Category Archives: Geothoughts Podcasts

Gethoughts 8: How Technology is Reshaping Citizen Interactions on Climate Change

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Hydro Quebec is setting up a new circuit of public electric charging stations, one of many changes in the works as cities across Canada prepare for more environmentally friendly futures.

By Drew Bush

We’re very excited to present you with our eighth episode of Geothoughts. You can also subscribe to this Podcast by finding it on iTunes.

In this episode, we examine what role Canada’s cities play in international solutions to climate change as well as how new technologies shape interactions in neighbourhoods and between neighbours on environmental issues. In it, we talk with Geothink researcher Alexander Aylett, a professor and researcher at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique.

Thanks for tuning in. And we hope you subscribe with us at Geothoughts on iTunes. A transcript of this original audio podcast follows.

TRANSCRIPT OF AUDIO PODCAST

Welcome to Geothoughts. I’m Drew Bush.

[Geothink.ca theme music]

Last week on Geothink.ca, we brought you a look at how open data and digital technology are reshaping the way cities plan for sustainable futures and how to act on issues such as climate change. Today we dive deeper into the changes taking place locally and internationally on this topic.

“One of the things I’m most excited about here in Montreal, is electrification of mobility in the city. So something in the order of 40 percent of Montreal’s GHG emissions come from moving people and things around in the city. Trucks, cars, trains—to a certain extent—all of those things. And what we’re seeing now is a real scaling up of, I guess, work that’s been happening over the past four or five years to electrify as much of that as we can.”

That’s the opinion of one expert who has been studying these issues from his office in Montreal, Quebec. We spoke with him over Skype this month.

“Alexander Aylett, I’m a professor of urban sustainability governance and innovation at the Center for Urbanization, Culture, and Society of the National Institute for Scientific Research or the proper French title is Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique in Montreal.”

Aylett believes the time has come for changes that make transit, buildings, and energy more efficient in cities. That’s because cities can play an outsized role in confronting the important environmental issues of today by mixing a curious blend of new technology, empowered citizen groups, and long-term planning. The first signs heralding these changes are here.

“So we have Hydro Quebec that’s setting up la route verte où route bleu of publicly accessible charging points. And it started of with like two, three, four, five and you know now we’re aiming for a few thousand in the city within the next couple of years. And we’re seeing the launch of things like Téo taxi, where there is going to be, their plan, is—if I’m right about their deadlines—by next December is to have something like 2,000 new electric vehicles on the roads of Montreal. So a big private player dramatically increasing the number of electric vehicles that we’ve got on the roads. Similar action happening in big players like CommunAuto.” 

Such changes are not purely financial. Cultural shifts have occurred before in Montreal. Not long ago when the city began planning for the introduction of Bixi bike sharing, they didn’t tinker around the margins. Instead they created many more bike paths that were safer for riders and that have since been adopted by many residents. On environmental issues like climate change a similar transition may soon take place.

“We’ll see gas burning vehicles sort of being retired. New institutional players like taxis, for example, buying electric. Private citizens buying electric. But also private citizens realizing that the increased convenience of smart taxi services like Uber, and Téo, and Car-to-go, and other car sharing networks means that people don’t need to have a private vehicle in a lot of cases anymore. People who are sort of on the borderline zone of needing a car regularly but not every morning for their commute I think will be in a position to just abandon the private automobile in favor of convenient access to different mobility providers.”

Such changes would bode well for those who would see Canada reduce greenhouse gas emissions or GHGs. More cooperation is needed between actions taken by cities and those being coordinated on national and international levels. The 2015 Paris Agreement and the prominent role of cities in it means such a future is not just possible but likely, according to Aylett.

“Coming out of COP21 what we have is a much more open understanding of the fact that cities are a critical partner for states, provinces, and national governments. And I think—and this is why it’s such an exciting period right now, like particularly this next sort of six months—I think that we what we should be seeing is more effective partnerships between those different players. More funding coming down especially in Canada given the commitments our government has to fund urban infrastructure projects…Spreading from city to city to city effective interventions into different aspects of our urban environmental footprints. That’s fantastic.”

