Tag Archives: Open North

Innovative Urban Planning Solutions and GPS Guided Biking – Summer Institute Day 3

Rachel Bloom, Julia Conzon and Elizabeth Barber took questions from the audience on day three of the Geothink 2017 Summer Institute after talking about their career paths post Geothink.

By Drew Bush

Geothink Co-Applicant Stéphane Roche, associate professor in University Laval’s Department of Geomatics, chats with students during a coffee break on day three of Geothink’s 2017 Summer Institute.

The third day of Geothink’s 2017 Summer Institute opened with Open North Executive Director Jean-Noé Landry discussing how Geothink’s collaborative approach begets research with practical applications for smart cities. A pair of Montreal entrepreneurs and a trio of former students elaborated on this perspective in their own subsequent presentations.

“We’re going to talk about enabling innovation,” Noe said to start the morning. “I’ve been following some of the conversations that you’ve been having with all these great folks that have come in over the course of the week…And today, you know, we’ve got an opportunity to look at a few people that have been able to do some great work.”

Two previous Geothink students followed with talks on their differing career trajectories after graduating from McGill University. Rachel Bloom is currently working as the project lead for Open North on Smart Open Cities; and Julia Conzon spoke of her work with open data at Statistics Canada. Elizabeth Barber, a master’s of public services student at University of Waterloo, talked about her summer work with the City of Montreal. They were preceded by Xavier Peich, a co-founder of SmartHalo, and Vincent-Charles Hodder, a co-founder of Local Logic.

The theme of this year’s Institute was “Smart City: Toward a Just City.” An interdisciplinary group of faculty and students tackled many of the policy, legal and ethical issues related to smart cities. Each of the three days of the Summer Institute combined workshops, panel discussions and hands-on learning modules that culminated in a competition judged by Montreal city officials and tech entrepreneurs. The goal of the competition was for student groups to develop and assess the major principles guiding Montreal’s 2015-2017 Montréal Smart and Digital City Action Plan.

The last day provided ample time for students to work within their groups to analyze Montreal’s strategic plan in accordance with a research question assigned by one of the Summer Institute’s faculty members. It also provided time for faculty members who once had been students themselves to reminisce.

“I love the summer institute,” said Victoria Fast, an assistant professor at University of Calgary’s Department of Geography. She herself has participated in the previous summer institutes in 2016 and 2017 and had just recently made the transition to faculty.

“Actually, interestingly, something we haven’t touched upon yet is the synergy between all of them. You know, Institute number one in Waterloo was volunteered geographic information (VGI) and crowdsourcing, the second one in Toronto was crowdsourcing, and this one is smart cities. And all of those concepts are just so fundamentally embedded in each other. And for—I think students who have been to all of them really get this diverse and rich perspective on Geothink from these kind of very relevant topical areas.”

“This one, in particular, I really like from the student perspective, the employment opportunities is really great to hear,” Fast added about the presentations on life after Geothink. “The idea of social entrepreneur, social innovation. I think students in a university really need some hope about jobs and job prospects.”

The Summer Institute faculty, city officials and tech entrepreneurs helped to judge the work of each student group at the end of the day. But the real value lay in the new ideas and understandings each student gained.

One group explored which city services should be prioritized for digitization first while another determined how to quantify what appropriate inclusion of citizens in smart cities of the future might look like. Others examined what open data should be released by cities, the advantages of public Wi-Fi, and how cities can foster collaboration between innovators.

“We tried to develop sites for innovation learning,” Seyed Hossein Chavoshi, a PhD student from Laval University, said. “So there are many things actually we want to take into account. For example, there are the functionality and the design of the place where we want people, for example, to test apps that are actually developed by the municipality. So to do that and to find these places there are many aspects. The functionality is one of them. Another is the ethic. But the functionality is a core one of them—when you want to invite citizens from different cultures, from different groups, from different ages you have to find a place that can at least accommodate all different ages.”

Chavoshi added that he found this year’s Summer Institute quite informative.

“I’m so technical from an engineering point of view,” Chavoshi said. “But here we were so diverse. So like people from law and from a social geography background and [subjects] that, actually, they aren’t often gathered all together. So before that I didn’t actually know that we had to take into account all these aspects. But when I was here and I just listened to the other peoples’ points-of-view, from their background, it helped with when I want to, for example, develop something that can be fascinating to the citizens in a smart city.”

