Tag Archives: Canada

Geothink Research Gives Inside Look at how Toronto’s Makerspaces are Governed

A McGill University undergraduate has undertaken unique research on the governance of Toronto's Makerspaces as his honours thesis project.

A McGill University undergraduate has undertaken unique research on the governance of Toronto’s Makerspaces as his honours thesis project.

By Drew Bush

Google “Makerspaces” and you might not understand the definition you’re reading. First popular in China and other Asian countries, these do-it-yourself (DIY) spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn have also spread to the United States and, most recently, Canada.

Many are located at libraries where they include tools such as 3D printers, software, and electronics while others include craft and hardware supplies, online sites, tools, and more. People go to these social spaces to build and invent often with expensive, specialized equipment, while teaching and learning from their peers.

In research funded by a McGill University Arts Undergraduate Research Internship Award (ARIA) and Geothink, one student has found a huge variance between the types of spaces found in Toronto. The city’s groups represent what McGill University Undergraduate Jordan Bowden calls a unique Canadian evolution of the Makerspace concept. Many of Canada’s Makerspaces face little formal regulation and differ greatly from their formulations than in other countries, he added.

“My research tries to make the argument that there are sort of intervening factors between the actual desire to make stuff and start a Makerspace and the actual production of the thing,” he says of research he conducted into how 11 different Toronto Makerspaces are governed in the summer of 2015. His work was undertaken with the supervision of Geothink Head Renee Sieber, associate professor in McGill University’s Department of Geography and School of Environment. It will constitute his soon-to-be-submitted undergraduate honours thesis.

“It’s interesting because there are so many actors which have emerged in my research that participate,” he added. “Ranging from the local government, which has been involved only in a limited extent in the way that they fund maker events. Like there’s a big festival called the maker festival. And there’s also more formal like funding agencies. But it’s interesting they only fund very particular aspects of Makerspaces. So they’re only interested in more entrepreneurship focused endeavours versus artists.”

One of the main differences in the Toronto Makerspaces where Bowden conducted his interviews was the manner in which they were governed. At first, he focused his research on looking at the way formal provincial or federal agencies regulate what Makerspaces can build or how much noise they might make. But he didn’t find any evidence of the province or federal government regulating these spaces.

Bowden also believed he’d be able to interview a wide number of people and groups. But that didn’t pan out during the summer he spent observing different Makerspaces around the city and going to maker related events. What he found instead was a need for longer more in-depth interviews with fewer groups that possessed a wide variety of organizational structures. These interviews make up the core of his thesis research and include non-profit boards, for profit companies, groups of artists, local library groups, and spaces run by the government.

“Governance matters, [and] a wide variety of actors, including nonhuman, play a role in the governance system,” Bowden said of the Makerspaces he examined. Interestingly, the idea of governance within these spaces also varies greatly, he added.

“I use the term a lot in the paper, urban governance systems,” Bowden said. Such governance systems can shape a Makerspace’s existance and what people actually make, he added. There are a multitude of factors which restrict or enable what makers create in the space, like noise, tools, or the organizational factors.

Bowden has personal experience with such intervening factors. He’s been involved in the Makerspace community for quite some time, originally out of interest in a corporate project using a 3D printer. It’s led him to believe that there’s not much research right now on the different Makerspaces emerging in the Canadian context. In particular, he says, not much has been written on the differing contexts and mechanisms by which they’re governed.

“It’s been a year long project, which is actually a bit more extensive than the usual honours theses are,” he said. “It’s been great because I’ve been able to do field research which a lot of people wouldn’t do for undergrad thesis. Including interviews. So it’s really been a really great experience for me in terms of getting a good feel for research and doing field research as well.”

Find out more about Makerspaces and how Bowden conducted his research in Geothoughts Podcast 10: Governing Makerspaces in Toronto with Jordan Bowden.

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

The Perils, Pitfalls, and Promise of Open Government – a Geothink Interview with Daniel Paré

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Geothink researcher Daniel Paré examines design-reality gaps in Canadian municipal open government platforms.

