Tag Archives: geothink students

A Summer Student Exchange to McGill University


This is a guest post from Geothink student Qing Lu (Lucy), University of Waterloo, under Professor Peter Johnson. She writes about her recent experience in a Geothink student exchange.


By Qing Lu (Lucy)

In the middle of August, I had the opportunity to visit McGill University via the Geothink Summer Exchange Programme. Approaching the completion of my graduation thesis, I thought Dr. Renee Sieber and her team could help me identify the gaps of my research and add new insights. Dr. Sieber is the Principal Investigator of Geothink and her research on public participation and the geoweb, which is related to my research on municipal government mobile applications for 311 service requests. My research aims to determine the characteristics of communication channel use and identify advantages and challenges of the mobile app channel. Since my research is a new area that does not have an abundance of prior studies for reference, insights and opinions from experts and peers are important. I hoped to hear their perspectives on the potentials and issues of 311 apps for municipalities, more specifically, the impacts of 311 apps on efficiency of governments as well as on citizen engagement. Luckily, I got to meet our Geothink Student Coordinator, Peck Sangiambut, who has also looked at citizen engagement via civic apps (including a 311 service request app), under Dr. Sieber.

On the first day, I did a presentation for Dr. Sieber and her team. I presented my research on 311 apps and results of analysis of 311 requests in the City of Edmonton. A paper about this is published in the Urban Planning journal. In addition, I presented results of interviews with six municipalities about their perspectives on 311 app usage. Instead of a regular presentation that starts with presentation and wraps up with questions, it was a lively discussion that everyone exchanged opinions and ideas in the process of presentation, and we ended up an hour over our originally scheduled time! Dr. Sieber and her team were very outspoken and many of their points worth pondering. One of the things that I ignored in my research is the geographic offsets of 311 data obtained in open data catalogue. To protect the privacy of reporters, the locations of reported incidents are likely to be shifted from their actual geographic locations, for example, a tree pruning request points to the centre of a building. Therefore, the results of my spatial analysis of 311 data contain bias caused by inaccurate locations. In addition, efficiency could conflict with engagement when we know newly-introduced channels such as mobile apps are more efficient than telephone calls. Some people, especially the elderly, would be left behind if municipalities simply seek to maximise operational efficiency and perhaps reduce staffing for traditional channels of communication (such as telephone hotlines).

student exchange presentation
Presenting research results at the Department of Geography, McGill University

For the second day, Dr. Sieber’s team and I went to a panel discussion called GIS Without GIS: Spatial Technologies for Social Change. This was part of the World Social Forum and included discussion of the roles open data, mapping, and open source tools in producing social change. The invited speakers shared their opinions and experiences working with open data. This discussion inspired me to look at the open data aspect of my research as some municipalities publish the 311 data on the open data catalogue while others do not. It would be interesting to investigate if the openness of 311 reports impact citizens’ engagement.

This trip has provided me with the opportunity to communicate my research findings with people who work in the same field. I also got a deeper understanding of research – research is not only finding answers to questions but also seeking questions to be answered. In my research, I have found that there is a trend that mobile app use for citizens to contact governments is increasing and telephone calls are decreasing, and responses from municipalities show that mobile apps are more efficient and cost-saving. However, the question remains that if the governments should give up traditional communication channels and turn to newly-introduced ones. As the communication channels involve both citizens and governments, citizens’ perspectives on the multiple channels should also be considered when evaluating the channels. I am deeply interested in these questions, and I will investigate them in my future research.

My sincere thanks to Geothink for giving the opportunity to go on a summer exchange at the University of Waterloo. Thank you to Dr. Renee Sieber for hosting me and sharing your valuable comments and opinions. Thank you to Sonja and Peck for organizing everything well. To the Geothink community members: please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have further questions or if you are considering going on a summer exchange yourself.

Lucy (Qing) Lu is a Master’s student under the supervision of Dr. Peter Johnson in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management at University of Waterloo. Her research focuses on municipal government mobile applications, 311 services and e-government.
Lucy can be reached by email at q25lu@uwaterloo.ca.

