referenced within a neighbourhood. Each point on the map represents a location that was referenced in one or more news items. Users can click on any of these points to see a list of news articles associated with each location (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Users can click each point to find out about the news articles that referenced the location
Figure 1. Users can click each point to find out about the news articles that referenced the location

By clicking within a ward boundary, users can also access a summary chart describing the breakdown by subject of all local news coverage in that ward. Users interested in the Scarborough area, for instance, can zoom into that area on the map and click on each Scarborough ward to see what sorts of stories (crime, transit, entertainment, sports, etc.) were reported on in that ward (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Users can click within a ward to access charts summarizing news coverage by topic
Figure 2. Users can click within a ward to access charts summarizing news coverage by topic

Users interested in how and where a particular news topic is covered can access separate interactive maps for the top five subjects covered by the two news sources. Figure 3, for example, shows all locations mentioned in crime and policing stories published by the Toronto Star during the study’s sample period.

Figure 3. Toronto Star coverage of crime and policing news
Figure 3. Toronto Star coverage of crime and policing news

The role of open data sources in creating these maps
A total of 23 pre-existing datasets were used to support the creation of these interactive maps including relevant open datasets that were publically available online in 2008. The datasets were used to populate a list of geographic locations in the GTA that had the potential to be referenced in local news stories. Each dataset was assigned unique numerical codes and all 23 datasets were appended to a geographic reference table that coders could search. The incorporated reference list of geographic locations and features allowed for a more accurate and efficient coding process: Coders entering information about spatial references in local news items were able to select many of the referenced geographic locations from the pre-populated list rather than entering the information manually. This improved accuracy because it helped prevent human error and also sped up the coding process.

We would have preferred to use more open data sources during the initial development of the database, but this wasn’t possible due to limited availability of datasets with the spatial attributes that make mapping possible. At that time, only two of the 23 datasets used (approximately 8.7% of the total) were available from open data sources in a format that included geography (such as shapefiles). Both files were obtained from the City of Toronto’s Open Data website. These limitations meant that the majority of the database relied on contributions from private data sources.

The situation has improved over time as more open government data become available in geographic file formats that support research with spatial analysis. As of mid-2015, six more of the 23 datasets (two federal, one provincial and three municipal) used in the database have become available. If we were creating the database today, a total of eight datasets or 34.8% of the initial database could be populated using open data sources (Table 1).

Table 1. Availability of open data sources
Available in 2008 when the database was created Currently available
Private sources 21 15
Government open data 2   (8.7% of database) 8 (34.8% of database)
Total # of datasets 23 23

 

Since 2008, the Government of Canada has launched its own open data portal, joined the Open Government Partnership alongside other countries supporting the release of open government data, and adopted the G8 Open Data Charter (Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, 2014). Provincial and municipal governments have made similar improvements to open data access. The Government of Ontario launched an online open data catalogue in 2012 and is currently developing an Open Data Directive to be implemented later this year (Fraser, 2015). The City of Toronto introduced its open data portal in 2009 and developed an Open Data Policy in 2012 (City of Toronto, n.d.).

As Table 1 suggests, however, further improvements are required to reduce barriers to research and innovation. A report from the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, for instance, recommended that the federal government provide data at smaller levels of geography, work together with different levels of government to establish standards and release data, and provide a greater variety of open data to reflect all government departments. The report noted that the release of open data can improve government efficiency, foster citizen engagement, and encourage innovation (Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, 2014). Academic researchers have argued that improvements in the availability of open government data would stimulate valuable research and outcomes with economic and social value (Jetzek, Avital & Bjorn-Andersen, 2014; Kucera, 2015; Zuiderwijk, Janssen & Davis, 2014). Journalists are also pushing for easier and greater access to data (Schoenhoff & Tribe, 2014).

 

Conclusion
Research conducted by the Local News Research Project was made possible by public funds and as such the data should be widely available. The interactive maps are an attempt to fulfill that obligation.

While the maps capture only a snapshot of news coverage at a fixed point in time, they nonetheless demonstrate the importance of geospatial analysis in local news research (Lindgren & Wong, 2012). They are also a powerful data visualization tool that allows members of the public to independently explore media portrayals of neighbourhoods and the extent to which some parts of a city are represented in the news while others are largely ignored.

Finally, this mapping project also illustrates how open government data can foster research and how much there is still to do in terms of making data available to the public in useful formats.

