Author Archives: Matthew Tenney

Paper Spotlight: “Enabling Access and Reuse of Public Sector Information in Canada” by Elizabeth Judge

Enabling Access and Reuse of Public Sector Information in Canada: Crown Commons Licenses, Copyright, and Public Sector Information

Elizabeth Judge

University of Ottawa – Common Law Section
October 14, 2010


Although the proactive disclosure of public sector information has been called a “basic right of citizens” and a “public right,” Canada has not yet implemented a national strategy to support public access to public sector information and enable its reuse. Public sector information, which is information created by government in the course of governing, is essential for transparency, accountability, democratic participation, and citizen engagement. This article examines public sector information and analyzes developments in Canada and other jurisdictions to promote its public access and reuse. It discusses the extent to which public sector information has been integrated into copyright reform efforts and, where public sector information is copyright protected, it discusses the mechanisms available within the copyright framework to facilitate public access and reuse of public sector information, focusing in particular on licensing. In Canada, Crown copyright restrictions and complicated licensing limit access to public sector information. The article recommends that Canada establish a centralized portal for open government data and implement Crown Commons licenses, which together would advance the objective of open government data by ensuring that public sector information is accessible online in usable formats, easily found, and not encumbered by restrictive Crown copyright licensing conditions.


Number of Pages in PDF File: 45

Keywords: public sector information, open government data, government data, open access, Crown Copyright, Creative Commons, copyright


Geothink 2nd Annual General Meeting – Ottawa, ON, Canada – 2014

Geothink is happy to announce it’s second annual general meeting (AGM) June 11-13th being hosted at the University of Ottawa.

Agenda for 2nd Annual General Meeting
June 11 – 13, 2014 (Ottawa, Canada)
Position papers related to talks available on
Wednesday, 11 June 2014
19h00Get together for a drink/dinner at The Black Tomato (drinks sponsored by IBM)
(near Byward Market, corner of Sussex and George, 12 mins walk from University Ottawa)
Address: 11 George Street, Ottawa, ON K1N 8W5
Telephone: (613) 789-8123
Dress code: Casual


Thursday, 12 June 2014
Venue – Room FTX137, Fauteux Hall, 57 Louis-Pasteur
Law School, University of Ottawa


09h00Explanation of Activities and Objectives (Renee Sieber)
09h30-11h20 Researcher presentations: Informal, open presentations by co-applicants (10 minutes each)

Time Title Presenter
9:30-9:40 Civic Hackathons: Innovation, Procurement, or Civic Engagement?At all levels, governments around the world are moving towards the provision of open data, that is, the direct provision to citizens, the private sector, and other third parties, of raw government datasets, controlled by a relatively permissible license. In tandem with this distribution of open data is the promotion of civic hackathons, or ‘app contests’ by government. The civic hackathon is designed to offer prize money to developers as a way to spur innovative use of open data, more specifically the creation of commercial software applications that deliver services to citizens. Within this context, we propose that the civic hackathon has the potential to act in multiple ways, possibly as a backdoor to the traditional government procurement process, and as a form of civic engagement. We move beyond much of the hype of civic hackathons, critically framing an approach to understanding civic hackathons through these two lenses. Key questions for future research emphasize the emerging, and important, nature of this research path. Pamela Robinson
9:40-9:50 A Framework for Assessing the Value of Open DataDownload

We present four categories to value open data; political and social, economic, operational and technical, and organizational. The four categories of value constitute a framework for determining what types of value various user groups derive from open data. Key challenges to realizing value from open data include the lack of metrics (both quantitative and qualitative) for measuring non-economic types of value.

Peter Johnson
9:50-10:00 IP , Privacy and Open Data

This paper examines some of the challenges presented by the transition from ‘closed’ to open data within the municipal context, using municipal transit data as a case study. The particular lens through which this paper examines these challenges is intellectual property law. In a ‘closed data’ system, intellectual property law is an important means by which legal control over data is asserted by governments and their agencies. In an ‘open data’ context, the freedom to use and distribute content is a freedom from IP constraints. The evolution of approaches to open municipal transit data offers some interesting examples of the role played by intellectual property at every stage in the evolution of open municipal transit data, and it highlights not just the relationship between municipalities and their residents, but also the complex relationships between municipalities, residents, and private sector service providers.
A second paper considers some of the privacy challenges related to making government information available through proactive disclosure or as open data. The research undertaken in this area is carried out with the goal of developing a best practices guide for municipalities (and other levels of government). A brief overview will be given, but interested partners are also invited to speak with us about becoming involved in this project.

