Category Archives: Geothink Videos

Out of the Ivory Tower: Conveying Open Data Research to the General Public – Summer Institute Day 3

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Day three of Geothink’s 2016 Summer Institute featured Ann Rauhala and April Lindgren leading a writing-skills incubator workshop.

By Drew Bush

On day three, the students at Geothink’s 2016 Summer Institute shifted gears from working with open data to thinking about the importance of conveying their work to the public. The day alternated between interactive lectures on how to write a strong Op-ed piece for a newspaper and hands-on group work where students tried their own hand at writing gripping prose.

Ann Rahaula, an associate professor Ryerson University’s School of Journalism and associate director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, started the day by talking about the importance of disseminating one’s research to a broader audience. Then she covered how to structure opinions pieces. She was followed by Geothink Partner April Lindgren, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism and founding director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, who discussed how to think and write clearly about one’s research.

“You are already or are entering a world, let’s face it, of great privilege,” Rahaula told students. “You are lucky enough to be one of those people who gets to work with ideas and do exciting things that keep your brains moving. You are very fortunate. Part of the responsibility that comes with that privilege is your ability to communicate those ideas.”

“Because after all if what’s going on in the academy is not available or understood or appreciated in the public, we would still be, I don’t know, living in caves and reading the Globe and Mail,” she added. “And nothing else. Communicating these ideas will dramatically enhance your career no matter what your career is. It essentially raises your profile. It is actually, literally awarded in the academy. It is seen as knowledge translation.”

Over the first two days of the institute, students learned difficult lessons about applying actual open data to civic problems through group work and interactions with Toronto city officials, local organizations, and Geothink faculty. This last day of the institute represented the culmination of this work with open data.

Held annually as part of a five-year Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) partnership grant, each year the Summer Institute devotes three days of hands-on learning to topics important to research taking place in the grant. This year, each day of the institute alternated lectures and panel discussions with work sessions where instructors mentored groups one-on-one.

After her introduction to the importance of students being able to communicate their ideas to a wider audience, Rahaula detailed the ways in which students should be structuring any opinions that they write. The interactive lecture took students through examples of opinion pieces ranging from good to bad, with detailed analyses of what made them either effective or ineffective.

To see an excerpt of Rahaula’s talk on how to structure an Op-ed, check out this video:

Lindgren continued with a discussion of the important points students should consider in constructing any piece of writing to make it accessible and engaging to the reader.

“Sitting down to write does cause grief to quite a—well to most of us at some point in time,” Lindgren told students. “And a lot of us actually also think that there is something really mysterious and mystical about the writing process. You know, I have to be in the mood and the window blinds have to be down to a certain level, and the plants have to be in flower, and I have to have had this for breakfast, and then I can write.”

“Well, that’s maybe what you think,” she added. “But the truth is it’s like anything else. If you want to get better at it, you’ve got to sit down and you’ve got to practice it because you will improve with practice. Now having said all of that, there actually are some tricks of the trade to write in a clear and accessible way. And I’m going to talk about some of those today.”

For more of Lindgren’s talk, check out this excerpt:

For the students in attendance, the change in direction on the last day proved refreshing and taught them important new skills. For many, the nuanced and detailed coverage of best writing practices is not something that is often taught in their home departments. While working in groups, many mentioned learning important skills such as how to clearly organize an opinions piece, use Twitter to promote research, write captivating sentences, or pick the right time to propose an article to a publication.

“The third day, for me as a journalist, was like going back home from a trip,” Catalina Arango, from University of Ottawa, said. “I had the chance to bring all those new experiences and lessons and put them into practice using familiar tools. The almost colloquial tone of the presentations and the exercises allowed me to translate that ‘almost exclusively academic’ concept of open data to simple words. Words that people can understand and digest in order to see their real value.”

“I took skills learned in other latitudes and put them into action in my current context,” she added. “It was a super interesting experience.”

Stay tuned for more iTunes podcasts from the Summer Institute here, and, of course, watch more of our video clips (which we’ll be uploading in coming days) here.

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Geothink students, faculty, and staff at the 2016 Summer Institute at Ryerson University in Toronto.