In a future where cities help solve climate change, different cities will each contribute a piece of the solution. In Montreal it may be innovations in transport technology and the manner in which individuals book transit, Vancouver may continue leading in green building efforts that incorporate “reach codes” so each step in efficiency serves to enhance the next, and Toronto may utilize new models and data to better plan where to locate parks and green roofs.

Some technological changes will undoubtedly allow citizens to contribute their expertise and opinions to solutions while others will focus on overcoming small barriers in daily life that could have a dramatic impact on environmental issues such as climate change.

“Basically we’re talking about reducing friction and reducing barriers to use where the simplicity of jumping into your car, and driving somewhere—even if in the end it creates congestion, it’s an un-enjoyable experience—it’s almost a knee-jerk reaction for some people because it’s so simple. And the public transit in some situations is more complex because you need to transfer, you need to use, maybe you need to use Bixi and the Metro and the bus. Things that are when you look at it seems more complicated. But having an interface like Transit App that just lays it all out for you means that from a user point of view, it reduces the barrier to switching from one type of behavior—driving in your car—to another type of behavior—which is getting there by any other, you know, means of mobility.”

“And the next phase of that, and this is something that we’re seeing already being considered in some places, like Singapore for example, is just to stop charging people for individual modes of transportation and start charging people for reaching their destination. And so the difference would be you open up your app, for example, and say, ‘I’m here and I need to get there.’ And the application uses smart open data about different modes of transportation to calculate for you a couple of different routes and charges you for the route. And so you just pay to get from your house to school or from your house to work or from your house to the art gallery.”

But that’s not all. New information technologies and open data platforms have a habit of helping citizens to organize to solve problems. Environmental issues like climate change are no different once the right data sets and support are in place.

“If you wanted to start talking about how you can manage a community energy transition, having good online platforms that are a tool that’s used in public mobilization and engagement strategies makes it possible to be more effective at the local level but also then to scale up quite well from local action to action in other local areas either in the same city or other cities.”

Aylett believes that such networked communities can bring together individuals who may have never known each other on topics of mutual concern. Such collaborative work can lead to a snowballing effect where changes to how cities respond to environmental issues might some day become inevitable.

[Geothink.ca theme music]

[Voice over: Geothoughts are brought to you by Geothink.ca and generous funding from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.]

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

 

 

Geothoughts Conversations 2: The Nature of Democracy in the Age of Open Data

Geothoughts Conversations 2 explores the nature of democracy in an age of open data.

Geothoughts Conversations 2 explores the nature of democracy in an age of open data.

By Drew Bush

The largest grant investigating two-way exchanges of locational information between citizens and their city governments, Geothink makes possible countless collaborations and discussions. This month, Geothoughts Conversations brings you a look at one such conversation that took place this past January on the wintry downtown campus of McGill University in Montreal, QC.

We sat down with Geothink head Renee Sieber, associate professor in McGill University’s Department of Geography and School of Environment, and Daniel Paré, associate professor in the Department of Communication and School of Information Studies at the University of Ottawa, where he also serves as an associate director at the Institute for Science, Society, and Policy.

The topics: The nature of democracy and public participation and, later, how city platforms that utilize open data impact democratic processes and citizen engagement. Often hailed as a panacea for making government transparent and the political process more open and inclusive, Paré and Sieber discuss the inaccuracies in this narrative along with how open data has changed the roles of cities and citizens in today’s democracies.

To start us off Sieber dispels the idea that democracy itself requires public participation and discusses the wide spectrum of democractic systems that exist.

Thanks for tuning in. And we hope you subscribe with us at Geothoughts on iTunes.

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

Geothoughts 7: Unpacking the Current and Future Value of Open Civic Data

Geothink researcher Peter Johnson and his students have been working with government partners across the country to examine the state of civic open data projects in Canada.