Teresa Scassa, Alexandra Diebel* and Amy Conroy*
10:00-10:10 Implied License and Waiver for Downstream Uses of Copyrighted Information on the GeowebDownload

One complication for increasing public participation in the Geoweb is the possibility that copyright rights may apply to material that individuals submit to government-operated or government-endorsed websites. Authors of copyrightable works are the first owners of copyright and have a bundle of exclusive rights, including the right to prevent others from copying and publishing their works. Copyright arises automatically, and authors need not actively affirm or register their copyright to obtain protection. Moreover, individuals do not waive their copyright by a failure to exercise their rights. However, certain actions by copyright owners may constitute an implied license or waiver of copyright, permitting others to do activities that would otherwise be copyright infringing. The Geoweb promises to connect individuals seamlessly, to allow individuals to communicate with government, and for governments to use these inputs to fashion policy responses. But copyright is potentially an obstacle to realizing the potential of Geoweb-based public participation, as it may be difficult to determine what information is protected by copyright, when copyright subsists, and what uses the government and the public may make of information posted online by others. This paper will examine the application of copyright to information that individuals contribute to the Geoweb and suggest best licensing practices to facilitate public participation in a copyright-compliant manner. The paper focuses, however, on legal mechanisms that are available where best practices with regard to licensing have not been followed and there are no applicable contractual terms governing the copyright. Implied license and waiver are two common law doctrines that courts may apply to fill a contracting gap by retroactively interpreting what the parties intended, although did not make explicit. The paper will detail the two doctrines, discuss their application in past copyright cases, and outline how they may be applied to facilitate access to copyrighted information on the Geoweb.

Elizabeth Judge + students
10:10-10:20 What Shapes Open Data from Cities?For several reasons, cities are opening up data, which traditionally been the means to decision-making, to civil society and the private sector. The shape this open government data takes depends on factors like the availability of data, data quality, resource constraints, analytics to measure the value of these initiatives, existing app and platform development, opportunities for citizen engagement and the general political, economic and legal regime in which cities operate. I will present a broad overview the potential for and nature of open data in municipal settings, particularly with examples from Canada. Renée Sieber
10:20-10:30 Open and Free? The Political Economy of the GeowebWe present three concepts. We first outline the concept of political economy as a toolbox to understand the geoweb. The political economy is the production and distribution of information as a commodity. Second, we apply these tools to produce a working understanding of the political economy of the geoweb. Finally, we highlight future research priorities for political economists of the geoweb. Leslie Shade* and Harrison Smith
10:30-10:40 You can’t get there from here. Or, can you? Toward an understanding of design-reality gaps in the implementation of open government in Canadian municipalities Daniel Paré
10:40-10:50 Putting ourselves on the map: exploring under-represented groups use of the Geoweb as a deliberative tool to transform space to place (will screencast this)


Research in Geographic Information Studies has played an important role in supporting public participation in planning processes. Community cartography, participatory geographic information systems and now the participatory geoweb, have all been used with varying levels of success. This paper will discuss the dichotomy between the expectations we have of the participatory geoweb and its ability to deliver. It will frame this discussion around Rittel and Weber’s (1973) conceptualization of wicked problems. The paper will draw on the empirical research being conducted through the development, deployment and ongoing scaling up of one particular example of the participatory geoweb. This example is Geolive, a participatory web-mapping application conceived, coded and maintained at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Geolive is currently being used in a number of participatory mapping projects. Despite the differences between Geolive projects, key themes have emerged which shape our understanding of the ability and inability of the geoweb to influence participatory processes. These include: (1) Addressing preconceived, and at times unrealistic, understandings of the extent of the geoweb’s ability; (2) Overcoming the inability to create functional templates that can be carried between projects; (3) Understanding our (in)ability to finish projects; and (4) Tempering how we speak about the outcomes and impacts of participatory geoweb research and practice. The paper concludes that there dwells an inherent wickedness in most forms of participatory mapping project, and that we as practitioners and researchers need to be acutely aware of this, and must, as a result, take on a stronger sense of responsibility in our research and practice.