 

The Local News Research Project was established in 2007 to explore the role of local news in communities. Funding for this research has been provided by Ryerson University, CERIS-The Ontario Metropolis Centre and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

About the authors: Lindgren is an Associate Professor in Ryerson University’s School of Journalism and Academic Director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. Christina Wong is a graduate of Ryerson University’s Geographic Analysis program. Initial work on the maps was done in 2014 by GEO873 students Cory Gasporatto, Lorenzo Haza, Eaton Howitt and Kevin Wink from Ryerson University’s Geographic Analysis program.

 

References

Avaling, N. (2009, January 8). Area now being called University Heights, but some call change a rejection of how far we’ve come. Toronto Star, p. A10.

City of Toronto. (n.d.). Open Data Policy. Retrieved from http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=7e27e03bb8d1e310VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD

DiManno, R. (2013, July 6). Ford fest makes a strategic move. Toronto Star, p. A2.

Jetzek, T., Avital, M. & Bjorn-Andersen, N. (2014). Data-driven innovation through open government data. Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research, 9(2), 100-120.

Fraser, D. (2015, May 1). Ontario announces more open data, public input. St. Catharines Standard. Retrieved from http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2015/05/01/ontario-announces-more-open-data-public-input

Kucera, J. (2015). Open government data publication methodology. Journal of Systems Integration, 6(2), 52-61.

Lindgren, A. (2009). News, geography and disadvantage: Mapping newspaper coverage of high-needs neighbourhoods in Toronto, Canada. Canadian Journal of Urban Research, 18(1), 74-97.

Lindgren, A. & Wong, C. (2012). Want to understand local news? Make a map. 2012 Journalism Interest Group proceedings. Paper presented at Congress 2012 of the Humanities and Social Sciences conference. Retrieved from http://cca.kingsjournalism.com/?p=169

Maloney, P. (2007, January 16). Mayor sticks up for Scarborough. Toronto Star. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/news/2007/01/16/mayor_sticks_up_for_scarborough.html?referrer=

Pellettier, A., Brawley, D. & Yuen, S. (2013, July 11). Don’t call us Scarberia [Letter to the editor]. Toronto Star. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editors/2013/07/11/dont_call_us_scarberia.html

Riffe, D., Aust, C. F. & Lacy, S. R. (1993). The effectiveness of random, consecutive day and constructed week sampling. Journalism Quarterly, 70, 133-139.

Schoenhoff, S. & Tribe, L. (2014). Canada continues to struggle in Newspapers Canada’s annual FOI audit [web log post]. Retrieved from https://cjfe.org/blog/canada-continues-struggle-newspapers-canada%E2%80%99s-annual-foi-audit

Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. (2014). Open data: The way of the future: Report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. Retrieved from http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/hoc/Committee/412/OGGO/Reports/RP6670517/oggorp05/oggorp05-e.pdf

Zuiderwijk, A., Janssen, M. & Davis, C. (2014). Innovation with open data: Essential elements of open data ecosystems. Information Polity, 19(1, 2), 17-33.

Call for Papers (Book): Geoweb Policy, Law, and Ethics

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Hello everyone,

We are putting together a draft prospectus for consideration by the University of Ottawa Press for their Law, Technology and Media book series. The edited volume will focus on the legal, policy, regulatory, and ethical issues arising from the geoweb. Anticipated issues that the volume will cover include privacy, surveillance, IP, licensing, open data, the public/private divide, citizen engagement, and governance.

We seek brief expressions of interest for chapters. Please send to both Elizabeth and Leslie, by August 30, a chapter title and a short (150-200 word) abstract for our consideration.

Thank you,
Leslie and Elizabeth

Crosspost: Green Cities and Smart Cities: The potential and pitfalls of digitally-enabled green urbanism

The Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC, Canada was the world's first LEED Platinum-certified convention center.  It also has one of the largest green roofs in Canada. Image Credit:  androver / Shutterstock.com

The Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, BC, Canada was the world’s first LEED Platinum-certified convention center. It also has one of the largest green roofs in Canada. Image Credit: androver / Shutterstock.com

This post is cross-posted with permission from Alexander Aylett, from UGEC Viewpoints. Aylett is an Assistant Professor at the Centre on Urbanisation, Culture and Society at the National Institute for Scientific Research (UCS-INRS) in Montreal, Quebec.

By Alexander Aylett

Since its early days, the discourse around “smart cities” has included environmental sustainability as one of its core principles. The application of new digital technologies to urban spaces and processes is celebrated for its ability to increase the well-being of citizens while reducing their environmental impacts. But this engagement with sustainability has been limited to a technocratic focus on energy systems, building efficiency, and transportation. It has also privileged top-down interventions by local government actors. For all its novelty, the smart cities discussion is operating with a vision of urban sustainability that dates from the 1990s, and an approach to planning from the 1950s.