Open Data and Urban Forests – What’s Next?


This is a guest post from Geothink Post Doctoral researcher James Steenberg, Ryerson University School of Urban and Regional Planning, working with Dr. Pamela Robinson.


By James Steenberg, PhD

I recently had the opportunity to go on a Geothink summer exchange at the University of Waterloo hosted by Dr. Peter Johnson, a Geothink co-applicant and Assistant Professor at Waterloo’s Department of Geography and Environmental Management. The main goal of the exchange was to learn about open data and open government from Dr. Johnson with the ultimate goal of writing a collaborative paper on the potential role of open data in municipal urban forestry.

I wrote about my experiences during the exchange in a previous post, and subsequently left Waterloo with an open question on open data – can the open data/open government movement also be embraced in urban forestry? I would like to justify this question with two contrasting tales of cities.

Toronto

The first tale is about Toronto, more specifically about a neighbourhood in Toronto called Harbord Village where I conducted some of my PhD field research. The neighbourhood and its residents association are quite active in the stewardship of their urban forest. They even undertook a citizen science initiative to inventory and assess all 4,000 of their trees. I re-measured some of their tree inventory in 2014 with the purpose of identifying social and ecological drivers of urban forest vulnerability (e.g., tree mortality). Soon after, my current Geothink supervisor Dr. Pamela Robinson and I began to speculate that a key agent of change was housing renovation. Where we noted incidences of tree mortality, there were often shiny new home additions or driveways where once a tree stood. Fortunately, the City of Toronto’s open data portal includes building permit data and we were able to test this theory. We did indeed find that building permits (i.e., housing renovation) significantly predicted higher rates of tree mortality.

Municipal urban forestry departments are responsible for planting, maintaining, and removing trees on public land, as well as protecting and sustaining the urban forest resource on public and private land through various policies and regulations. However, it’s important to note that urban forestry is plagued by management challenges due to the limited space and harsh growing conditions of cities. Simply put, trees frequently die when they’re not supposed to – often for unknown reasons – and practitioners are continuously seeking out ways to reduce unnecessary tree mortality. Our findings suggest that urban foresters aren’t talking to urban planners when they should be, or vice versa. Urban planners collect data describing where building renovation occurs. Urban foresters collect data describing where city trees are dying and being removed. Blending these datasets has revealed that better coordination and horizontal data sharing across branches of government might help keep public trees alive. More broadly, these findings indicate an inefficiency in municipal service provision – the provision of the beneficial ecosystem services that public trees provide to city residents. What other urban forest inefficiencies might open data reveal?

geothink_harbord_village
The Harbord Village tree inventory and corresponding volunteered geographic information (VGI)

Edmonton

The second tale is about Edmonton and paints a different picture. I stumbled across one of Edmonton’s approaches to urban forestry during my summer exchange while learning about the various open data programs across Canada. Their urban forestry branch has used Open Tree Map – a web-based application for participatory tree mapping – in their yegTreeMap project so that “individuals, community groups, and government can collaboratively create an accurate and informative inventory of the trees in their communities”. In short, citizens in Edmonton that feel the urge to participate in municipal urban forestry can do so by downloading tree inventory data, using the data to their heart’s content (e.g., community-based stewardship programs), and entering new data into the City’s database.