Jon Corbett
10:50-11:00 Opening new partnerships through shared and landed HistoriesDownload

Data is data; it can be big, little, personal, public, open, closed, but context – that is the social context of data – is everything. Equity issues frequently arise around access (i.e., the digital divide) but all data exists in a sociological context, and the shape, texture, and positioning – the very utility of data – depends on more than access writ large, but also who can select what is available and how access is configured. For land based practices, like agriculture for example, the geoweb is a new and potentially powerful tool for accessing information, for articulating priorities and concerns, for mobilizing support, and for creating community both virtual and face-to-face. This paper explores how deliberate linkages between the methodologies for researching/mobilizing around the concerns of small holder agriculturalists and geoweb based technologies can more effectively address (that is improve) wicked problems by ensuring data is both produced and consumed with an eye to its sociological and geo-political context.

Mike Evans
11:00-11:10 What is VGI, Anyway?Download

Claus will describe what volunteered geographic information (VGI) is and why it is important for Geothink. Summary of research on a systems perspective on VGI and a classification of user contributions on the Geoweb.

Claus Rinner

* indicates presenters

Supplemental position papers:

Prof. Scott Bell – University of Saskatchewan – ” Mapping the Spatial Pattern of the Uncertain Data” – Download

11h10-11:25 Break

11h25-12h10 Roundtable Discussion (led by Barbara Poore, USGS)

This is where the partners turn the table on the co-applicants and they reflect on/synthesize the morning’s talks from a partner perspective. “This is what we thought we heard from you.” We encourage partners to “take the stage” and ask us, for example, “Are we on the right track?” and “What opportunities are we missing?”.

12h10Lunch served in nearby room

13h40-15:10 Partner presentations:  Informal, open presentations by partners (10 minutes each or flexible)

Time Title Presenter
13:40-13:50 The Neptis GeowebMarcy will present their Geoweb platform and Project, the launch and direction, that is where Neptis plans to go with it. Marcy Burchfield
13:50-14:00 United States Geological Survey (USGS) and Citizen ScienceDrawing on Muki Haklay’s [collaborator] levels of participation in citizen science, Barbara will discuss citizen science projects at the USGS. These range from a long history of citizen seismology to the more recent Tweet Earthquake Detection project which relies on citizens as sensors. Two recent projects, The National Map Corps, in which volunteers map structures data, and iCoast, which is crowdsourcing coastal change after extreme storms, offer examples of impediments to full citizen participation in the scientific endeavors of a governmental science agency. Barbara Poore
14:00-14:10 Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)CIPPIC is legally representing Geolytica, a crowdsourcing company that is being sued by the Canada Post Corporation. The litigation between Canada Post and Geolytica raises important issues about copyright in facts and in compilations of fact in Canada. Beyond this, the case raises important public policy issues about access to and use of public sector information. David Fewer
14:10-14:20 IBM and GeothinkBrief overview of IBM, including describing IBM’s investments in research in Canada as well as the many vehicles available to support Canadian academic researchers. They will then dive into the IBM Academic Initiative program which has been created to provide free software in support of teaching and/or research projects Don Aldridge (Research Executive) and Stephen Perelgut (Sr Relationship Manager, Academic Partnerships)

Nova Scotia Community Counts (NSCC) and the Geoweb: Making the Connections

Nova Scotia Community Counts is a publicly supported website that provides information for and about communities and 14 other levels of geography in Nova Scotia. Community Counts (CC) provides a common platform for statistics that count for communities. Most of the data comes from Statistics Canada (SC). Community Counts adds value by converting the SC standard geographies into geographies understood by Nova Scotians, e.g. counties, municipalities, communities. The data is also provided in multiple formats – tables, charts, graphs, maps, profiles, policy views – for easy use. The Map Centre offers over 40,000 maps that are dynamically generated based on user requirements and provides tools for thematic mapping and asset mapping. Community Counts relates to these research themes: Spatial Authenticity, Accuracy, and Standards; Space, Place and Social Justice. Malcolm Shookner will make the connections in his presentation