By Drew Bush

Earlier this month, Public Sector Digest’s first Open Cities Index ranked Canada’s municipalities according to their openness in supplying municipal data online. The index examined the number of data sets available in three areas of accountability (e.g. elections or budget data), innovation (e.g. traffic volume or service requests), and social policy (e.g. crime rates or health performance) for 34 Canadian cities. Find more details on this index in a previous Geothink.ca story.

But this type of examination represents only one aspect of a city’s openness. Geothink researchers have cautioned that one must consider each city’s goals in making datasets available (as well as tracking how they are used) when assessing the openness of a city. City platforms that utilize open data, sometimes referred to as e-government, are often hailed as a panacea for making government transparent and the political process more open and inclusive. Such pronouncements have accompanied the digitization of government records and data since the 1990s.

Geothink.ca recently sat down with one Geothink researcher to assess the validity of this claim, the downsides of e-government, and to discuss his research on the topic. Daniel Paré is an 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. His research focuses on the social, economic, political, and technical issues arising from innovations in information and communication technologies in developing and industrialized countries.

Geothink.ca: So tell us a bit about your current recent interests right now, and what you are most excited about in your work.

Paré: What I’m interested in looking at is the points of convergence and divergence between the rhetoric surrounding e-government in the late 1990s early 2000s with much of what we’re hearing about open government data and open data and the promises and perils and pitfalls and such, and sort of contrasting those two. In large part, it’s motivated by the fact that one of the things that I’ve been struck by just sort of informally is it just seems to me that there’s just tremendous parallels almost to the point of sort of repeating the same sort of mantras that we were repeating a little more than 10 years ago what with regards to e-government.

So I want to see the way that that holds. It plays into this whole idea in terms of the myths that are associated with technological change in terms of the liberating potential, the progressive potential, these sort of technological developments. So certainly in the area of open government data, the question becomes, or the issue is sort of, we hear lots of rhetoric about political progress and economic progress and such, and I basically want to suss those things out.

Geothink.ca: What are the differences between citizen-government and client-government interactions and what do you think the transformation toward open government is doing for both of those audiences?

Paré: Well, if we go back to e-government, at the time that e-government came on to the scene, part of the debate was between e-governance and e-government. And a lot of the early discourse and rhetoric around there was focused on the democratic potential. So citizens would be able to now access information much more easily— government information—become more engaged with their government on multiple levels, and, in order to simplify here, everything would become rosy. The underlying assumption being basically that with the ability to have access to information, citizens would seek out that information and would become more engaged in the political domain as a result of that. And almost sort of, in its more extreme cases, [it was] presented almost as sort of linear, ipso facto, done deal.

It was quickly identified, that in many ways e-government wasn’t about e-governance per se, certainly not in the political sense. It was about delivering services more effectively to citizens but in the role of clients essentially. Nothing wrong with that but that’s fundamentally different from political engagement as it’s normally understood. So, yes, it’s fantastic that, yes, I can file all my taxes online, or that we can get information, or that we can renew our licenses, or that we can have access to that information, but that’s more of a client service based implementation and usage than a sort of political domain.

If we jump forward now to the recent years in terms of open government and open data, we have a number of sorts of different discourses that are playing around. Part of it is to say that yes there’s open data and open government—bearing in mind that they’re separate things—that, you know, with access to this information, that fosters greater transparency and hopefully greater transparency [fosters] less corruption, more effective government, etc. The other aspect of that—complementary aspect—is sort of the economic angle saying well if people have access to government information they can harvest this information, they can come up with new sorts of innovations whether that be an app or some sort of other product that gets developed as a result of an analysis of the information that’s now available to them. And this then becomes a means or mechanism for fostering economic growth.