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

Measuring the Value of Open Government Data – Summer Institute Day 2

 Day two of Geothink's 2016 Summer Institute began with short lectures on specific disciplinary perspectives on open data. Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law at the University of Ottawa, gave a legal perspective on the value of open data.

Day two of Geothink’s 2016 Summer Institute began with short lectures on specific disciplinary perspectives on open data. Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law at the University of Ottawa, gave a legal perspective on the value of open data.

By Drew Bush

Day two of the 2016 Summer Institute began with presentations from Geothink’s faculty that aimed to provide different disciplinary approaches to evaluating open data. Armed with this information, students spent the rest of the day working in groups to first create measures to value open data, and, second, role-play how differing sectors might use a specific type of data.

The morning began with 30-minute presentations from members of Geothink’s faculty. Peter Johnson, an assistant professor at Waterloo University’s Department of Geography and Environmental Planning, led off with a presentation on how municipal governments evaluate the success of their open data programs.

“This is the situation that we sort of find ourselves in when it comes to evaluating open data,” Johnson told students. “There’s this sort of world outside of government that’s bent on evaluating open data. And those are people like me, academics, those are non-profits, those are, you know, private sector organizations who are looking at open data and trying to understand how is it being used. So this is kind of, I think, a sign that open data has arrived a little bit. Right? It’s not just this sort of dusty, sort of nerdy cobweb in the corner of the municipal government basement. It’s something that other people are noticing and other people are taking an interest in.”

Johnson was followed by Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law at the University of Ottawa, with a legal perspective on the value of open data. Pamela Robinson, associate professor in Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, gave a civic-oriented approach to the value of open data, one that was intentionally at odds with the private sector.

“I’ll be really blunt, I’m not that interested in making money from open data,” Robinson told students in regard to the common municipal reason for opening data. “It’s important but it’s not my thing. As an urban planner, my primary preoccupation is about citizen’s relationships with their government. And I’m interested in the proposition that open data as an input into open government can fundamentally shift the relationship between civil society and institutions.”

Finally, Geothink Head Renee Sieber, associate professor in McGill University’s Department of Geography and School of Environment, provided a summary of the methods for evaluating open data.

Each of these short lectures were part of a comprehensive look at open data during the three-day institute. Students at this year’s institute learned difficult lessons about applying actual open data to civic problems and on how to evaluate the success of an open data program. In between activities on day two, students also heard from a panel of municipal officials and representatives of Toronto-based organizations working with open data.

Held annually as part of a five-year Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) partnership grant, each year the Summer Institute devotes three days of hands-on learning to topics important to research taking place in the grant. This year, each day of the institute alternated lectures and panel discussions with work sessions where instructors mentored groups one-on-one about the many aspects of open data.

But many students struggled not only with thinking about how to evaluate the open data that they were working with, but also with how to determine the impact of any project that utilizes such an information source.

“I think a big challenge that I personally am facing is this idea of it’s supposed to have real improvement for society, it’s suppose to help society,” Rachel Bloom, from McGill University, said. “But we find that a lot of vulnerable populations actually won’t have access to these applications and the technology. So it’s kind of like trying to reconcile this idea of helping while also being aware that like maybe you are not actually reaching the population you are trying to help. Which is kind of what openness is about—is actually engaging the people personally.”

It is for such reasons that evaluating open data can be quite nuanced—an idea represented in student group presentations on the topic. The presentations varied greatly with some student groups choosing metrics based on the things that a community might value and then establishing an outside monitor to observe datasets and report back to the community. Other students established a workflow to harness citizen input to evaluate open data through instruments such as online surveys.

An afternoon panel comprised of local city officials and representatives from groups concerned with open data discussed the practical side of publishing, using, and evaluating open data as it stands today. The panel included Keith McDonald, former open data lead for City of Toronto; Bryan Smith, co-founder and Chief-Executive-Officer of ThinkData Works; Marcy Burchfield and Vishan Guyadeen, from The Neptis Foundation; And, Dawn Walker and Curtis McCord, Geothink students from University of Toronto who designed the Citizen’s Guide to Open Data.