Geothink researcher Peter Johnson and his students have been working with government partners across the country to examine the state of civic open data projects in Canada.

By Naomi Bloch

Peter Johnson image

Peter Johnson, assistant professor in the University of Waterloo Department of Geography and Environmental Management, was recently awared Ontario’s Young Researcher Award.

Geothink co-applicant researcher Peter A. Johnson is an assistant professor of Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Waterloo. Johnson and his students have been working with Geothink government partners across the country to examine the state of civic open data projects in Canada. In our latest podcast, he discusses how the seemingly desirable ethos of open data may nonetheless hamper our understanding of how end users are interacting with government products.

In their July article published in Government Information Quarterly, Johnson and Geothink head Renee Sieber discuss what they see as the dominant models—and related challenges—of civic open data today. The authors suggest that these models may carry potentially conflicting motivations. Governments can distribute data and leave it to users to discover and determine data’s value, they may aim to track civic issues in ways that are cost efficient, or they may also try to support market innovation via data provision and the promotion of crowd-sourced contributions. On the other hand, open data efforts also have the potential to enable productive and empowering two-way civic interactions when motivated by non-economic imperatives.

What future directions will government data provision take? That may depend a lot on the choices that government agencies—and end users—make today.

 

If you have thoughts or questions about this podcast, get in touch with Naomi Bloch, Geothink’s digital journalist, at naomi.bloch2@gmail.com.

Reference
Sieber, R. E., & Johnson, P. A. (2015). Civic open data at a crossroads: Dominant models and current challenges, Government Information Quarterly, 32(3), pp. 308-315. doi:10.1016/j.giq.2015.05.003. OR: View pre-print copy.

Abstract
As open data becomes more widely provided by government, it is important to ask questions about the future possibilities and forms that government open data may take. We present four models of open data as they relate to changing relations between citizens and government. These models include; a status quo ‘data over the wall’ form of government data publishing, a form of ‘code exchange’, with government acting as an open data activist, open data as a civic issue tracker, and participatory open data. These models represent multiple end points that can be currently viewed from the unfolding landscape of government open data. We position open data at a crossroads, with significant concerns of the conflicting motivations driving open data, the shifting role of government as a service provider, and the fragile nature of open data within the government space. We emphasize that the future of open data will be driven by the negotiation of the ethical-economic tension that exists between provisioning governments, citizens, and private sector data users.

Geothoughts 6: Who Stands to Gain in Canada’s Sharing Economy?

This July, Alberta residents were warned that drivers who use Uber’s car-sharing service may not have appropriate insurance coverage, with potential risks to both drivers and passengers.

This July, Alberta residents were warned that drivers who use Uber’s car-sharing service may not have appropriate insurance coverage, with potential risks to both drivers and passengers.

By Naomi Bloch

The rise of the web-enabled sharing economy is leading to much hope about potentially new sources of income and new ways for communities to connect and share resources. In the process, however, more consumers appear to be turning to global tech companies to acquire convenient, local services.

This July, Alberta residents were warned that drivers who use Uber’s car-sharing service may not have appropriate insurance coverage, with potential risks to both drivers and passengers. Earlier this month in Ontario’s Kitchener-Waterloo region, the local cab company Waterloo Taxi released its new mobile app. The company hopes the app will help it to maintain its edge against Uber, a recent—and not entirely legal—entry to the local marketplace. Meanwhile, starting this fall, Quebec will begin regulating the online home rental service Airbnb.

In this podcast, we interview Geothink co-applicant Leslie Regan Shade, associate professor in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information. Together with PhD candidate Harrison Smith, Shade has been exploring the “cartographies of sharing,” situating the geoweb in the sharing economy of Canada. Shade is particularly interested in the political economic questions now surfacing in the media, in policy circles, and in academia. She and Smith are focusing on three inter-related questions:

  1. What is the state of the sharing economy in Canada, particularly with respect to the fundamental opportunities and challenges currently facing municipal regulators in Canada?
  2. What particular benefits and challenges has the sharing economy brought to Canadian economies, particularly key urban centres?
  3. How is the geoweb contributing to the rise of the sharing economy in Canada?