So you have those discourses or those narratives playing out. Now the issue, or one of the many issues, is the fact that realizing those benefits depends on a whole host of factors. And [governments] are dealing here with issues in terms of how do [they] organize and respond to demand, how do [they] organize and respond to supply, and how do [they] organize and respond and try to promote innovation. So you have those sorts of three things playing out. And so to come back to what I mentioned earlier about notions of myths around technologies…we tend to do away with, narratively, with the complexities and ambiguities that are associated with these processes. And so if we say, yes, you know, open data and open governance is a fantastic tool for promoting transparency and enhanced democracy, well possibly, yes, and possibly, no. We need to unravel that. It’s not a done deal. But the myth of that rhetoric is a punchy message. Likewise if we say, yes, well open data and open government is fantastic because it can spur economic growth and all sort of innovations. Fair enough. But again that covers up the challenges and complexities that are associated with that.

Geothink.ca: How does this relate to gaps you are seeing in how platforms are designed for e-government and their actual implementation in terms of how they are used?

Paré: In other work that I’ve done, we do a lot of stuff around the ideas of design-reality gaps. And so the notion there being that, you know, we may design a particular platform with a particular purpose in mind. And it has particular potential but then when we look at the implementation of a particular platform often times it has a host of unintended consequences. There is no guarantee that it will be used in a particular way. And so the opportunities and potentials that were meant to be reaped don’t materialize, right?

In some of those cases that might be linked to the platform itself and in others cases it might be linked to organizational factors. So we can think in terms of a government information system. If we are going to put in a new information system in the government bureaucracy, for example, the assumption is that it will enhance interdepartmental exchanges of communication and information. What that view overlooks is the turf battles between departments and agencies within government. The idea there, in this example, being that it’s not because we have the effective communication system in place that it will actually be used in an effective manner because there are other sociopolitical and cultural factors in that regard.

In the case of open data and open government, we tend to see for example a lot of claims about, sort of, hey, it’s great this information is online people are going to use it. But one of the early challenges that we encountered was, say, well those who can actually use it and do something with it are a very limited and niche segment of the population…The raw data—the raw information that’s there—is in such a form that people don’t know what to do with it or how to manipulate it. So on the one hand, yes, it’s open data the information is there, on the other hand, great, it’s there but what do I do with it if I don’t have the computer savvy or the statistical skills to deal with the information that’s there? So those are those sorts of gaps and complexities that I’m interested in.

Geothink.ca: How does your work relate to Geothink’s research goals and what do you think of the partnership?

Paré: Great question. Geothink relates to this for me in the sense of the open data, open government aspect of it. I had come to this project, Geothink, sort of as an outsider. For me, Geothink, very early on before I knew very much about it was oh, you know, you’re talking about geographical information systems. Which I’ve since learned we’re moving well beyond that. So for me, the issue in terms of Geothink and Geoweb, it fits into issues of open data, open government and clearly the geo part sort of entails a locational element in terms of locational types of data.

Tweet your ideas on this interview to Daniel Paré @DJ_Pare

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

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 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.

Laying Out the Challenge – Geothink Summer Institute Day 1

The main atrium of the Environment 3 Building at the University of Waterloo between sessions at Geothink's Summer Institute.

The main atrium of the Environment 3 Building at the University of Waterloo between sessions at Geothink’s Summer Institute.

By Drew Bush

The day began with a warm welcome from Geothink Head Renee Sieber, associate professor in McGill University’s Department of Geography and School of Environment. By afternoon, the City of Ottawa had presented the 29 students attending Geothink’s Summer Institute at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada with the challenge of engaging its citizens with city natural areas.

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 proposed solution to the City of Ottawa’s challenge. As the institute progressed, more time was given to the seven student groups to work on their solutions and prepare a final pitch to the city on day three.

The morning lecture topics ranged from “Conceptual Foundations in Crowdsourcing” to “The Future of Crowdsourcing in the Public Sector” and were taught or co-taught by Sieber, 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.

Not sure what constitutes crowdsourcing? The goal of the institute, run as part of a five-year Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) partnership grant, was to provide undergraduate and graduate students from Geothink’s partners with knowledge and training in theoretical and practical aspects of crowdsourcing. And that’s a topic Brabham has been studying, as he puts it modestly, for “several years.”