Malcolm Shookner (Chief Statistician, NSCC)
14:30-14:40 Ryerson Journalism Research Centre (RJRC): The Geoweb, Open Data and Journalism: Challenge and OpportunityThe geoweb and open-data initiatives have opened up a whole new range of challenges and opportunities for journalists. Data journalism, which makes extensive use of geo-data, is a powerful new tool for investigation, story telling and doing business. Use of the geoweb as a tool for identifying  sources, verifying content, generating story ideas and reshaping the business of journalism will be discussed. Government commitments to open data will also be reviewed from a journalism perspective. April Lindgren
14:40-14:50 Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC)Technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), facial recognition, wearable computing, always-on smart phones, geo-spatial technology and advanced analytics raise significant and novel privacy issues. This talk will explore some of OPC’s recent work and current research priorities, several of which concern privacy issues that are raised by interconnected and location-aware technologies. Melanie Miller-Chapman, Manager of Research at the OPC
14:50-15:00 Open North: Open Data and Civic TechnologyOpen North ( is a Canadian nonprofit that provides digital tools to more easily access and understand government information and to influence and provide input to government decisions. Represent ( is its online tool for finding the elected officials and electoral districts for any Canadian address or postal code, at all levels of government. It uses shapefiles from over 350 governments and collects elected officials’ contact information from over 100 of them. Open data, data standards, and data aggregation have a significant role to play in reducing the cost of expanding Represent’s coverage across Canada. Open North was recently awarded a grant from the Canada Internet Registration Authority to understand the barriers to adoption of open data and data standards at the municipal level, and to design appropriate solutions. Stephane will talk about the project he has with Renee on the Evolution of Open Data Standards. Stéphane Guidoin
15:00-15:10 Montreal Ouvert: Transitions of an Open Data Civil Society GroupIn 2010, Montreal citizens came together as Montreal Ouvert to push for government transparency and engagement appropriate for an digital age. At that time, the concept of “open data” was unknown by elected officials and bureaucrats in Quebec. After four years of successfully organizing hackathons, educating elected officials, doing interviews, writing editorials, participating in public consultations, and testifying at the National Assembly the grassroots group will be undergoing a transition. This presentation will (briefly) review the activities of the group and discuss the future. Michael Lenczner


15h10-15:25 Coffee Break

15h25-16h00 Roundtable Discussion (led by Peter Johnson, University of Waterloo)

This is where the co-applicants reflect on/synthesize the afternoon talks from a researcher perspective. “This is what we thought we heard from you.” We encourage everyone to “take the stage” and ask, for example, “How can we add value to what you’re doing?” and “Where are the hooks in what you’re doing?”. Challenges in matching partner, researcher interests.

16h00  Getting the most out of Geothink (led by Marcy Burchfield, Neptis Foundation) This is a larger discussion of how partners and the researchers in the network (which includes students) can get the most out of the partnership. Can we create a more formal structure that allows partners to exchange ideas and create opportunities to tap into the expertise of the network? The structure should reflect the realities of the academic year and be a formal mechanism for students to benefit from opportunities provided by the partners and vice versa. Student exchange with partners or summer institute with partners, if that’s considered a good idea.

17h30End of Day 1

18h30Dinner at Vittoria Trattoria

(near Byward Market, between George and York, 13 mins walk from University of Ottawa)

Address: 35 William Street, Ottawa, ON K1N 6Z9

Telephone: (613) 789-8959

Dress code: Casual


Friday, 13 June 2014

Venue – Room (to be advised on Thursday – June 12), Fauteux Hall, 57 Louis-Pasteur

Law School, University of Ottawa


09h00Explanation of Activities and Objectives (Renee Sieber)

09h30-11h20 Session 1: Grand research challenges and opportunities of this grant – a chance to think big

This is the time in which we get to be unmoored from the day to day issues of our jobs and filling out forms and student management and technical details. This is the longer term, not what we are doing but what we could be doing. We break into groups and do some blue sky thinking. And we find a way to actualize it in Session 2.