If you have thoughts or questions about this podcast, get in touch with Naomi Bloch, Geothink’s digital journalist, at naomi.bloch2@gmail.com.

Geothoughts 5: Helping Bring Equitable Access to Healthcare to All Canadians

This week's Geothoughts podcast examines how spatial data can be used to improve access to healthcare for all Canadians.

This week’s Geothoughts podcast examines how spatial data can be used to improve access to healthcare for all Canadians.

By Drew Bush

We’re very excited to present you with our fifth episode of Geothoughts. You can also subscribe to this Podcast by finding it on iTunes.

This episode features a look at how spatial data can be used to improve access to healthcare for all Canadians. In it we talk with Scott Bell from the Department of Geography and Planning at University of Saskatchewan.

Thanks for tuning in. And we hope you subscribe with us at Geothoughts on iTunes. A transcript of this original audio podcast follows.

TRANSCRIPT OF AUDIO PODCAST

This week we sit down with Professor Scott Bell from the Department of Geography and Planning at University of Saskatchewan to discuss his research using geospatial data to help create better healthcare access for all Canadians.

[Geothink.ca theme music]

Welcome to Geothoughts. I’m Drew Bush.

“From a GIS, GIScience perspective, I sort of went extreme in the access to location, or the location aspects of access. So looking at the arrangements of doctors just to get a sense of, just at the physical level, is there an equitable arrangement of doctors. And we know pretty clearly that that’s not true across Canada, at different scales and at the scale of the nation.”

To draw this conclusion, Bell brings a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) perspective to the context of a broad variety of areas of interest in human health. For example, he has collaborated on interdisciplinary health, environmental, and social science research that uses both public and private data.

“My interest in health really has broadened areas of interest to look at access to a variety of things that effect our health.”

This year alone he has worked with the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Dentistry and also examined the accessibility of Canadian food in terms of finding healthy eating options. But collecting such data can sometimes be onerous work owing to the fact that different provincial colleges of physicians and surgeons have varying standards for their data, he must collect population data from Statistics Canada for comparison, and sometimes he might even collect his own data using surveys to gain insight.

“So we integrate data across a variety of sources, mostly publicly available not always in the sort of true and honest definition of open data…We collect our own sometimes using telephone surveys of people to get an idea of what’s controlling or what’s affecting their access to healthcare.”

What’s important is figuring out what particular issues might impact how people access doctors. These include aspects of a given doctor’s services, such as the number of patients they take, or the personal concerns of the consumer or patient.

“We as just members of the public when we look for a doctor, access can be affected by our own personal opinions, or beliefs, or worldviews, or preferences. So if I prefer to be seen by a male doctor and my neighborhood is filled with female doctors, a physical measure of access might show that there are lots of doctors near me and I should have great accessibility. But I’m not willing to see any of those doctors.”

[Geothink.ca theme music]

[Voice over: Geothoughts are brought to you by Geothink.ca and generous funding from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.]

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

Geothoughts Conversations 1: Debating and Defining the Emergent Field of Crowdsourcing Civic Governance

Our second Geothoughts Conversations piece takes a look at crowdsourcing, the topic of the 2015 Summer Institute.

Our first Geothoughts Conversations piece takes a look at crowdsourcing, the topic of the 2015 Summer Institute.

By Drew Bush

One of the hallmarks of any academic conference are the conversations that take place in-between sessions, in the hallways and over meals. In our first Geothink Conversations we aim to give you a flavor of these discussions at Geothink’s now concluded 2015 Summer Institute.

This month’s conversation features Geothink Head Renee Sieber, associate professor in McGill University’s Department of Geography and School of Environment; Robert Goodspeed, assistant professor of Urban Planning at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; Daren Brabham, assistant professor in the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication; and Monica Stephens, assistant professor in the Department of Geography at State University of New York at Buffalo. And, of course, I’m Drew Bush and I’ll be helping steer the conversation along.