This definition of “urban sustainability” overlooks key facets of a city’s ecological footprint (such as food systems, resource consumption, production related greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, and the urban heat island effect). It also ignores the ability of non-state actors to contribute meaningfully to the design and implementation of urban policies and programs. But that doesn’t need not be the case. In fact, if employed properly, new information technologies seem like ideal tools to address some of urban sustainability’s most persistent challenges.

Progress and Lasting Challenges in Local Climate Governance

Let’s take a step back. Often discussions of smart cities begin with an account of the capabilities of specific technologies or interfaces and then imagine urbanism – and urban sustainability – through the lense of those technologies. I’d like to do the opposite: beginning with the successes and lasting challenges faced by urban sustainability and interpreting the technologies from within that context. To understand the role that “smart” technologies could play in enabling sustainable cities, it’s useful to first look at what we have managed to accomplish so far, and what still needs to be done.

For those of us working on sustainable cities and urban responses to climate change, the past two decades have been a period of both amazing successes and enduring challenges. In the early 1990s a handful of cities began promoting the (at that time) counterintuitive idea that local governments had a key role to play in addressing global climate change. Since then, the green cities movement has won significant discursive, political, and technical battles.

Global inter-municipal organizations like ICLEI or the C40 now have memberships that represent thousands of cities. Two decades of work have created planning standards and tools and an impressive body of “best practice” literature. Through the sustained efforts of groups like ICLEI, cities are now recognized as official governmental stakeholders in the international climate change negotiations coordinated by the United Nations.

But – crucially – real urban emissions reductions are lagging well below what is needed to help keep global CO2 within safe limits. Looking at the efforts of individual cities and the results of a global Urban Climate Change Governance survey that I conducted while at MIT (Aylett 2014, www.urbanclimatesurvey.com ) shows why. Apart from a small contingent of charismatic cities like Vancouver, Portland, or Copenhagen, cities are struggling to move beyond addressing the “low hanging fruit” of emission from municipal facilities ( i.e., vehicle fleet, municipal buildings, street lighting – known as “corporate emissions”) to taking action on the much more significant emissions generated by the broader urban community (i.e., business, industry, transportation, and residential emissions).

This problem has been with us since the early days of urban climate change responses. But how we understand it has changed significantly. Where some cities used to inventory only their corporate emissions, this is now rare. Current guidelines cover community-wide emissions and work is underway to create a global standard for emissions inventories that will also engage with emissions produced in the manufacture of the goods and services consumed within cities (see Hoornweg et al. 2011).

Built on the increased scope of our technical understanding of urban emissions, is a change in how we understand the work of governing climate change at the local level. A top-down vision of climate action focused on the regulatory powers of isolated local government agencies is being replaced by one that is horizontal, relational, and collaborative. This approach transforms relationships both inside and outside of local governments, by linking together traditionally siloized municipal agencies and also forging partnerships with civil-society and business actors (Aylett 2015).

The increased prominence of non-state actors in urban climate change governance has led to growing calls for partnerships across the public-private divide (Osofsky et al. 2007; Andonova 2010; Bontenbal and Van Lindert 2008). These partnerships play an important role in overcoming gaps in capacity, translating the climate change impacts and response options into language that is meaningful to different groups and individuals, and accelerating the development of solutions. Follow-up analysis of the 2014 MIT-ICLEI Climate survey shows that these partnerships have an important positive impact on the scope of concrete emissions reductions. Cities with stronger partnerships appear to be more able to create concrete emissions reductions outside of areas directly controlled by the municipality.

The street car in Portland, Oregon, USA.   Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

The street car in Portland, Oregon, USA. Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

This evolution in approaches to climate change planning follows a broader current in urban planning more generally which, since the 1960s have moved away from expert driven and technocratic processes and created increasing amounts of space for participatory processes and facilitative government.

In a nutshell, an increasingly complex and holistic technical understanding of urban emissions is being matched by an increasing horizontal and networked approach to governing those emissions. (A similar shift is taking place in the more recent attention to urban adaptation and resilience.)