Geothink students, staff and faculty at the 2017 Summer Institute at McGill University in Montreal, QC.

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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.

Geothoughts 13: A conversation with Open North and Ajah on the challenges for open data advocacy

By Peck Sangiambut

ajah-and-open-north

Geothoughts is back! In this episode of the podcast we sit down with two Geothink research partners, Open North and Ajah, to talk about the challenges they face in Canada’s current open data and open government environment. Jean-Noe Landry (of Open North) and Michael Lenczner (of Ajah) are some of the original advocates for open data in Montreal and continue on their mission to bring positive change and innovation to government. Our guests spoke of their background advocating for open data in the (now closed) non-profit, Montreal Ouvert, and the current challenges they face in their respective organisations. They stressed the need for well-defined missions for advocacy, and for continued support from government and non-governmental funders.

We also have a new host, and some new intro music. If you have feedback on this podcast, please contact me at suthee.sangiambut@mail.mcgill.ca

Thank you for tuning in. We hope you subscribe to Geothoughts on iTunes, and follow us on Twitter @geothinkca

Paulina Marczak – looking back on her co-op at Open North

paulina-marczak

As she is now embarking on a Master’s degree, I interviewed Paulina Marczak (former Geothink student) to reflect on her four month co-op with Geothink partner, Open North.

What have you been up to since your internship at Open North?
After Open North, I did another co-op in the fall term with Dr. Derek Robinson under an NSERC USRA [Natural Sciences and Engineering Resource Council Undergraduate Student Research Award] grant, where I looked at variations in aboveground vegetative carbon storage across different spatial resolutions within Southwestern Ontario.
I just finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Waterloo. My undergraduate thesis looked at landscape configurations with wetlands in the boreal plains and asked: Is there a relationship between geology and wetland landscape configuration?

Right now I have just begun pursuing a Master’s degree in Geography at Queen’s University in Kingston. So I went into another sub-field still related to geography, but diverging from open data.

Your work in open data and open government are quite removed from your current course
Yes. I wanted to go into climate change after my undergrad, particularly through GIS and remote sensing. However, this summer I had the opportunity to work for the Canadian Open Data Exchange (ODX) and got to help develop their plans for commercialization of open data. They wanted someone who understood the value of open data.

What do you think you got out of your time at Open North?
I learned a lot. I started out from zero experience with open data. You know, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of open data and explore one particular aspect of it, like metadata, without even touching another aspect Being able to co-author white papers that contribute to a global-scale initiative, and interview people from around the world, that was a really valuable and unique experience.

What was it like working for a non-profit?
James, Stéphane, and everyone at Open North were really great. It was different because all my previous co-ops were in government, federal and municipal. They were very structured. Open North was smaller, and it required you to be more. They want you to be a part of that team. They make you feel like you are a critical component of the team, not to mention the valuable mentorship they provide. Infomediaries, they prod governments, they speak on behalf of and give a voice to the people. That’s why I think their work is impactful. Working at Open North also gave me the opportunity to attend the Canadian Open Data Summit 2015 in Ottawa, where I got to meet various members of the open data community and speak to panelists.

What skills did you bring from Open North to your current position?
Being able to critically research, and experience with technologies such as APIs and R (statistical software). Most important is writing. At Open North I learned to write on a deadline, such as our OGP [Open Government Partnership] white papers, and I also learned about academic writing from Professor Renee Sieber.

It’s been interesting as a new Master’s student. I was talking to a librarian here in Kingston and they were interested in the idea of open data, but were surprisingly satisfied with the very restrictive data agreements that are currently in place…there is more work to be done on the advocacy side. On the other hand, I was able to talk to the City of Kingston and they are about to roll out a new open data initiative, per Council approval. From my interactions with the librarian, I realized that I could talk about this topic now and I had some idea of how things should be done. In fact, they were looking to me for advice, which was a new milestone for me.

It sounds like you may be interested in advocating for open data in your new environment?
Sure. I can talk about it, but I don’t feel I have the capacity and knowledge to spearhead it. But I do feel it is my responsibility to inform people if they don’t know what open data is or want to learn about some of current issues surrounding open data these days.

