Geothoughts Conversations 4 explores our key research outcomes and influences, and was held near McGill University’s downtown campus in Montreal, Quebec. (Image courtesy of http://jeannesauve.org)
By Sam Lumley
We’re excited to present our 4th episode of Geothoughts Conversations!
This episode recounts a conversation held in June 2018 in the Montreal, QC home of Geothink Head Renee Sieber, a McGill University associate professor in the Department of Geography and School of Environment. It highlighted key research outcomes and influences over Geothink’s journey from beginning to end.
“The Geothink grant that was funded by the social science and humanities research council of Canada is coming to an end. We have done great work in terms of creating new theories, new frameworks, new applications, new data sets new collaborations.”
That was Geothink Head Renee Sieber, an associate professor at McGill University’s Department of Geography and School of Environment. Funded by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Geothink partnership grant has involved 26 researchers and 30 partners, while also training more than 100 students. As the grant wraps up, we’ve been hearing from our researchers and students as they reflect on their involvement in the grant over the past five years.
We started off by speaking to former Geothink student Rachel Bloom about her most memorable experiences with the grant.
“I was the lead of Geothink’s Open Data Standards project when I was a student at McGill University. The most memorable Geothink experience would have to be designing a survey that I delivered to open data publishers at cities in north america about open-data standards. It’s memorable because it was a really challenging process due to my research topic being so new. And it also helped me develop my skills as a researcher for the future.”
The Geothink grant has brought together researchers from many different backgrounds and from different parts of the world. It was this point that Geothink co-applicant Rob Feick, an associate professor in Waterloo University’s School of Planning, emphasised while talking about the influence of Geothink on his own work.
“My research has really benefited from my work with Geothink in a few ways, one of which is Geothink is really a multi disciplinary network. It’s a network of people that span disciplines from geography, law, planning and a host of others. And having these different types of expertise around the table has really helped ground my research.”
“It’s also very applied work we’re working with local regional governments on problems that matter to people, both problems that matter to people right now and those that people are seeing both in the research community and in applied context, coming down the pipe in future years. So one of the ways, just using special data quality as of those areas that a number of us have been looking at and that that I have really benefited from in my exposure in Geothink, is understanding that it is far less of a technical matter and it’s a combination of technical and a social and governance matter, and we’re starting to understand that something that we thought was relatively simple, of spatial data quality, is much more complex.”
This interdisciplinary approach was also highlighted by Sieber, as being essential to exploring how interactions between citizens and government are mediated by technology.
“It’s been marvelous in terms of the interdisciplinary of bringing together geographers lawyers, people in the private sector, people in government to work on issues of what’s happening to the conversations between citizens and cities. And on how can we make sure the technology is not an impediment, but actually enhances that conversation”
Working alongside people from different academic fields can help to offer a broader perspective on the big issues facing citizens and governments. It also led some Geothink researchers to shift their own own research interests. This was the case for Geothink Co-Applicant Stéphane Roche, an associate professor in University Laval’s Department of Geomatics, who talked about his focus moving from the technical to the ethical over the course of the grant.
“My main interest within Geothink was more about social inclusion within a smart city context, spatial justice and ethics, which was quite far from what I was supposed to do at the beginning. So in my case, the move was quite big. Geothink is as a network different sectors, different disciplines, different expertise, and working on these issues around the relationship between spatial and social justice, cities and technology. And that that was really remarkable. I really enjoyed and appreciated the the dynamism and the motivation of our group of students, some of them coming from law, some others from engineering some from social science. And it was really rich in term of interaction.”
Throughout the grant new partnerships and opportunities have emerged, and co-applicant Daniel Paré, an associate professor in the University of Ottawa’s Department of Communication and School of Information Studies, highlighted his new collaborations with the Open Government Partnership.
“My involvement with Geothink has influenced my research in so much as it has opened the door towards getting to work with OGP partnership. So based on my Geothink work in open data and open government, that’s transformed, if you will, into the role with the OGP. Where I’m responsible for overseeing assessments of the implementation of Ontario’s Open Data Action Plan.”