For example, what are the big challenges and opportunities for:

  • cities (smart or otherwise)
  • engagement in municipal government
  • open government
  • digital mapping
  • open data (e.g., what happens if all data is open, or should everything be open?)
  • government use of information and communications technology writ large
  • citizen science
  • social media and government-citizen engagement
  • geospatial data sharing and infrastructures
  • digital society (who wins and who is excluded)

11h00-11:15 Break

11h15-12h00 Session 2: Actualizing Session 1

This is where we actually put our money where our mouth is with suggestions for projects for Y3 and beyond. This is also where Alex will talk about the Rapid Response Think Tank, which will be inaugurated with Elizabeth’s and Teresa’s 90 hour undergraduate legal internship program. After we hear from Alex, we will break into groups and discuss. We also can use this time to envision fun things we want to do regarding research activities and grant engagement.

 12h00Lunch served in nearby room

 13h30-15:00 Session 3: Knowledge Mobilization

This is where we put our logistical hats on to realize the deliverables, for example

  • Annual Association of Geographers (AAG 2015–this is where we see many of our collaborators) + academic and other conferences and workshops
  • Geothink summer school with students 2015
  • Publication plans (books, articles, whitepapers, blogs)
  • Student internships with partners and exchanges between institutions
  • White papers, use cases, webcasts and other ways we ensure our research is relevant to partners

 15h00-15:15 Coffee Break

 15h15-16h00 Session 4: Administration and grant functioning (Alex and Renee)

This is where we discuss paperwork and grant communication, basically, how to make this easier for everyone. Alex will once again review the annual report. Our conversation includes, but is not limited to:

  • Meeting SSHRC reporting requirements
  • Increasing conference call frequency
  • Keeping in touch and exchanging information via traditional and social media (e.g., Blog, listserve, website, newsletter)
  • Refining governance structure and committees
  • Meeting leverage goals for Year 2.5 (we’re only at $400K of $3.2m), which will impact research activities in Y2.
  • Serving theme objectives and not overlapping (i.e., a coherent and cohesive strategy for answering theme questions posed in the grant application)
  • Crafting strategies for surveying partners because there’s considerable research contemplated and in progress that requires partner (i.e., municipal) surveys. This refers not only to researcher activities but also student activities

16h00End of meeting



Name Affiliation Role Attendance?
Renée Sieber Geography, McGill Principal Investigator Confirmed
Daniel Paré Communications, Univ. of Ottawa Deputy PI Confirmed
Teresa Scassa Law, Univ. of Ottawa Co-applicant Confirmed
Elizabeth Judge Univ. of Ottawa Co-applicant Confirmed
Peter Johnson Geography & Environmental Management, Univ. of Waterloo Co-applicant Confirmed
Rob Feick Planning, Univ. of Waterloo Co-applicant Confirmed
Claus Rinner Ryerson University Co-applicant Confirmed
Pamela Robinson Ryerson University Co-applicant Confirmed(June 11 & 12)
Leslie Shade Information, Univ. of Toronto Co-applicant Confirmed
Daren Brabham Univ. of Univ North Carolina-Chapel Hill Co-applicant Virtual
Scott Bell Univ. of Saskatchewan Co-applicant Virtual
Michael Evans Univ. of British Columbia Collaborator Confirmed
Stephen Foster Univ. of British Columbia Collaborator Confirmed
Stéphane Guidoin Open North Partner (non-profit) Confirmed
Michael Lenczner Montreal Ouvert Partner (non-profit) Confirmed
David Fewer CIPPIC (U of Ottawa) Partner Confirmed
Don Aldridge IBM Partner Confirmed
Marcy Burchfield Neptis Partner Confirmed
Barbara Poore United States Geological Survey Partner Confirmed
April Lindgren RJRC Partner Confirmed
Philippe Leclerc City of Regina Partner Confirmed
Melanie Millar-Chapman OPC Partner Confirmed
Robert Giggey City of Ottawa Partner Confirmed
Madelaine Saginur CLTS Partner Confirmed
Malcolm Shookner NSCC Partner Confirmed
Brent Hall ESRI Partner Confirmed(June 12)
Jing Hoon Teo McGill University Research Coordinator Confirmed(June 11 & 12)
Alexander Taciuk McGill University Project Manager Confirmed
Matthew Tenney (PhD) McGill University Student (RS) Confirmed
Amy Conroy (PhD) University of Ottawa (Law) Student (TS) Confirmed
Alexandra Diebel (U/G) University of Ottawa (Law) Student (TS) Confirmed
Elizabeth Marasse (M) University of Ottawa Student (DP) Confirmed
Albert Lessiwe (M) University of Ottawa Student (DP) Confirmed
Tenille Brown (PhD) University of Ottawa Student (EJ) Confirmed
Cheryl Power (PhD) University of Ottawa Student (EJ) Confirmed
Laura Gracia (PhD) University of Ottawa Student (EJ) Confirmed
Edgar Baculi (U/G) Ryerson University Student (CR) Confirmed