Two of the primary concerns shared by panelists included the lack of standards for which differing municipalities provide open data, and the gap that exists between how open data is provided and what businesses or citizens require to actually use it. Smith spoke of how early visions of students and application developers using open data to radically transform life in cities have not scaled up to the national level particularly well.

“What we are seeing, which I don’t think anyone predicted, is the large companies—mostly companies that run a bunch of apps that probably everyone here has on their phones—are the ones who are the biggest purveyors of open data,” Smith told students. Issues with the type and quantity of data (as well as differences between how data is provided in different places) have limited other players and even some of these big developers too.

For more on this discussion, check out an excerpt of the panel discussion below. We pick up the discussion as the panelists talk about standards in relation to the Open Government Partnership.

In role-playing activities, students considered the issues raised by the panel as well as the practical problems citizens or other groups might face in finding the open data they require. Concluding presentations included those from students playing the role of real estate developers, non-profits concerned with democracy, and a bicycle food courier service.

Stay tuned for the full audio of each professors’ talk presented as podcasts here. Also check back on Geothink for a synopsis of day three, and, of course, watch more of our video clips (which we’ll be uploading in coming days) here.

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

Cooking up Open Data with the Iron Chef – Summer Institute Day 1

Richard Pietro and James Steenberg discuss one group's open data application with them at Geothink's 2016 Summer Institute.

Richard Pietro and James Steenberg discuss one group’s open data application with them at Geothink’s 2016 Summer Institute.

By Drew Bush

The 2016 Geothink Summer Institute kicked off on May 9 with introductions from Geothink Head Renee Sieber, associate professor in McGill University’s Department of Geography and School of Environment, and Pamela Robinson, associate professor in Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning. By that afternoon, the 35 students attending had gotten their hands dirty conceptualizing applications for real open data.

Students at this year’s institute learned difficult lessons about applying actual open data to civic problems through group work and interactions with Toronto city officials, local organizations, and Geothink faculty. The last day of the institute culminated in a writing-skill incubator that gave participants the chance to practice communicating even the driest details of work with open data in a manner that grabs the attention of the public.

Held annually as part of a five-year Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) partnership grant, each year the Summer Institute devotes three days of hands-on learning to topics important to research taking place in the grant. This year, each day of the institute alternated lectures and panel discussions with work sessions where instructors mentored groups one-on-one about the many aspects of open data.

On day one, students learned about open data during an Open Data Iron Chef event with Toronto-based open data expert, Richard Pietro, who affectionately calls himself an open government and open data fanboy. He’s known for twice riding his motorcycle across Canada to raise awareness of open data, his film Open, and the company he founded OGT Productions. All of this work has led him to a unique view of open data and open government.

“It [open data and open government] allows people to customize their government,” Pietro said between sessions. “It’s as simple as that. And whenever anybody asks what it means: It just allows people to customize their government. Very similarly it does what social media did in 2004 to our relationships with our friends and companies and celebrities. Open data and open government is like social media but ten years ago.”

“It’s very new,” he added. “Some people understand its potential but nobody really understands how much it’s going to change everything about how people interact with their government and how government interacts with people. So it’s going to have incredible transformative powers.”

Watch a clip of Pietro introducing the Open Data Iron Chef event on day one here:

After Pietro’s introduction to open data, James Steenberg, a postdoctoral researcher at Ryerson University with Robinson, walked students through the different file types open data is often released in, what an actual data set might look like, and how to go about working with such data.

“I think it would be more useful if I just went through all the questions I would have if I was literally doing an Iron Chef by myself at home in the kitchen, which I did,” Steenberg told students. “Small apartment, my work desk happened to be pretty much in my kitchen, so I was able to draw some inspiration.”

“And I put together some slides and questions and answers based on just the questions I had starting from scratch,” he continued. “So going to the open data portal, downloading them, opening them up, what kind of file formats are we looking at and so forth. So that’s what I’m going to do today, I’m going to bounce around from a few different files as you saw. But basically I’d like to just develop my own civic app here of what I hope can be a useful function in the city.”

The majority of the day was then given over to students actually finding data they wished to work with (Pietro gave a wide variety of examples during his presentation), a close examination of their chosen datasets, and determining novel uses for which the data could be used to improve city services or better engage citizens. At the end of the day, students presented their proposals that included an analysis of gaps in open data (in availability and quality) and what data was needed to be able to create an open data solution to a chosen real-world problem.