This approach to what I’ve started calling ‘open urban forestry’ could conceivably improve citizen engagement with municipal government and its urban forestry programs. Much of the urban forest resource is situated on private residential property that the city doesn’t have direct access to, so citizen engagement in stewardship activities is a key piece of the puzzle. Moreover, urban tree inventories are notoriously fickle when it comes to data, being both expensive to generate and quick to become out-of-date and obsolete. Crowdsourcing a city’s tree inventory could conceivably provide better data to support decision-making in urban forestry, such as where to plant trees, what species to plant, and where trees are in decline or hazardous.

geothink_edmonton
Edmonton’s yegTreeMap user interface on Open Tree Map

I have been very fortunate to be able to incubate these ideas with guidance from Dr. Robinson and her knowledge of urban planning and citizen engagement. Moreover, it was because of my Geothink summer exchange with Dr. Johnson at the University of Waterloo and his knowledge of open data and open government that I arrived at my current line of thinking on the benefits of open data and crowdsourcing for urban forestry. My next steps forward will be to think critically about these ideas as well. What are the environmental justice implications around who gets to participate in open urban forestry? Crowdsourcing tree inventories through open data programs may provide better data, but do they simultaneously justify the under-funding of municipal urban forestry programs? I’m excited to develop these collaborative ideas over the coming weeks and to hopefully answer my open question on open data.

My sincere thanks to Geothink for giving me the opportunity to go on a summer exchange at the University of Waterloo. Thank you Dr. Peter Johnson for hosting me at the Department of Geography and Environmental Management and for introducing me to your students and colleagues.

To the Geothink community members: please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have further questions or if you are considering going on a summer exchange yourself.

James Steenberg is a postdoctoral researcher under the supervision of Dr. Pamela Robinson at Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning. His research focuses on the ecology and management of the urban forest. James can be reached by email – james.steenberg@ryerson.ca – and on Twitter – @JamesSteenberg

Open Data and Urban Forests: A Summer Student Exchange in Waterloo


This is a guest post from Geothink Post Doctoral researcher James Steenberg, Ryerson University School of Urban and Regional Planning, working with Dr. Pamela Robinson. He writes about his experiences in Geothink’s student exchange program.


By James Steenberg, PhD

I recently undertook a three-day Geothink Summer Exchange at the University of Waterloo. My mission: to find out what, if anything, open data has to do with the practice of urban forestry.

I am currently a postdoctoral researcher under the supervision of Dr. Pamela Robinson at Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning. Dr. Robinson was also on my PhD committee and over the past three years we have been blending our ideas on urban forest ecosystems, urban planning, citizen science, and open data. Open data and open government, in particular, are something that I’m excited about, but the topic is still quite new and unfamiliar to me. I was therefore incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to seek out the guidance of Geothink co-applicant Dr. Peter Johnson.

Dr. Johnson is an Assistant Professor at Waterloo’s Department of Geography and Environmental Management, where among a great many other topics he conducts research on the value of open data and its role in open government initiatives. My hope was to learn about open data and open government from Peter and his students with the ultimate goal of writing a collaborative paper about the role of open data in municipal urban forestry. Practitioners of urban forestry are faced with a myriad of management challenges due to the complex, rapidly-changing, and vulnerable state of urban forest ecosystems. Two challenges particular stand out: 1) practitioners lack sufficient data describing the state of the urban forest to inform their decision-making and 2) a large portion of the urban forest is situated on privately-owned residential properties and municipal governments need to engage residents to undertake stewardship activities.

We began the three-day exchange with one of my favourite things to do: having a conversation about how to write something together. This was followed by a meet-and-greet lunch with Dr. Johnson’s students. I was also given the opportunity to give a presentation to students and faculty in Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment. I discussed and received feedback on my current research with Dr. Robinson investigating the effects of housing renewal on urban trees, which was the original research that led us to believe there was more to uncover on open data and urban forests. Over the course of the exchange, I learned about a number of fascinating research projects ranging from citizen engagement to volunteered geographic information (VGI) to water management.

james steenberg student exchange presentation
Giving my talk at the Faculty of Environment, University of Waterloo

james steenberg at waterloo
Rehearsing prior to my talk, with a captivated audience

It can be all too rare an opportunity to hear about on-going research projects that are outside of my discipline, and I found it insightful in guiding my own work. For instance, I learned about Qing (Lucy) Lu’s research and recent publication on how Edmonton citizens engage their government through different communication channels and technologies. Citizens and community groups also engage with their urban forest in many different ways, and arguably open data is one such way that is on the rise. In a serendipitous discovery, Lucy’s paper inspired me to explore Edmonton’s open data portal where I saw that the government leverages open data and the geoweb in their urban forestry. The City’s yegTreeMap initiative not only provides people with open data describing the urban forest and its benefits, but also provides an interactive mapping platform and even allows city residents to input data about their favourite trees.