We went on to ask Paré about his most memorable experiences as part of the grant.
“I think the most memorable experience has been working with the great team that was put together, and that includes our great team of students that are brought together every year in terms of the student based meetings and such. So for me that’s always been a highlight of the team actually getting together physically and meeting over a period of three to four days. That’s been key; those sessions always been so rich on multiple levels.”
Opportunities for collaboration and exchange were facilitated by the four Geothink summer institutes. Many collaborators and partners emphasised how helpful it was to bring researchers, partners and students together under one roof. Feick pointed to 2015 Summer Institute held at McGill University as being his most memorable moment.
“I’ve had a lot of memorable moments in this in this project over the years, but I think the one that sticks with me the most was at a summer institute that we had for the Geothink students here at waterloo. The summer institutes are opportunities where students from a variety of different universities could come together and work on an applied problem and learn about a particular aspect of geospatial information and its interfacing with society.”
“Students in this particular summer institute had the task of developing an application. We had teams of students that hadn’t met before that came together over the course of a week and put together some really fantastic applications. And these applications, I think, spurred a lot of their own research that they were going to continue on with, but also was really interesting to see how again the different perspectives that the students brought, along with those people that were assisting them through the SI, actually came to fruition.”
The summer institutes also stood out to former Geothink student Edgar Baculi, now a graduate researcher in Ryerson’s Department of Geography.
“We have all these disciplines and I remember benefing greatly from talking to the economics student, sociologist, communication and journalism students on the topic open data and it opened my mind to the idea of, if we’re talking about open data it’s not just going to be the GIS people who are going to benefit or the academics, it’s going to be the sociology students, it’s going to be a journalist from the Toronto Star, it’s going to be all these people who need to understand what open-data is from their perspective and from other perspectives.”
“So, I would say, Geothink was very important in letting me know the inside from other perspectives. And as for networking, that’s a lot of disciplines to go through, and we were all from across canada, and I think actually a few of us were from the States, if I remember correctly, so it was a great networking experience. Many of them are still friends of mine on twitter and LinkedIn, so, great experience.”
The five-year Geothink Partnership Grant may be coming to its conclusion, but the research and its applications will continue. We asked Sieber what lay in store for Geothink’s research themes, the community the partnership helped to foster and the grant’s continuing work.
“We have transformed, I’m happy to say, the lives of over 100 students. I’d like to think that we transformed the lives of many people in the public sector and the private sector across canada. I know it has certainly transformed my life. It has transformed the life of the researchers involved in this project.”
“So while this grant ends, that doesn’t mean that Geothink as a concept, and a research trajectory has ended. Many of our apps will live on beyond us. Certainly our research and our own research trajectories have been changed as a result, so that work’s going to go on even after the grant ends. And, of course, we’re also looking for new grants to pursue this research!”
[Geothink.ca theme music]
[Voice over: Geothoughts are brought to you by Geothink.ca supported by generous funding from Canada’s Social Sciences and Research Council and generous donations from our grant partners.]
If you have thoughts or questions about this podcast, get in touch with Sam Lumley, Geothink’s digital journalist, at email@example.com.
In this issue, we celebrate the start of a new year by reflecting upon five successful Geothink&Learn webinars and highlighting exciting new Geothink research.
We catch up with Geothink Co-Applicant Teresa Scassa about her work on data deficits
in the sharing economy; Geothink Collaborator Muki Haklay about his new open course
on Citizen Science; former Geothink student Julia Conzon about her recent appointment
at Employment and Social Development Canada; and other grant news.
If you have feedback or content for the newsletter, please contact the Editor, Sam Lumley.
Inside this fall’s edition we celebrate the transition to the ultimate year of the Geothink partnership research grant.
We also bring updates on recent Geothink research, including the announcement of Geothink Student Shelley Cook as the awardee of the Dr. Alexander Aylett Scholarship in Urban Sustainability and Innovation.
If you have feedback or content for the newsletter, please contact the Editor, Sam Lumley.