Each day of the institute alternated morning lectures, panel discussions and in-depth case studies on topics in crowdsourcing with afternoon work sessions where professors worked with student groups one-on-one on their proposal to meet a challenge posed by the City of Ottawa. For more on the Institute, check out our web site at geothink.ca.

To start us off, Brabham gets the group rolling on what exactly defines the boundaries of crowdsourcing, the topic of many conversations overheard during the three-day conference.


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

Geothoughts Talks 1, 2, & 3: Three Talks to Remember from the 2015 Geothink Summer Institute

Our first three Geothoughts Talks come from the 2015 Summer Institute.

Our first three Geothoughts Talks come from the 2015 Summer Institute.

By Drew Bush

Geothink’s Summer Institute may have concluded over a month ago, but, for those of you who missed it, we bring you three talks to remember. Run as part of Geothink’s five-year Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) partnership grant, the Institute aimed to provide undergraduate and graduate students from the partnership and beyond with knowledge and training in theoretical and practical aspects of crowdsourcing.

Each day of the institute alternated morning lectures, panel discussions and in-depth case studies on topics in crowdsourcing with afternoon work sessions where professors worked with student groups one-on-one on their proposal to meet a challenge posed by the City of Ottawa. See our first post on this here.

The lectures featured Geothink Head Renee Sieber, associate professor in McGill University’s Department of Geography and School of Environment; Robert Goodspeed, assistant professor of Urban Planning at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; Daren Brabham, assistant professor in the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Journalistm and Communication; and Monica Stephens, assistant professor in the Department of Geography at State University of New York at Buffalo.

Below we present you with a rare opportunity to learn about crowdsourcing with our experts as they discuss important ideas and case studies. A short summary describes what each talk covers.


Geothoughts Talk One: In-Depth Case Studies in Crowdsourcing (1hr 3min)

Join Sieber and Brabham as they discuss two case studies that examine the actual application of crowdsourcing technologies and techniques to real-world situations. First Sieber describes the work of her Master’s Student Ana Brandusescu in applying crowdsourcing technologies to chronic community development issues in three places in Montreal, QC and Vancouver, BC. Next, Brabham discusses one of his first efforts to research the application of crowdsourcing technology to public transportation planning during a design contest he held for a bus stop at the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City, UT.


Geothoughts Talk Two: A Deeper Dive into Crowdsourcing: Advanced Topics in Crowdsourcing and Civic Crowdfunding (1hr 8min)

Goodspeed spends the morning covering three topics of inherent interest to anyone involved in crowdsourcing work. During this talk, he focuses in on three areas new to his own research including crowdfunding, formal crowdsourcing and the tool Ushahidi. Each of these topics helps prepare listeners for being a crowdsourcing professional.


Geothoughts Talk Three: Discussion on the Future of Crowdsourcing in the Public Sector (35 min)

Brabham and Goodspeed lead a discussion on where the future for crowdsourcing lies in the public sector. In particular, Goodspeed begins with an opening statement on how crowdsourcing can be used to help government agencies gain legitimacy by actually seeking input which can guide their actions. Brabham then challenges students to consider that crowdsourcing applications do fail and, even when they succeed, often can challenge whole professions that exist to collect the same data by other means.

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

Geothoughts 4: Have We Broadened the Audience? Civic Participation in an Age of Digital Technology

Geothoughts 4 examines how civic participation is changing with the advent of geospatial digital technologies.

Geothoughts 4 examines how civic participation is changing with the advent of geospatial digital technologies.

By Drew Bush

We’re very excited to present you with our fourth episode of Geothoughts. You can also subscribe to this Podcast by finding it on iTunes.