I wrapped up my time in Waterloo with Dr. Johnson by revisiting a potential paper on the role of open data in municipal urban forestry, which was now appropriately seasoned with new ideas. In particular, I was challenged to think that maybe it’s not just about how urban foresters can use government open data to advance the practice. Perhaps our inquiry could be expanded to the full Geothink mandate of understanding citizen-government interactions. In Edmonton, citizens can engage their government by participating in urban forest data collection while municipal urban foresters can make better decisions with a more complete and up-to-date tree inventory. Can people and trees alike reap the benefits in cities that practice open urban forestry? This is the question I returned home with, and I will continue to investigate until answered.

james steenberg at waterloo 2
Importantly, the University of Waterloo campus has some stunning trees

My sincere thanks to Geothink for giving me the opportunity to go on a summer exchange at the University of Waterloo. Thank you to Dr. Peter Johnson for hosting me at the Department of Geography and Environmental Management and for introducing me to your students and colleagues.

To the Geothink community members: please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have further questions or if you are considering going on a summer exchange yourself.

James Steenberg is a postdoctoral researcher under the supervision of Dr. Pamela Robinson at Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning. His research focuses on the ecology and management of the urban forest. James can be reached by email – james.steenberg@ryerson.ca – and on Twitter – @JamesSteenberg

Stay tuned for James’ next post detailing his research.

Geothink in the Okanagan: A Winter Student Exchange


This is a guest post from Geothink Student Tenille Brown, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa. She writes about her experiences as the first student in Geothink’s student exchange program.


By Tenille Brown

This past winter, I had the opportunity to be the inaugural ‘student visiting researcher’ through a new Geothink learning initiative focusing on student exchanges. Geothink is a Canada wide, multi-disciplinary grant. In practical terms this means there are university partners in disciplines as diverse as GIScience, urban planning, geography, communication and law. The visiting researcher programme has been established to give students the opportunity to see how other disciplines work. Through this programme, I — a graduate student in law at the University of Ottawa, and member of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre — found myself at a lab at UBC Okanagan. Professor Jon Corbett, a Geothink co-applicant, hosted me as I learnt about the lab, university and the city of Kelowna.

The SPICE Lab: Spatial Information for Community Mapping

The SPICE Lab, Spatial Information for Community Mapping, is housed at the Centre for Social, Spatial and Economic Justice (CSSEJ) at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan campus. Led by Professor Corbett, the Centre looks at digital cartographic processes and tools that can be used by local communities to help express their relationship to, and knowledge of, their land and resources. A mapping tool that we have heard about at Geothink in the past, Geolive, was developed here. I was able to get an inside look at the mechanics of the Geolive system and learned about the process of collecting and coding the mapped information. As well as learning about the huge amount of resources that go into maintaining a system like Geolive (important information for the arm-chair geo-cartographers out there). I was also fortunate to get a preview of a recent collaboration between the Geolive team and Professor April Lindgren, an associate professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism and, academic director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, and Geothink partner. Their project map titled, “The Local News Map: Tell us what is happening to local news in your community,” explores the issue of news poverty in Canada at a time of significant disruption in the news industry. The crowdsourced map will be available to the public so people can add information about the closure, launch or merger of local news outlets in their community. This collaboration between journalism and mapping was conceived at the 2015 Geothink AGM and will go live in the coming weeks (read more about it here).

Geolive news poverty map

Other activities I got involved in during my short stay in BC, included, observing community interviews carried out by Ailsa Beischer a student of Professor Corbett as she interviewed public health offices about food security (you can read about her work in a recent publication here). My visit coincided with a graduate programme lecture in Indigenous research methodology hosted by the En’owkin Centre, a First Nations community centre in the Okanagan valley. Of course, I got the chance to visit local Okanagan cultural sites.