Geothink and the Center for Government Excellence (GovEx) at Johns Hopkins University launched a first-of-its-kind Open Data Standards Directory today that identifies and assembles standards for open data shared by governments.
By Sam Lumley
Geothink and the Center for Government Excellence (GovEx) at Johns Hopkins University launched a first-of-its-kind Open Data Standards Directory today that identifies and assembles standards for open data shared by governments. The new directory provides guidance on the best format for sharing specific types of data to ensure its interoperability across local, regional and national jurisdictions.
The site began as a Geothink project led by McGill University student Rachel Bloom and was supervised by Geothink Head Renee Sieber, an associate professor in McGill University’s Department of Geography and School of Environment. For her undergraduate honors research in the Department of Geography, Bloom developed a tool for searching and querying relevant open data standard for a diverse range of municipal open data. In partnership with GovEx, Julia Conzon and Nicolas Levy as McGill undergraduate students contributed to the project via visualizing and researching the directory.
Former McGill University student Rachel Bloom initiated the Open Data Standards Directory as her undergraduate honors project.
“I think one of the biggest challenges was providing this information in a way that was easily accessible in a dashboard format,” Bloom said. “It was difficult because the standards are complex and it’s hard to capture all of the desired information about them in an easy visual style based around our users.”
“The standards directory helps people not only know what’s out there,” she added. “But based on a systematic approach, it allows people to also evaluate the standard and help them on their decision of which one to adopt. So I think that’s really valuable.”
This initiative has been further developed by The Center for Government Excellence (GovEx) at Johns Hopkins University in partnership with Geothink and members of the open data community. It now represents the first ever international data standards directory. It helps governments provide data in formats that will most effectively support informed decision-making and the provision of services.
“There’s a serious need for coordination on how governments at all levels classify different types of open data,” Sieber said. “A collaboration with McGill University, this directory provides a comprehensive inventory of how data on transit, road construction, public facilities and more has been classified. It also allows evaluation of different standards to help guide governments in choosing the most useful ones.”
The project emphasizes a collaborative approach that opens a two-way dialogue with municipalities. This allows its creators to better understand what is valued within the decision-making process and to encourage the adoption of specific standards for how open data is released. Users around the world are able and encouraged to contribute additional information and update existing standards.
“Open data improves the lives of hundreds of millions of people, many incrementally and some dramatically,” Andrew Nicklin, GovEx Director of Data Practices, said. “Our new directory will encourage global standards for how data is organized for more effective production and consumption at scale. This will insure an even greater impact on the local government services level.”
Historically, city governments and others have faced several challenges in dealing with open data sets. Among these challenges is a lack of agreement and coordination on how data sets should be structured to best serve the public that are intended to be able to access them. The establishment and organisation of common standards can address this problem by encouraging practices that ensure data is accessible and usable by citizens. It can also ensure that datasets released by differing municipalities will be interoperable.
“The directory’s inventory helps simplify and demystify choices for governments and citizens by answering the question ‘what’s out there?’ but also takes it a step further by assessing the value of these standards to a city’s data provision,” said Jean-Noé Landry, Executive Director of OpenNorth, a Geothink partner in this work. “The directory allows us to align data practices, join up data, and enable emergent data uses. Data interoperability is one key to unlocking open data’s innovation potential and we believe this inventory is a very important step towards it.”
Currently there are over 60 standards on the directory from around the world and in multiple languages. GovEx hope to expand these efforts to continually broaden its range of standards, languages and user-bases.
Shelley Cook, a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of British Columbia (UBC)-Okanagan, will be the recipient of Geothink’s first Dr. Alexander Aylett Scholarship in Urban Sustainability and Innovation (La Bourse Dr. Alex Aylett en Durabilité Urbaine et Innovation).
By Sam Lumley
Shelley Cook, a University of British Columbia-Okanagan Ph.D. Candidate and the first Geothink Dr. Alexander Aylett scholarship recipient.