Open Everything

Theme 4: Open Everything

Hello, I am Dr. Claus Rinner, an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and program director of the Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) at Ryerson University. My research focuses on the decision support function of maps and geographic information systems (GIS), and the underlying concepts of cartography, geovisualization, public participation, and multi-criteria decision analysis. I plan to contribute to the GeoThink research partnership through students at all levels of study.

Edgar Baculi, a second-year undergraduate student in Ryerson’s BA in Geographic Analysis, is co-funded by Geothink and the Ontario work-study program. Edgar started an exploration of the City of Toronto’’s open data portal,, with attention to the data formats and data types available for download. He found that 91 of Toronto’’s 133 open datasets have a geospatial component. About one half of these are available in ESRI’’s shapefile format. Edgar plans to extend his contents analysis to the open data catalogues of other municipal partners of GeoThink. This complements a planned longitudinal survey of municipal open data initiatives by two other GeoThink researchers, Dr. Peter Johnson and Dr. Pamela Robinson, within Theme 4. Edgar will also start to examine the demand side of open data in terms of their use by local journalists in news reporting and by Ryerson professors in Geography classes and GIS labs.

Together with Dr. Pamela Robinson of Ryerson’’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, I am also collaborating with the Neptis Foundation, a key GeoThink partner. With funding from Neptis, incoming MSA student Michael Markieta has upgraded and installed the Neptis Geoweb tool on a Ryerson server for use in research and by other GeoThink partners. The tool includes a mapping interface with a rich collection of datasets for the Toronto region, including a settlement development layer that Neptis combined from the individual land-use plans of dozens of Ontario municipalities. The tool also includes a discussion forum, and Michael’’s Master’’s research will examine the analytical and decision support function of such participatory Geoweb tools.

My PhD student Victoria Fast will also be involved in the GeoThink project. Victoria recently presented a novel framework for understanding volunteered geographic information (VGI) through a ““systems perspective”” ( On this basis and a survey of existing VGI projects, Victoria wants to outline a path for effective deployment of the Neptis Geoweb tool in climate change adaptation planning, an important consideration for municipalities and regions worldwide.

If you’ would like to participate in research around mapping tools for land use planning and decision support, open data formats, implications of participatory mapping for news media, or tools for urban and regional climate change adaptation, please contact me at crinner at ryerson dot ca.

Privacy Challenges in Open Government

Prof. Teresa Scassa is interested in Privacy Challenges in Open Government and welcomes your input and participation.

The open government movement promises greater access to government information and proactive disclosure of open data. If it unfolds as promised, a growing volume of information will soon flow from governments to individuals and to the private sector. Such information flows will be relatively free of physical and technological barriers, as well as restrictions on reuse. Canada’s federal government has expressed a commitment to open government, and provincial and municipal governments are also committing to varying degrees of openness. The values underlying the open government movement – greater transparency and accountability, and greater citizen engagement in government processes – are crucial to establishing and maintaining a vibrant democracy.