Okanagan Vineyards
So, what’s a law student to do in a geo-spatial lab?

One of the core aims of Geothink is interdisciplinary research. This is a logical research objective given how integral multiple perspectives are to citizen-engagement; but from the often-siloed academy, surprisingly difficult to implement. My research is focused on property law and liability issues. I ask questions about ownership and legal adjudication of land and property, but from an interdisciplinary – law and geography – perspective. Adopting insights put into practice by the SpICE lab, I ask how cyber-cartography and the geoweb could be adopted to support individual and community experiences of property and land in ways beyond typical legal adjudication. In particular, the work of Geolive provides an opportunity to look at how community needs can be documented, raising the potential for critical insights about governance of land.

The visiting researcher position provided me with the opportunity to learn about the research processes of another discipline, in ways that I do not get to in my daily research schedule. In practical terms, I am deeply interested in both the utility and accuracy of information contained in the geoweb, and how programmers navigate the pressures of coding information to capture communities’ perspectives. These considerations – of accuracy and perspective – are of course long standing preoccupations of the legal field. But seeing the disciplinary similarities was apparent to me by visiting the SpICE lab and seeing the development process first hand. Having the opportunity to engage directly with the processes of researching and realizing digital-mapping projects, has been an impactful experience for my academic research, collaborations with Geothink researchers and personally.

Thank you to the Geothink team for sending me to UBC Okanagan. A huge thank you to Professor Corbett and his wonderful community of the CSSEJ for their support for my visit.

If you would like more information about my visit, or are a Geothink student thinking about going but still have questions, then please reach out to me.

Tenille E. Brown is a PhD Candidate under Professor Elizabeth F. Judge at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, where she is also a student member of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre. Tenille’s research is in the areas of legal geography, including property, spatial and citizen engagement. Tenille can be reached via email at, tenille.brown@uottawa.ca, and on Twitter, @TenilleEBrown

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.

City of Ottawa Selects Winner Out of Seven Student Designed Crowdsourcing Applications – Geothink Summer Institute Day 3

2015 Geothink Summer Institute students, faculty and staff after the conference concludes.

2015 Geothink Summer Institute students, faculty and staff after the conference concludes.

By Drew Bush

On day three the big issues discussed included using crowdsourcing in governance and the idea’s future in the public sector. By the end of the day, one of our student groups, GeoOne, had been crowned the winner by City of Ottawa officials and each of its members presented with a trophy in the image of Geothink’s logo, printed by a three-dimensional printer.

The winners, GeoOne, being presented their trophies by the Summer Institute's faculty.

The winners, GeoOne, being presented their trophies by the Summer Institute’s faculty.

But first, Daren Brabham, assistant professor in the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Journalistm and Communication, offered the students caution.

In a morning discussion, he reminded students not all crowdsourcing endeavours have been successes, and that flaws in some crowdsourced data mean it has limitations, as was pointed out on day two. Furthermore, one must consider traditional forms of data collection in comparison to crowdsourcing, he said, because whole institutions and professions exist to support such data collection’s objectivity.

For Brabham, however, this doesn’t mean crowdsourced data should be discredited. In fact, many aspects of the technology ensure it’s a very democratic way of making decisions and collecting data.

“It is easy to point to reasons why we shouldn’t be doing something, when you are in an established position of power and when you have a profession that you have built,” he said. “And I think this gets to maybe a more controversial point, and that’s—I see professionalism and the professions as really just ways to hold onto power.”

Check out more on Brabham’s views of the democratizing impact of crowdsourced data in the clip below:

The rest of the day leading up to the presentations was given over for students to fine-tune their pitches for the City of Ottawa and finalize their presentations themselves. Seven groups competed: GeoOne, GeoPlay, GeoWild, Grads Gone Ottawild, Ministry of Municipal Engagement, Terra Solutions and Wild VASS.

