Tag Archives: citizens

Guide Provides Citizens Access to Open Data Literacy

The Geothink Citizen’s Guide for Open Data found at citizens-guide-open-data.github.io

By Drew Bush

Screenshot of the Geothink Citizen’s Guide to Open Data link on Geothink.ca.

You may have noticed a new banner gracing the front right portion of the Geothink.ca Web site starting last month. Click on it and it will take you to a key deliverable of this five-year partnership research grant funded by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

The Geothink Citizens Guide to Open Data was created by Curtis McCord and Dawn Walker, Geothink doctoral students in University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information, in collaboration with Geothink Co-Applicant Leslie Regan Shade, professor and associate dean for research in the faculty. It was first presented at Geothink’s 2016 Summer Institute at Ryerson University in Toronto when the duo were master’s students speaking on a panel.

“There’s actually still a big barrier where a lot of individual people aren’t using open data,” Walker said. “So we’re like in this moment, of saying, ‘Ok, open data has been lauded for all this potential promise.’ But it’s not exactly being used proportionally in the ways that are expected. From my experience, I’ve just seen a lot of companies or people who have very strong technical capabilities being able to work with open data. But there’s a lot of people who maybe have questions about their city or country that maybe open data can speak to. But like don’t—like wouldn’t even know to engage with it as a question you could ask of data. Or even know that open data would be a place they could go look to see.”

“These sorts of guides kind of help think about what those bridges could be,” Walker added. “And [they] address some of the literacies and capabilities required to even start to understand that you can ask questions that open data can answer.”

The Guide’s goal is to “provide citizens with tools to understand what makes up open data (OD), how it can be used in their communities, and where to find it.” Set up similarly to a Wiki page with drop-down menus, it consists of four sections on the right-hand bar entitled “Citizens Stories,” “Citizen Guide,” “Additional Resources,” and “About this Guide.”

The home page for the Guide notes that “People across Canada use technology that makes use of data as part of their daily lives” and increasingly are “starting to think about creative ways that this technology and data can be used to address issues they face in their communities and cities.” It adds that civic technology constitutes instances where “citizens come together to identify problems in their society or their community and solve them with data, computers, or expertise. Many kinds of data and their uses come up when we talk about open data and we’re going to know about them at the end of this guide.”

“It’s in no way kind of settled, right?” McCord said of the Guide. “We really intended this to be kind of a living document that people could update with their own stories or their own insights. We’re really open to ideas about how the kind of like stewardship of this thing might work. I mean, I’m much less committed to the content of the guide than I am to the idea that it can exist and be cared for. I’d rather it be everybody else’s ideas on their than mine. Because in a way, that shows it’s like kind of actually being put to work.”

McCord added that anyone interested in contributing can edit the guide by following simple instructions to use GitHub found at the bottom “Change This Guide!” link on the site. They can also e-mail the authors by clicking the “Feedback” link. Such contributions will represent the next step in the guide’s release to the public.

According to Shade, the first steps began directly as a result of her work with Geothink.

“The project began with my interest in exploring facets of data literacy, and more particularly with an interest in unpacking elements of open data for people and communities that were curious about it but not conversant with how to use open data,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Alexander Taciuk, our former [Geothink] Project Manager, was instrumental in encouraging me to pursue this project. And key to the project’s vision was the tremendous teamwork of Curtis McCord and Dawn Walker who worked on the Guide while finishing up their Master of Information degrees.”

“Curtis and Dawn wrote and designed the bulk of the Guide while also convening a small group within Geothink and locally to give advice on the content,” she added.

This year Shade engaged new students to continue work on several facets of the Guide including University of Toronto Master of Information students Dal Singh, Nicole Stradiotto and Mari Zhou and doctorate student Camille-Mary Sharp.


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.

Geothink Researcher Peter Johnson Honored with Early Researcher Award from the Government of Ontario

Peter Johnson undertakes the Public Lab of Open Technology and Science (PLOTS, or simply ‘Public Lab’) balloon mapping technique to test it for future use in a class.

Peter Johnson undertakes the Public Lab of Open Technology and Science (PLOTS, or simply ‘Public Lab’) balloon mapping technique to test it for future use in a class.

By Drew Bush

Peter Johnson, assistant professor of Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Waterloo, was honoured with the Ontario Government’s Early Researcher Award for his project, Measuring the Value and Impact of Open Data. Johnson was one of two professors in his department that were funded.

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

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

In the project, Johnson will build partnerships with stakeholders, develop case studies to measure the impact of open data initiatives, and assess how open data generates economic and social benefits. Ontario’s provincial and municipal governments now prioritize the sharing of open government data, like many North American communities.

And right now is a key time for evaluating the impacts of such data, Johnson told Geothink this past June at the University of Waterloo.

“I think we’ve reached a spot in open data provision where we understand the technical challenges to providing open data and some of the organizational challenges as well,” he said of his and his students’ work. “But it’s trying to understand what is the impact that open data provision is having. So trying to follow data from just being provided on a web site and a download portal to understanding are community groups using it, is the private sector using it, are other governments using it, or even is it being used internal to the government that’s providing it?”

Johnson’s research may impact how Ontario and other governments one day share open data and the way private developers, nonprofits, and citizens build applications and businesses using such data.

Other areas of research for Johnson and his students include looking at the use of government 311 applications that help citizens report overflowing garbage cans in a local park or if a particular sidewalk might need to be shoveled. Their research questions why governments are developing these applications and using them, the type of data such applications gather, and how this data can be used to improve government processes.

“Is this an opportunity for citizens to express their opinions on different potential developments or to connect with their elected officials?” he asked. “And how does this official channel compare to something that’s unofficial like Twitter?”

“What I’m really interested in is looking at is balancing citizen input that is delivered in these different ways,” he added. “So which one gets the results? Tweeting at your counselor or using the official government branded app to report your pothole at the end of your street?”

In addition to this research, Johnson published a paper with Geothink Head Renee Sieber, associate professor in McGill’s Deptartment of Geography and School of Environment,  this past July in Government Information Quarterly entitled “Civic open data at a crossroads: Dominant models and current challenges.

On his personal Web site, he writes that in this piece, “We take a look at the dominant models of open data provision by government and start to lay out what the challenges are for delivering open data. We tried to make this both a reflective look at where open data is, and also to push civic open data forward, examining how open data works as part of open government strategies.” Find a pre-print copy available here and also find the abstract below.

The award, given to 822 early career researchers since 2005, was given by the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation and The Ontario Research Fund – Small Infrastructure programs. The province will spend $209 million this year to support research projects and talent at research institutions across the province. This year’s successful 280 successful projects were chosen based on their research excellence and their economic and societal benefits for Ontario.

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

Civic open data at a crossroads: Dominant models and current challenges.
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.