Do you feel more confident in talking about open data now?
Yes, but I don’t feel like I’m the expert. I feel like I’m an apprentice. Constantly learning.

Bridging Differences in Open Data: Coming up with standards at Open North

Open North has quietly released two reports on open data over the past year.

By Drew Bush

In case you missed either report, over the last year Open North has quietly put out an inventory of open data globally and, in a separate report, recommended baseline international standards for open data catalogs. The first report is entitled Gaps and opportunities for standardization in OGP members’ open data catalogs while the second is entitled Identifying recommended standards and best practicesfor open data.

Their work was completed as part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Working Group, a group that aims to support governments seeking transparency through open data. Both reports aim to help the 69 countries in the partnership to improve their ability to share open data by standardizing how it’s made available.

The first report, which inventories open data in OGP’s member countries, notes that most members’ open data initiatives consist largely of open data catalogues. To assess each of these different catalogues, the authors wrote automated scripts to collect, normalize, and analyze them. This process allowed them to set a baseline across countries and identify gaps and opportuni­ties for standardization.

“The analysis simply states the choices that OGP members have made with respect each area for standardization; it makes no judgment as to whether these choices are best practices,” they write in laying out the objectives for the report.

In the second report, the authors address a specific research question: “What baseline standards and best practices for open data should OGP members adopt?” But first they diagnose the problem open data faces globally without any standards.

“The lack of standardization across ju­risdictions is one major barrier; it makes discovering, accessing, using, and integrating data cumbersome and expensive, above the expected return,” they write. “A lack of knowledge about existing standards and a lack of guidance for their adoption and implementation contribute to this situation.”

The majority of the report then seeks to address these problems by outlining baseline standards and best practices for open data catalogs, while taking into account the dif­ferences between jurisdictions that make the global adoption and implementation of standards challenging. In particular, the report concludes with 33 recommendations that member countries should undertake including that governments should provide their agencies a list of acceptable data formats or that they should avoid file compression without good support for it.

To find more of our previous coverage about Open North’s work on open data, check out our previous Geothink.ca story here.

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.

Open North’s Inventory: Coming Up With Standards for Open Data

Open data standards are the subject of a new OGP report (Photo courtesy of opensource.com).

Open data standards are the subject of a new OGP report (Photo courtesy of opensource.com).

By Drew Bush

Open North’s James McKinney, Stéphane Guidoin and Paulina Marczak completed an inventory of global open data standards last week that seeks to establish a global viewpoint on the subject and identify any missing pieces. Their work was completed as part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Working Group, a group that aims to support governments seeking transparency through open data.

“The objective…is to promote the use of open data standards to improve transparency, create social and economic value, and increase the interoperability of open data activities across multiple jurisdictions,” the authors write in their report. “Its first deliverable is to complete an inventory of open data standards by type to develop a global view and to identify gaps and overlaps. Its final deliverable is an OGP document outlining baseline standards and best practices for open data, along with guidance for adoption and implementation.”

In their report, the authors used scripts to automatically collect, normalize and analyze data from 40 OGP members’ catalogs. Their goal was to determine how to standardize the ways such data is licensed, how metadata is used, what types of file formats catalogs make use of, and the overall structure of each catalog. As they wrote, they did not seek to “pursue a comprehensive inventory of data standards” but rather to focus on those “most relevant to OGP members.”

A myriad number of findings result from their analysis. In particular, they found OGP members have no common structure to their catalogs, a need for a common vocabulary for metadata (or data about data), and that there are significant problems with the metadata used to specify licensing in some countries (with “8 out of 24 catalogs, the licenses of over 10 percent of datasets are either not specified or underspecified”).

OGP’s Working Group consists of four streams that include Principles, Measurement, Standards and Capacity Building. Each consists of leads from the government, private and nonprofit world who work to identify and share practices that help OGP governments implement commitments and develop more ambitious and innovative open data plans.

McKinney serves as the lead for the Standards theme which promotes the use of open data standards to improve transparency and to increase the interoperability of open data activities across multiple jurisdictions. His organization, the Canadian non-profit Open North, creates online tools for civil society and government to educate and empower citizens to participate actively in Canadian democracy. Open North is also a Geothink partner.

Find the report here.

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.