The excitement in the room before the first presenters began was palpable. This may have stemmed, in part, from the realization that the City of Ottawa and its citizens needed actual help rather than this being just some academic exercise. For some students, this meant the stakes were higher.

“It’s good that it’s rooted in something real,” Victoria Fast, a Ph.D. Candidate at Ryerson University in the Department of Environmental Applied Science and Management, said. “And I think that makes it more motivating to come up with something as good as possible because if they implement it, it improves how people are finding natural resources in their community and it can make things better for everybody.”

Each of the group’s proposals were designed to be used on mobile devices, a Web site, and often a combination of both. Many groups used maps to help citizens geo-locate themselves in relation to the city’s parks. However, how users were asked to contribute and in what forms varied greatly from one group’s app where users would vote on badges for particular uses at each park to another’s creation of ‘mad-lib’ story forms where users filled in the word for each park visit. Check out each of the student groups’ final presentations here:

GeoOne (Winner)

GeoPlay

GeoWild

Grads Gone Ottawild

Ministry of Municipal Engagement

Terra Solutions

Wild Vass

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.

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.

A Deeper Dive into Crowdsourcing – Geothink Summer Institute Day 2

Time for each of the seven competing teams to meet and work on their proposals in the upstairs classroom of the Environment 3 Building at the University of Waterloo during Geothink's Summer Institute.

Time for each of the seven competing teams to meet and work on their proposals in the upstairs classroom of the Environment 3 Building at the University of Waterloo during Geothink’s Summer Institute.

By Drew Bush

Day two of Geothink’s Summer Institute began with a deeper dive into crowdsourcing led by Robert Goodspeed, assistant professor of Urban Planning at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. In the morning, he presented hot topics in his own research including crowdfunding, formal crowdsourcing and the crisis-mapping tool Ushahidi.

“In my world, within a planning project or a collaborative effort, these sort of structured tools can be plugged in,” he told students of his work in developing a visual preference tool to engage the public in more formal participatory community planning processes. “Technology is forcing us to rethink our methodologies, and rethink how we think things work.”

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 submission to the City of Ottawa on day three.

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. See our post from day one to learn more about this important topic.

After some coffee, specific case studies brought home what crowdsourcing looks like in practice and the limitations of some crowd-sourced data due to demographic biases with gender amongst users who geo-reference data. Provided by Monica Stephens, assistant professor in the Department of Geography at State University of New York at Buffalo, and Daren Brabham,, assistant professor in the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Journalistm and Communication, these additional case studies gave insight into the types of research undertaken by Geothink researchers.

A random survey of users within many online mapping communities coupled with a look at interactions among members in specific communities proved revealing for Stephens.

“What became clear was that women were just as willing to socially tag, I was with so-and-so, but they weren’t willing to include the geographic information the way that men were,” Stephens told students in her case study on OpenStreetMap and other internet mapping communities. This simple fact, she demonstrated, has profound impacts on the types of features and attributes that get approved for inclusion on many maps.

Watch a clip of Stephens’s talk to find out how she conducted her research here:

For the students, the afternoon proved just as stimulating as all seven groups presented their initial concepts to the professors for feedback and guidance.

“I come from a GIS/Urban Planning background, and I found out about this through a professor,” said Alexa Hinves, a master’s student in Ryerson University’s Department of Geography who competed as a member of the group GeoPlay. “To me it’s just kind of incredible…you get to get together and do so many different activities. It’s not just you’re going to a conference and you’re listening to people for hours about what their interests are. But you are also sitting down and doing an intensive project and getting a lot of different perspectives.”

“You also get to think out of the box,” added her teammate, Ashley Zhang, a Ph.D. candidate at Waterloo University’s Department of Geography and Environmental Management.

Stay tuned for more iTunes podcasts from the Summer Institute here, check back on Geothink.ca for our last synopses 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 video content, 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.