Open government, however, may conflict other important principles such as privacy. Public sector data protection and access to information laws have long sought to balance the need for access to public information with the protection of personal information. Yet these laws may not be adequate to cope with open government policies that move beyond models of access driven by individual requests. This project will explore the extent to which the open government movement may create or exacerbate tensions between the public interest in privacy and the public interest in open, transparent, and accountable government. I will examine three contexts in particular. These are: where already public information containing citizen personal data is made more readily accessible; where information is about both an identifiable individual and something else; and where de-identified information may nonetheless point to individuals as a result of data matching activities.

You can reach Prof. Scassa at

Mobile Feedback Applications for Base Map Editing

If governments wish to maximize citizen contributions on issues as varied as fixing maps, reporting potholes and commenting on social housing, they likely need easy-to-use tools for citizens to do so. One answer could be on mobile phones. Tool-building is more than a technical issue. Mobile devices have an increasingly central role in our daily activities; they become intermediaries for our interactions with each other, the environment, businesses, and institutions. Recent advances in mobile device and computerized mapping (geographic information system, or GIS) technology have presented us with the potential to develop applications that mediates citizen interactions with government, using geographic base maps as a conduit. This project asks how mobile device technology can allow citizens to contribute to the updating and editing of official maps of their home city. This asserted information would then be incorporated into an authoritative map product. We move beyond the simple citizen-as-sensor or crowdsourcing paradigm to explore how governments not only accept volunteered citizen content (volunteered geographic information, or VGI) delivered through a mobile device, but how citizens become partners with government. This two-way relationship can be formalized through the development of a specific workflow where government workers verify citizen map edits and provide feedback to citizens. In this way, VGI may be integrated into formal governance and decision-making channels.

We anticipate that mobile applications will be the next generation platform for Open 311 and open government. Many issues will arise about their utility and around authentication of data. We want your ideas about and participation in this research! Contact Peter Johnson,, or Rob Feick,

Making Waves

Making Waves: Developing, Testing and Deploying a Smart Phone App to Share Examples of Good and Poor Water Conservation in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia by Prof. Jon Corbett

Here at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus, we have just hired two students, Andrew Barton and Emily Millard, to work on the Geothink project. They are being co-financed by Geothink and the British Columbia Work Study program. Together with our SSHRC partner, the Okanagan Basin Water Board, and a new partner, the Okanagan Science Centre, we have co-developed a proposal that we have submitted to the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia entitled “Making Waves: Developing, testing and deploying a smart phone app to share examples of good and poor water conservation in the Okanagan Valley.” We are proposing to work directly with youth (age 10 -13) in the North and Central Okanagan to co-design and develop a mobile application that will allow members of the public to share photographs and short commentaries of good and poor water conservation. The app will work in conjunction with existing web-based mapping software ( that we developed for a prior grant; it also will include discussion tools. The resulting information, displayed on a website, will make this volunteered information accessible to the general public as a means to make them more aware of water conservation in the valley and provide them with a direct medium through which to engage with this issue.

The Okanagan has among the highest per capita water demands and lowest per capita water supplies in Canada. The environment is semi-arid, and the southern portions of the watershed include Canada’s only designated desert.  Research conducted by Dr. Stewart Cohen and other scientists at UBC and partner institutions have projected serious impacts of climate change on the Okanagan water supply. Yet, the sense among the general public and visitors is that the valley is rich with water. One of the greatest challenges faced by the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) is to make people more aware of the increasing need to conserve water. As a result OBWB has developed the Okanagan Waterwise program that has the clear mandate to bring residents of the Okanagan valley together with the understanding that the valley’s water source is connected — and that all residents share the same resource. Hopefully it would increase awareness among valley residents about water issues in the Okanagan, support Okanagan residents in making positive changes in their own water habits that will protect the quality and quantity of the valley’s water, and share ideas about how all the valley’s residents can do something to preserve the unique character of the region.

Our proposed project will bring together three leading organization in the region to directly address these four established, and much needed, objectives. Our proposed project and the Water Conservation app will act as a medium to bring together members from throughout the valley to share their views and perspectives on current water use, to increase awareness of all users of both their own and others use of water; for example users might contribute photographs and their perspectives on xeriscape gardening or low water use public facilities. Through raising this awareness our hope is to support change toward more efficient water use in order to create a more sustainable water management practice in the future.