But plans and programs based on this understanding quickly run into the significant barriers of institutional siloization and path dependency, a lack of effective information sharing, challenges of data collection and analysis, and difficulty mobilizing collective and collaborative action across multiple diverse and dispersed actors (Aylett 2014). The strength of collaborative multi-stakeholder responses is also their weakness. While effective climate change action may not be possible without complex networks of governance, coordinating these networks is no simple task. The subject of urban climate change governance has been the focus of an expanding body of research (Aylett 2015, 2014, 2013; Betsill & Bulkeley 2004, 2007; Burch 2010; Burch et al. 2013; Romero-Lankao et al. 2013.)

“Smart” Urban Climate Governance

Seen from this perspective, the allure of “smart” approaches to green cities is precisely the fact that information technology tools seem so well suited to the challenges that have stalled progress so far. Collecting, sharing and analysing new and existing data, and coordinating complex multi-scalar social networks of collaborative design and implementation are precisely what has drawn attention to new technologies in other sectors.

Disappointingly, current applications of a data-driven and technologically enabled approach to urban sustainability are far from delivering on this potential. Reading through the literature shows that the many interesting works that address the impacts of new technologies on urban governance (for example Elwood 2010, Evans-Cowley 2010, Goldsmith and Crawford 2015, Moon 2002) have nothing to say about the governance of urban sustainability. Work that does address environmental sustainability is dominated by a technocratic focus on energy systems, building efficiency, and transportation that privileges top-down action by municipal experts and planning elites (The Climate Group 2008, Boorsma & Wagener 2007, Kim et al. 2009, Villa & Mitchell 2009). This literature review is ongoing, and I continue to hope to find a body of work that combines a developed understanding of urban sustainability with a detailed reflection on digital governance. As it is, we seem to be working with outdated approaches to both urban sustainability and planning.

An off-shore wind farm near Copenhagen, Denmark. Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

An off-shore wind farm near Copenhagen, Denmark. Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

How to update this approach, and use the full potential of data-driven, technologically enabled, and participatory approaches to spur accelerated transitions to sustainable cities is a key question. This research is necessary if we are going to unlock the full potential of the “smart” urbanism to address the necessity of building sustainable cities. It is also important that we avoid rolling back the clock on two decades of “green cities” research by basing our digital strategies around outdated understandings of the urban sustainability challenge.

Conclusions

Cities are responsible for as much as 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions and consume 75 percent of the world’s energy (Satterthwaite 2008). These figures are often repeated. But taking action at that scale requires both technological and socio-institutional innovations. Efforts to reduce urban emissions are challenged by the complexity of coordinating broad coalitions of action across governmental, private, and civil-society actors, and the need to effectively collect, share, and analyse new and existing data from across these traditionally siloized sectors.

These complexities have played an important role in limiting actual urban emissions reductions far below what is needed to stabilize global emissions within a safe range. Interestingly, these complexities are also the very strengths of emerging information and communications technologies (ICT) tools and Geoweb enabled approaches to urban planning and implementation. Currently, the use of “smart” approaches to address the urban climate challenge has been limited to narrow and technocratic initiatives. But much more is possible. If effective bridges can be built between the ICT and Urban Sustainability sectors, a profound shift in approaches to the urban governance of climate change could be possible. It is important to increase both sustainability and digital literacy among those involved. Only then will innovations in urban sustainability benefit from a deep understanding of both the new tools at our disposal, and the complex challenge to which we hope to apply them.

(A previous version of this was presented as part of the Geothink pre-event at the 2015 American Association of Geographers conference in Chicago. IL. See: www.geothink.ca)

Alexander Aylett is Assistant Professor at the Centre on Urbanisation, Culture and Society at the National Institute for Scientific Research (UCS-INRS) in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Geothink Newsletter Issue 6

Inside, we speak with our partners at the City of Edmonton about their innovative Open City Initiative, bid farewell to Nova Scotia Community Counts (NSCC), learn about the users of the NSCC data, examine the best practices for countries’ open data portals and more!

If you or your Geothink-related organization would like to be featured in the next newsletter, do not hesitate to get in touch with Peck Sangiambut. We are always looking for new submissions.