For one student group, this meant taking a closer look at data pertaining to water main breaks within the City of Toronto. In particular, they hoped to determine if any spatial pattern existed with water main breaks in comparison to aspects of the built or natural environments that might influence this phenomenon. The group felt such data could be used to help predict future break sites and facilitate repair before a rupture occurs.

Experiences with this type of work within the group varied widely.

“I don’t have a lot of background in some of this mapping stuff, so I come at it from a very different perspective,” Shelley Cook, from the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, said.

Her group-mate, in contrast, felt quite comfortable with the project the group had chosen.

“So I’ve had a lot of experience doing research on sort of the geographic side of open data, looking at geographic content,” Edgar Baculi, from Ryerson University, added. “I like this activity. This is a great experience. One question that comes to mind right now is why the quality of the data isn’t what I want it to be. In the future, I’d like to see the quality of the data better released, better published from municipal governments to help better answer questions we have as citizens in the decision-making process and in making things better for everyone else.”

Stay tuned for more iTunes podcasts from the Summer Institute here, check back on Geothink for synopses of days two and three, and, of course, watch more of our video clips (which we’ll be uploading in coming days) here.

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

Mapping Inclusive Employment: Community Engagement on the Participatory Geoweb

Project partners exploring the interactive map

Participants were asked to draw pictures representing the five stakeholder groups. The drawings formed the basis for the icons used on the map markers. Photo courtesy the SpICE Lab (Spatial Information for Community Engagement)

 

By Naomi Bloch

In British Columbia, researchers have been using a crowdsourced mapping tool to capture positive employment experiences of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Geothink co-applicant Jon Corbett, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, is one of several UBC contributors to the participatory research project. Recently, the group published findings from its two-year pilot program.

The project is a collaboration between government agencies, the University of British Columbia, as well as self-advocates with intellectual disabilities and community partners. It demonstrates how government and citizens can employ the geoweb and participatory mapping to address community issues. “What we wanted to do specifically,” said Corbett, “was create a crowdsourced tool that would enable people to share their positive experiences, so that other people with intellectual disabilities and their family members and employers and also service providers could come to the site and they could actually see examples of positive employment. And so then they could emulate that, and they could strategize around that.”

This required developing an online environment that could engage all the identified stakeholder groups. To accomplish this, the initiative turned to the GeoLive participatory mapping tool, developed by Corbett’s Spatial Information for Community Engagement (SpICE) Lab. The GeoLive platform is a key component of a number of Geothink partner projects.

According to Corbett, GeoLive was initially conceived as a means to better support excluded and marginalized populations. “We know that when we share information on the cloud we have no idea how that information will be re-purposed, re-used, or stored,” Corbett said. “It can reappear in ways where we might least expect it in the future. So we wanted to get away from that and provide a certain level of guarantee that the information that people shared through the map is actually uniquely stored on our own servers, and should they wish to delete it they can delete it and it will be deleted forever.”

Corbett and GeoLive programmer Nick Blackwell are able to work directly with community members to customize the platform based on user needs. The software, which is built around the familiar Google Maps API,  is now used both by community groups as well as academic researchers. In the process of working with their inclusive employment partners, Corbett and his colleagues gained new insights regarding some of the usability challenges on the participatory geoweb. These included spatial literacy issues, the need to make the platform more mobile-friendly and less reliant on keyboard interaction, as well as accommodating users who have limited familiarity with today’s social media conventions.

Self advocates with intellectual disabilities and other stakeholders collaborated with Corbett’s team to design, evaluate, and further customize the online mapping tool. The group then worked with individuals and organizations throughout the province to collect stories of successful and inclusive employment. Over eighty narratives are now included on the map. While some markers have simple text descriptions, others include video, audio, as well as photos.

The map now serves as a shared space for community engagement. At the same time, university researchers associated with the project have been able to analyze the collected stories to identify some of the common features described in participants’ positive employment experiences. Map contributors discuss issues such as the challenges of finding a job, as well as the social and practical factors that create an enriching work environment. These findings are expected to help inform best practice guidelines that can support employment services for people with intellectual disabilities in the future.