“And I’ve been trying to look at how to take this model, which I define as connecting organizations with online communities to mutually solve problems or produce goods,” he told Geothink. “Taking that model which as been used in business and a number of for profit endeavours and trying to translate it for governments, for non-profits, for public health.”

On Day 1, students at Geothink’s Summer Institute worked together to solve Ottawa’s crowdsourcing problem using the knowledge gained in earlier sessions as well as individual areas of expertise. Much like many real-world challenges that crowdsourcing has been used to address, the presentation from the City of Ottawa made clear that the problem the city faced was complex and multifaceted. Goodspeed helped to summarize some elements of what was expected of students.

“What a wonderful, rich context, I mean, who knows what the problem is?” he told students. “Is it that people are going to too many parks or the wrong parks, or which people are we talking about? We have no idea…And I think this is very typical for a lot of problem settings you’ll encounter. And, in that sense, almost any month they showed could have been itself a crowdsourcing application.”

Watch a clip of Goodspeed’s introduction here:

After they’d been given a chance to start discussing ideas for crowdsourcing applications in their groups, Sieber and Stephens helped students to begin thinking about the geographical aspects of the applications they were designing as well as technical limitations they might face.

“So, this is a summer institute on crowdsourcing, why do we even talk about geography?” Sieber told students later in the first day.  “Because most open data, most data that comes out of government has some geographic component in it somewhere. So it’s useful often to tie crowdsourcing to geography.”

“If nothing else, that implies there is a jurisdictional aspect to the way that people communicate with government, that is that people are bounded in place,” she added.

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.

Watch a clip of the presentation the City of Ottawa gave our students here (Beware, for the technophobic, it was conducted over videoconference).

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

CODE Hackathon Set to Kick-Off as New Report finds the World’s Governments Slow to Open Governmental Data

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A new year for open data? (Photo Credit: Tactical Technology Collective)

By Drew Bush

In the first weeks of the New Year, two important news items for the Geothink audience made headlines. In Toronto, the Canadian federal government got ready to kick-off its second annual multi-city Canadian Open Data Experience (CODE) while the World Wide Web Foundation ranked the United States 2nd and Canada 7th for openness of governmental data in its second annual Open Data Barometer.

Canada Ranked 7th

Canada tied with Norway out of 86 countries surveyed based on whether government data was “open by default” as stipulated in the 2013 G8 Open Data Charter. Of more importance, however, was the country’s positive movement in the rankings and scores from last year, moving one spot up the index.

The survey examines availability of core government data such as company registers, public sector contracts, land titles, how governments spend money and how well public services perform. The U.K. is considered the global leader for open government data, publishing nearly all of these types of data.

Globally, the authors of the report state “there is still a long way to go to put the power of data in the hands of citizens. Core data on how governments are spending our money and how public services are performing remains inaccessible or pay-walled in most countries.”

That’s because fewer than 8 percent of surveyed countries publish datasets on subjects like government budgets, spending and contracts, and on the ownership of companies, in bulk machine-readable formats and under open re-use licenses.

A few key highlights of the report: 1. Only the U.K. and Canada publish land ownership data in open formats and under open licenses; 2. Only the U.K. and the U.S. publish detailed open data on government spending; 3. And, only the U.S., Canada and France publish open data on national environment statistics. Finally, open mapping data is only published in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany (an area where Canada lags).

CODE Hackathon Kicks-Off

In Toronto, developers, graphic designers, students, and anyone interested in trying their hand at coding are getting ready to create innovative uses for the Canadian government’s open data and to win up to $15,000 from the Government of Canada. The 48-hour event is set to begin on February 20th.

Innovations developed at hackathons like this could one day fuel improvements in access to government data. The event attracted 927 developers in 2013 and that number increased to over 1,000, organizers said, the day of the event.

“Open data is a brand new industry,” Ray Sharma, founder of the event and XMG Studios, told CTV News. “We are in an ice berg situation where we’ve only seen the tip of the data that will become available.”