This podcast examines how civic participation is changing with the advent of geospatial digital technologies that allow for cities to collect many forms of data on their citizens and for citizens to communicate with cities and about all that happens within them. We interview Geothink’s Head Renee Sieber, Associate Professor in McGill University’s Department of Geography and School of Environment, to find out her opinions on this subject.

Thanks for tuning in. And we hope you subscribe with us at Geothoughts on iTunes. A transcript of this original audio podcast follows.

TRANSCRIPT OF AUDIO PODCAST

This week we sit down with Geothink Head Renee Sieber to discuss how geospatial digital technology continues to reshape citizen interactions with cities. Sieber is an associate professor in McGill University’s Department of Geography and School of Environment.

[Geothink.ca theme music]

Welcome to Geothoughts. I’m Drew Bush.

“It’s a very different world in which we can on a Saturday evening or an early Monday morning know what’s happening in our cities and comment on what’s happening in cities. It’s technologies like sensors in road networks that allow cities to know how we’re travelling through a town, where we are meeting up with people to, for example, create dynamic neighborhoods of where people congregate and want to see their friends to then create better urban design for cities. So the technology is really transforming the way we can have this interaction.”

For example, governments can now know if you visit certain parks, go to certain places for coffee, and meet certain friends while doing either. So, theoretically at least, they can now design urban spaces and cities themselves to be safer, more vibrant, and better suited to the range of activities taking place in these places.

“Indeed, we can customize the city to individual desires. Well, that seems both incredibly convenient and incredibly Orwellian at the same time.”

Now in the third year of a five-year partnership research grant funded by the Canadian Government’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Geothink involves 26 researchers and 30 partners in examining the implications of increasing two-way exchanges of locational information between citizens and governments.

“Cities are facing tremendous budget cuts, so they may not, they literally may not have the money to have lengthy public meetings. They may need to respond quite rapidly to challenges, so they may not have the time. So it is in everyone’s best interest to try to create smooth yet meaningful interactions, and we have technologies to do that—both technologies in terms of your phone and also technologies in the imbedded infrastructure of cities. But how is that going to affect a very deep meaningful conversation, and in deep meaningful ways that cities respond to the needs of their residents and the needs of factors outside their municipalities?”

That’s where the interdisciplinary research of Geothink’s team and collaborators as well as its partnerships with many cities come in, said Sieber. All of these new interactions and ways of governing or being a citizen require research to be better understood.

“Well it’s a really exciting time. It’s an opportunity for citizens to be engaged when they don’t necessarily have the time to attend a meeting. So they can both watch city activities online through their own dashboards. They can communicate as issues arise. They can, perhaps cities may wish to create polls of online sentiment or they want to alert citizens of emergency situations or of interesting happenings in a city.”

Not all applications of new digital technologies have positive connotations. For example, these technologies make it easier for cities to conduct better surveillance of citizens since they can track people through the cell-phones they carry or by the places they check into.

Such privacy concerns have the potential to make people very uncomfortable, particularly because it means placing more trust in governments and technologies that could misuse or abuse this data, according to Sieber. Other problems include the mistaken belief that new technologies mean more people can access and interact with their cities. While efforts to take some conversations or debates online might be advantageous to certain populations, it can also be disenfranchising to others, Sieber added.

However, that doesn’t mean that more digital opportunities haven’t translated into more opportunities for citizens to interact with their cities and their services.

“I think we are in an environment in which we have really broadened opportunities for citizens to participate through social media, through these various kinds of devices that we have. So I think its very exciting and also we can have citizens more fully engaged as members of the city in reporting in monitoring events in real time.”

However, Sieber cautions that we must remember technology is not a panacea.

“Democracy can be very, very messy, and sometimes you need to get people who don’t necessarily agree with each other in the same room with each other. You can not necessarily rely totally on harvesting, for example, Tweets or Facebook posts to understand public sentiment. Democracy and perceptions about what a city should do are often much more textured than that.”

[Geothink.ca theme music]

[Voice over: Geothoughts are brought to you by Geothink.ca and generous funding from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.]

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