Geothink Newsletter Issue 6

Torts of the Geoweb: (or the liability question) Part I

Screenshot

Mapping Ottawa’s open data on tobogganing hills (Photo courtesy of ottawastart.com)

By Tenille Brown, PhD student in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa

Recently, on March 3rd as part of the continuing Geothink Project, I hosted a Twitter chat about tort liability with Mapping Mashups. This online forum was joined by Geothink partners and friends and the primary topic discussed was the role of tort law and how and where it fits in the context of the Geoweb, liability and moral responsibility. One active participant of this Twitter discussion was British academic Muki Haklay, a collaborator on the Geothink project more broadly, and Haklay later wrote up some highlights from this discussion, available here. I have been considering the role of tort liability in multiple contexts for some time now, both prior to the online discussion and subsequent to it. I have not been thinking of this idea so much in a typical “finding a problem” lawyerly way, but more in a “trying to understand the allocation of responsibility” kind of way. From the legal perspective, questions about how we should handle the mountains of data collected and produced by governments and citizens alike, jumps out at me. For these reasons I chose to place the focus of the Twitter chat on tort liability rather than the challenges of protecting the privacy of personal information, or copyright issues in geospatial information, which have been discussed elsewhere.

With the increase in platforms and data sources (both government and volunteered) on the geoweb, there is also an increase in opportunities for legal liability to attach to this information. With Canadian cities releasing data sets of all types of information, from proposed roadways to beach water sampling data, the liability question is not hypothetical, but of increasing importance. Of course, cities are carrying out their due-diligence by ensuring personal information does not get released, following the principles of the open government license. But still, some questions remain to be answered such as, what legal tools are in place to deal with third parties who take government information and use that information in a way that causes harm?

One example that immediately comes to mind is the use of open data to create apps for the reporting of pot-holes through cities 311 app, as happens in Toronto. A more apt example for Ottawa is the recently released information about hills open to tobogganing throughout the city, which was collated in a map here. Does liability attach to this information? If so, would information which highlights any hazards on the hill amount to a defence in a negligence action? How would we assign liability if citizenship were to take government data and create an open data app which contains outdated data?

In his write-up about the chat, I think Muki Haklay framed this problem correctly as an ethics problem. Haklay writes, Somehow, the growth of the geoweb took us backward. The degree to which awareness of ethics is internalised within a discourse of ‘move fast and break things‘, software / hardware development culture of perpetual beta, lack of duty of care, and a search for fast ‘exit’ (and therefore IBG-YBG) make me wonder about which mechanisms we need to put in place to ensure the reintroduction of strong ethical notions into the geoweb. As some of the responses to my question demonstrate, people will accept the changes in societal behaviour and view them as normal… In fact, tort liability principles recognize that if a wrong has been committed (sometimes even without intent), then the person who committed the harm might be required to compensate the individual. The very basis of tort law is that we ought to provide remedies for those wronged. Based on this aim, the courts don’t always uphold contracts of adhesion (which seek to limit liability).

The principles of tort liability understood as a matter of ethics and responsibility, provides opportunities for the prevention of harm and the accountability of government. This has long been recognized in the New York context, where the law stipulates that should a person trip on the sidewalk (or pothole), the city is only liable if it has been reported. To ensure reporting, every year the Big Apple Pothole and Sidewalk Corporationmaps out the cracks, holes and potholes throughout the city (and here). For its part, Toronto reports it has filled in almost 50,000 potholes in 2015 to date and over the past years there has been a 40% increase in drivers receiving compensation from pot-hole induced damage to cars. (The same report does not detail the number of complaints that have been made by the 311 reporting service).

The twitter conversation demonstrates that legal analysis questions, such as who has standing to bring a legal claim, who bears legal responsibility for information, and which courts have jurisdiction, are only the beginning of tort legal questions. A second analysis begs that we understand data in a larger framework which takes into account duties and responsibilities. Focusing on the prevention of harm, we could argue, that there should be a larger set of core activities or areas for which liability cannot be contracted out. These core areas presumably would pertain to the health, safety and well-being of citizenship, particularly that they be tailored to protect the interests of those who cannot be expected to know the details of tortious liability, nor necessarily how to navigate geoweb activities.

Tenille Brown is a PhD student in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa and a Geothink student member. Her research is in the areas of legal geography, including property, spatial and citizen engagement, in the Ottawa context.

She can be reached on twitter, @TenilleEBrown and via email, Tenille.Brown@uottawa.ca.

Crosspost: Geoweb, crowdsourcing, liability and moral responsibility

This post is cross-posted with permission from Po Ve Sham – Muki Haklay’s personal blog. Muki is a Geothink collaborator at the University College London and the co-director of ExCiteS.

By Muki Haklay

Yesterday [March 3rd, 2015], Tenille Brown led a Twitter discussion as part of the Geothink consortium. Tenille opened with a question about liability and wrongful acts that can harm others

If you follow the discussion (search in Twitter for #geothink) you can see how it evolved and which issues were covered.