Shelley Cook, a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of British Columbia (UBC)-Okanagan, will be the recipient of Geothink’s first Dr. Alexander Aylett Scholarship in Urban Sustainability and Innovation (La Bourse Dr. Alex Aylett en Durabilité Urbaine et Innovation). Her project empowers homeless populations in the city of Kelowna by building new connections with homeless service providers such as community housing organizations.
“I think It’s hard for me to articulate how much it means to me,” Cook said of this honour. “I’m utterly blown away by the privilege.”
Cook’s research was recognized because it closely aligns with the late Dr. Aylett’s vision for urban sustainability. His legacy for creative and durable solutions to social justice issues in cities lives on in Cook’s work. Dr. Aylett passed away on July 23, 2016 from cancer leaving behind a rich legacy of research into how cities can provide solutions on topics such as climate change and social justice using digital technology and open data.
Geothink’s Dr. Alexander Aylett Scholarship in Urban Sustainability and Innovation was established in his memory, to provide vital support to graduate students sharing Aylett’s passion for, and commitment to, sustainable urban development.
“I think after spending my entire career working with extremely marginalized populations, I think it’s difficult work,” Cook said. “And it’s work that I’ve seen over the years—you know, people working with the most vulnerable in society—it’s work that’s often not acknowledged. So I think, for me, I’m utterly blown away by the privilege and the fact that it is for work that is helping people who are the most vulnerable in the community. And I just feel incredibly honored in that respect.”
The award recognizes exceptional research contributing to the field of urban sustainability, and represents one way in which Dr. Aylett’s work is continuing to generate innovative, far-reaching impacts.
“Alex was an exceptional person and his presence seems to continue to surround those who knew and loved him,” Richard Aylett, his father, said. “And so, it is important that an award in his name goes to a project of value.”
Alex’ family is equally honoured to award Cook’s research noting in a e-mail to Geothink that “her work on mapping resources for homelessness in British Columbia corresponds with volunteer work that Alex did for street youth in Vancouver and is thus very appropriate.”
Cook’s work addresses an important issue faced by many communities where homeless populations are not able to efficiently locate suitable temporary shelter. Housing seekers and service providers have often lacked access to centralised, searchable information on gender-specific services, housing location and capacity.
Geothink Co-Applicant Alexander C.E. Aylett who passed away July of last year.
To confront this problem, Cook developed the i-Search Kelowna web map application (app). Supervised by Geothink Co-Applicant Jon Corbett, an associate professor in Community, Culture and Global Studies at UBC-Okanagan, Cook’s work is also supported by a team of researchers, funders and partners. Via the app, individuals seeking low-income rentals, emergency shelter and drop-in services are able to search for live, user-specific information about resource availability within the city of Kelowna.
Early feedback on the tool indicates that it is already providing users with a sense of ownership and advocacy over their own well-being and simplifying access to shelter information.
“It’s really about promoting empowerment, a greater sense of fairness and equity on the distribution of resources,” Cook said.
The project mirrors past volunteer work undertaken by Aylett that supported marginalised communities and contributed to his vision of cities as thriving, safe, and inspiring places for everyone to live. These are all values which Cook shares in her own work.
Cook emphasizes that partnerships formed between researchers, municipalities, businesses and community members are crucial to the development and durability of the project. By deeply routing themselves in the community, the researchers have made sure that their work has progressed to meet evolving needs and issues.
“I think again diverse groups with common interests can come together and create something that benefits the broader community,” Cook explains.
“Homelessness takes different forms over time, so we needed to make sure this tool was responsive and continuously informing strategies and approaches to the long-term issues,” she adds.
In this respect, the project has so far enjoyed a large amount of success. The City of Kelowna has embraced the platform to not only provide housing services but to inform its homelessness strategies and decision-making processes.
The generous support from the Dr. Alexander Aylett Scholarship in Urban Sustainability and Innovation is invaluable for ensuring continued commitment to the idea of cities as sustainable and equitable sites for innovation and development.
If you have thoughts or questions about the article, get in touch with Sam Lumley, Geothink’s newsletter editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.