The map is now public, and anyone can contribute their own relevant experiences or explore other people’s stories at http://www.mappinginclusiveemployment.ca/.

Reference: Hole, R., Corbett, J., Cook, S., & de Raaf, S. (2015). Mapping inclusive employment practices for individuals with developmental disabilities: A participatory research mapping project. The BC Centre for Employment Excellence, 32 pages.

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

Moving Forward with Canadian Census Data

By Naomi Bloch


Chloropleth maps of National Household Survey global non-response data at the dissemination-area level courtesy Scott Bell. Global non-response rates > 50% resulted in suppression of data for that spatial unit. All maps are classified using a quantile classification scheme.


As we move forward (and backward) with the 2016 return of Canada’s long-form census, questions remain for everyone who uses Statistics Canada’s key socio-economic data. Researchers, local government agencies, community organizations, and industry will still need to use data collected via the 2011 National Household Survey and understand how to reconcile that information with long-form census data.

Concerns regarding the reliability of NHS data stem from the lower response rates that resulted from the non-mandatory nature of the 2011 survey. The overall response rate for the survey decreased from 94 percent in 2006 to 69 percent in 2011. Media attention has centred on the fact that Statistics Canada chose not to release survey data for 25 percent of all census subdivisions because response rates for those spatial units were too low. A key question is whether the regions for which we have no reliable data share certain socio-economic characteristics — and if so, how this might impact service provision.

Geothink co-applicant researcher Scott Bell, a professor of Geography and Planning at University of Saskatchewan, has been studying and mapping the spatial patterns of the National Household Survey’s global non-response rates. His work examines various geographic levels, and considers response rate patterns relative to several socio-economic variables. Bell found that across the 15 cities he studied, there are many commonalities between areas where response rates are similar.

In this video interview, Bell discusses his research and its implications.

For more from Scott Bell, see also: The Long-term Impacts of the Short-Lived National Household Survey

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

Geothink Video Interview 3: Our Experts Take on Crowdsourcing

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.34.20 PMBy Drew Bush

We’re excited to bring you our long-awaited video interview that features Geothink’s experts discussing issues of authenticity and accuracy with crowdsourced data.  Data collected through crowdsourcing methods increasingly has replaced traditional forms of data collection.

This video features Geothink Head Renee Sieber, associate professor in McGill University’s Department of Geography and School of Environment; Daren Brabham, assistant professor in the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Journalistm and Communication; Scott Bell, a professor of Geography and Planning at University of Saskatchewan; And, Claus Rinner,a professor and chair of Ryerson University’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies.

We hope you enjoy this video as much as we enjoyed making it. Afterwards, leave us a comment and tell us what you think about this important area of debate concerning crowdsourced data.

You can also learn more about crowdsourcing by reading our post on this central topic to our 2015 Summer Institute, listening to these lectures from the Summer Institute, or listening to our experts talk about the topic over lunch last June. 

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

Geothink Video Interview 2: Ever Wondered Why Geothink?

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By Drew Bush

Geothinkers, have you ever wondered how Geothink got its start? Or perhaps you are someone who just stumbled on this site and might be wondering what is Geothink?

Wonder no longer. Today we bring you two video interviews with Geothink Head Renee Sieber, associate professor in McGill University’s Department of Geography and School of Environment. She’ll not only put to rest where Geothink came from but also talk about how today’s technology has fundamentally altered our relationship with the cities we live in.

Watch the longer interview here:

In a rush? Get the quick answers on who and what Geothink is right here:

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

Geothink Video Interview 1: Teresa Scassa, University of Ottawa

By Drew Bushfaculty_olympics

This Geothink Video Interview brings us a closeup look at the work and ideas of Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law at the University of Ottawa. In particular, we talk with her about her views on Canada’s Action Plan for Open Government 2.0, problems with open access under the plan, the idea of making government data open by default and the role of academics (like those in Geothink) in making government more transparent.

Find the interview below. As always, all thoughts and comments are welcome. And, of course, stay tuned for more videos and podcasts soon on Geothink.ca.

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