At one point, I have asked the question:

It is always intriguing and frustrating, at the same time, when a discussion on Twitter is taking its own life and many times move away from the context in which a topic was brought up originally. At the same time, this is the nature of the medium. Here are the answers that came up to this question:

 

 

You can see that the only legal expert around said that it’s a tough question, but of course, everyone else shared their (lay) view on the basis of moral judgement and their own worldview and not on legality, and that’s also valuable. The reason I brought the question was that during the discussion, we started exploring the duality in the digital technology area to ownership and responsibility – or rights and obligations. It seem that technology companies are very quick to emphasise ownership (expressed in strong intellectual property right arguments) without responsibility over the consequences of technology use (as expressed in EULAs and the general attitude towards the users). So the nub of the issue for me was about agency. Software does have agency on its own but that doesn’t mean that it absolved the human agents from responsibility over what it is doing (be it software developers or the companies).

In ethics discussions with engineering students, the cases of Ford Pinto or the Thiokol O-rings in the Discovery Shuttle disaster come up as useful examples to explore the responsibility of engineers towards their end users. Ethics exist for GIS – e.g. the code of ethics of URISA, or the material online about ethics for GIS professional and in Esri publication. Somehow, the growth of the geoweb took us backward. The degree to which awareness of ethics is internalised within a discourse of ‘move fast and break things‘, software / hardware development culture of perpetual beta, lack of duty of care, and a search for fast ‘exit’ (and therefore IBG-YBG) make me wonder about which mechanisms we need to put in place to ensure the reintroduction of strong ethical notions into the geoweb. As some of the responses to my question demonstrate, people will accept the changes in societal behaviour and view them as normal…

See the original post here. twitter

Tracey P. Lauriault on Citizen Engagement (or lack thereof) with Canada’s Action Plan on Open Government 2.0

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Tracey is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the new field of Critical Data Studies.

By Drew Bush

More than 1,450 individuals collectively generated 2,010 ideas, comments and questions for the Canadian Government on its Action Plan for Open Government 2.0. But one researcher with The Programmable City project who studies open data and open government in Canada feels these numbers miss the real story.

The process leading up to the “What We Heard” report, issued after the completion of consultations from April 24–October 20, 2014, only reflected the enthusiasm of the open data programming community, she says. A broader engagement with civil society organizations that most need help from the government to accomplish their work was severely lacking.

“They might be really good at making an app and taking near real time transit data and coming up with a beautiful app with a fantastic algorithm that will tell you within the millisecond how fast the bus is coming,” Tracy Lauriault, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA), said. “But those aren’t the same people who will sit at a transit committee meeting.”

She believes the government has failed to continue to include important civil society groups in discussions of the plan. Those left out have included community-based organizations, cities having urban planning debates, anti-poverty groups, transportation planning boards and environmental groups. She’s personally tried to include organizations such as the Canadian Council on Social Development or the Federation of Canadian Municipalities only to have their opinions become lost in the process.

“There is I think a sincere wish to collect information from the people who attend but then that’s it,” she said.  “There is no follow up with some people or the comments that are made—or even an assessment, a careful assessment, of who’s in the room and what they’re saying.”

“I’m generally disappointed in what I see in most of these documents,” she added. “When they were delivering or working towards open data back in 2004, 2005 it was really about democratic deliberation and evidenced-informed decision-making—making sure citizens and civil society groups could debate on par with the same types of resources government officials had.”

For it’s part, the government notes that 18 percent of the participants came from civil society groups. But such groups were really just ad-hoc groups who advocate for data or are otherwise involved in aspects of new technology, according to Lauriault. Such input, while useful, is usually limited to requests on datasets, ranking what kind of dataset you’d like to see or choosing what platforms to use to view it, she added.

The report itself notes comments came from the Advisory Panel on Open Government, online forums, in-person sessions, email submissions, Twitter (hash tag #OGAP2), and LinkedIn. In general, participants requested quicker, easier, and more meaningful access to their government, and a desire to be involved in government decision making beyond consultations.

Some suggested that the Government of Canada could go even further toward improving transparency in the extractives sector. For example, proposed legislation to establish mandatory reporting standards could stipulate that extractives data be disclosed in open, machine-readable formats based on a standard template with uniform definitions.

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Major themes to emerge from citizen comments on the “What We Heard Report” (Image courtesy of the Government of Canada).

Find out more about this figure or the “What We Heard” report here.

If you have thoughts or questions about the article, get in touch with Drew Bush, Geothink’s digital journalist, at drew.bush@mail.mcgill.ca.