We welcome your participation in this and other projects, especially since we hope that this project can be generalized to other activities. If you’d like more information or a status report, please email Emily Millard (, Andrew Barton ( or their supervisor, Jon Corbett (

PhD students at work in GeoThink – Harrison Smith

Read Harrison’s biography at I am a third year PhD student at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information (

My research is broadly oriented around geo-locative social media and consumer surveillance to theorize new practices of social sorting and digital discrimination within mobile and cartographic information infrastructures. My PhD thesis specifically researches geo-locative and mobile based dating services due to their significant investment in collecting and analyzing personal information, as well as their emphasis on creating affective relationships with surveillance databases. I have worked as a research assistant broadly situated within political economy and surveillance studies. For this project I will be researching the political economy of the geoweb under the direction of Dr. Leslie Regan Shade. This project research will focus on the institutional forces and power relations at play within geoweb infrastructures. The forces and relations will show up largely through understanding the processes of ownership, control and labour, as well as considering alternate forms of geoweb applications that might transcend private sector models. I am very excited to be part of this project, and hope to continue researching mobile and geoweb infrastructures as a core part of my academic research interests.

Admin Note: This research is in Theme 6, the political economy ( of the geoweb, but you can see many of our themes will overlap. Harrison’s research will have aspects related to Theme 3, on law and public policy related to the geoweb, especially where it concerns privacy. It is difficult to talk about the political economy without acknowledging the huge privacy implications of placing so much of our personal information on the web and being able to mine that and other datasets. This is a challenge to be faced by society at large and for governance at all levels of government. We’d appreciate your thoughts on this research and would welcome your participation. Please email harrison [dot] smithatmail [dot] utoronto [dot] ca or leslie [dot] shade [at] utoronto [dot] ca.

Accuracy, Authenticity and Technical Aspects of Privacy

At the Universities of Laval and Waterloo, we are interested in what is often seen as the “virtuous cycle” of citizens’ increasing use of open government data and, potentially, for governments to actively leverage information that the public creates. Our work centers on issues of accuracy, authenticity and privacy in citizen-generated spatial data and the changing relationships between governments and citizens in data provision and use. In Year 1, we are concentrating on assembling baseline information that will help us understand how citizens use open data from governments and the extent that Canadian governments’ currently leverage citizen-contributed data. In this first phase, we will assemble a literature review and survey government partners at local, provincial and national levels to:

  1. Identify and characterize the main current open data initiatives (e.g., who is providing what data, in which forms?) and what data standards are used at local and provincial levels (if any?),
  2. Identify existing as well as potential practices for: a) using crowdsourced data (including barriers and opportunities) and, b) for validating crowdsourced data,
  3. Explore the linkages between open data (as a product and as practice) and crowdsourcing at the municipal and provincial levels (e.g. open data not only a service provided by the organization but also a way to improve data and by feedback loops in practice).

Two PhD students (Ashley Zhang – Waterloo, Teriitutea Quesnot – Laval) have been hired to jointly complete the literature review, survey administration and analysis and also participate in reporting the results through a journal paper. Teriitutea Quesnot is from French Polynesia. Teriitutea received his bachelor and masters in France and he has strong geocomputing and programming skills as well as consulting experience. Ashley is from China and has completed her Masters at the University of Georgia with a thesis focus on exploring spatio-temporal changes in the sociao-spatial structure of Beijing. Currently, her PhD research is centred on public engagement and place-making in smart cities. Since our government partners operate in both English and French, the survey will be bilingual to allow a pan-Canadian assessment to be developed. This information relating to current opportunities and barriers will help us develop new methods for promoting and visualizing data authenticity and accuracy. We anticipate that it also will contribute to project-wide efforts to develop best practices for Canadian governments to manage citizen-generated in light of data privacy and quality concerns.

We know that many of our partners and others have considerable experience in utilizing crowdsourced data. Even if you don’t then you probably have questions you’d like explored.

We encourage you to get in touch with us to enrich our research. Feel free to email and