But just what kind of industry is open to debate, as Geothink researchers Peter Johnson and Pamela Robinson examined in a recent paper. Their questions included whether civic hackathons have the potential to replace the traditional ways that government purchases products and services, and whether these events can be considered new vectors for citizen engagement, according to a post Johnson wrote for Geothink.

For more on CODE, you can watch Canada’s President of Treasury Board, Tony Clement here or read more about this year’s event here.

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

Canada Action Plan on Open Government 2.0: Much Still To Do?

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Canada recently completed their public consultation on Open Government (Photo source).

By Drew Bush

Introduction

For the savvy traveller headed over Canada’s border this holiday season, Canada’s Action Plan on Open Government 2.0 holds promise. A visit to the site in December 2014 yielded a multi-media list of steps to follow when travelling abroad and even an iOS “Travel Smart” application.

Drafted after a June 2013 G8 Summit, Canada’s plan results from agreements it made when it signed on to the summit’s Open Data Charter that lays the foundation for usage of open data to promote best government practice.

As a result, Canadians can now get online help with more than just travel. Ever wanted to know how much tax money you spend on government contracts? Or need information on the fuel consumption of a car you might buy?

The goal of the 65 nations committed to these plans is to increase government transparency and accountability, encourage citizen engagement, and stimulate innovation and economic opportunities.

History

Making this type of data more freely available fits with a long tradition in Canada. When the country began participating in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in September 2011, it committed to making open data (or machine readable, freely used, re-used and redistributed data) open to anyone able to attribute and share it.

Applications of Web 2.0 technologies and social media allow for these types of interactions online with information, datasets and records. In fact, many modern computer programs incorporate Application Programming Interfaces (or APIs) to gain access to datasets for users.

The Open Data Charter recognizes the central role open data plays in improving governance and stimulating innovation in data-driven products and services. It endorses the principle of open by default, an idea also supported by U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2013 Executive Order on open data.

The drafting of the Charter and Obama’s order have elicited praise but also criticism. As Rufus Pollock, Founder of the Open Knowledge Foundation, wrote on his foundation’s blog, “there is still much for the G8, and other countries, to do.” In particular, the early results from an Open Data Census in July 2013 show that G8 countries have a long way to go in opening up essential data.

User Generated Input

Making data and information more available to Canadians isn’t the only goal of the plan. Open government is increasingly becoming a positive force for unity and international cooperation, according to Canada’s President of the Treasury Board, Tony Clement, in his statement “About Open Government”. He claims that open data makes government “more open, accessible, and responsive” by harnessing the “collective ingenuity, drive, and imagination of its people.”

In Canada, this means finding a way for citizens to engage in a two-way dialogue and even contribute datasets. In 2014, the Canadian Open Data Experience appathon again brought together government, industry, academia, and the public to mash up, reuse and remix federal government data. Events like these and communities the plan encourages around interest areas like maps, labour and law help encourage the development of useful, effective applications that use government data.

Short History of Open Government in Canada

  • The Open Government Partnership formally launched on September 20, 2011 when eight founding governments (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States) endorsed the Open Government Declaration, and announced their country action plans. Canada joined the partnership later that year.
  • On March 18, 2011, the Government of Canada announced its commitment to an open government initiative that focuses on three areas: 1. Making information such as records and activity more easily accessible; 2. Making raw data available in machine-readable formats to citizens, governments, and non-profit/private sector organizations; 3) Giving citizens an opportunity for dialogue on federal policies.
  • In 2011 the Government of Canada launched an Open Data Portal – data.gc.ca – which now has more than 272,000 datasets from 20 departments and which has already resulted in over 100,000 dataset downloads since its launch.
  • All government departments began publishing summaries of completed Access to Information (ATI) requests 2012 monthly on their Web sites.
  • In 2012, the Government of Canada issued its enhanced Values and Ethics Code of conduct for all public officials.
  • A 2013 Government of Canada Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) partnership grant asks ‘How the Geospatial Web 2.0 is Reshaping Government-Citizen Interactions.’ GeoThink now includes 13 team members and 36 collaborators and partners.

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