Tag Archives: Ottawa

Inside Geothink’s Open Data Standards Project: Standards For Improving City Governance

By Rachel Bloom

Rachel Bloom is a McGill University undergraduate student and project lead for Geothink’s Open Data Standards Project.

In February, I led a Geothink seminar with city officials to introduce the results of our open data standards project we began approximately one year earlier. The project was started with the objective of assisting municipal publishers of open data in standardizing their datasets. We presented two spreadsheets: the first was dedicated to evaluating ‘high-value’ open datasets published by Canadian municipalities and the second consisted of an inventory of open data standards applicable to these types of datasets.

Both spreadsheets enable our partners who publish open data to know what standards exist and who uses them for which datasets. The project I lead is motivated by the idea that well-developed data standards for city governance can grant us the luxury of not having to think about the compatibility of technological components. When we screw in a new light bulb or open a web document we assume that it will work with the components we have (Guidoin and McKinney 2012). Technology, whether it refers to information systems or manufactured goods, relies on standards to ensure its usability and dissemination.

Municipal governments that publish open data look to the importance of standards for improving the usability of their data. Unfortunately, even though ‘high-value’ datasets have increasingly become available to the public, these datasets currently lack a consensus about how they should be structured and specified. Such datasets include crime statistics and annual budget data that can provide new services to citizens when municipalities open such datasets by publishing them to their open data catalogues online. Anyone can access such datasets and use the data however they wish without restriction.

Civic data standards provide agreements about semantic and schematic guidelines for structuring and encoding the data. Data standards specify technical data elements such as file formats, data schemas, and unique identifiers to make civic data interoperable. For example, most datasets are published in CSV or XML formats. CSV structures the data in columns and rows, while XML encapsulates the data in a hierarchical tree of <tags>.

They also specify common vocabularies in order to clarify interpretation of the data’s meanings. Such vocabularies could include, for example, definitions for categories of expenditure in annual budget data. Geothink’s Open Data Standards Project offers publishers of open data an opportunity to improve the usability and efficiency of their data for consumers. This makes it easier to share data across municipalities because the technological components and their meanings within systems will be compatible.

Introducing Geothink’s Open Data Standards Project
No single, clear definition of an open data standard exists. In fact, most definitions of an ‘open data standard’ follow two prevailing ideas: 1) Standards for open data; 2) And, open standards for data. Geothink’s project examines and relates together both of these prevailing ideas (Table 1). The first spreadsheet, the ‘Adoption of Open Data Standards By Cities’, considers open data and its associated data standards. The second spreadsheet, the ‘Inventory of Open Data Standards,’ considers the process of open standardization. In other words, we were curious about what standards are currently being applied to open municipal data, and how to break down and document open standards for data in a way that is useful to municipalities looking to standardize their open data.

Table 1: Differences between ‘open data’ standards and open ‘data standards’

Requires open data Requires open standard process
Evaluation of ‘High-Value’ Datasets Yes No
Inventory of Open Data Standards No Yes

The project’s evaluation of datasets relates to standards for open data. Standards for open data refer to standards that, regardless of how they are developed and maintained, can be applied to open data. Open data, according to the Open Knowledge Foundation (2014), consists of raw digital data that should be freely available to anyone to use, repurposable and re-publishable as users wish, and absent mechanisms of control like restrictive licenses. However, the process of developing and maintaining standards for open data may not require transparency nor include public appeals for its development.

To discover what civic data standards are currently being used, the first spreadsheet, Adoption of Open Data Standards By Cities, evaluates ‘high value’ datasets specific to 10 domains (categories of datasets such as crime, transportation or or service requests) in the open data catalogues for the cities of Vancouver, Toronto, Surrey, Edmonton and Ottawa. The types of data were chosen based on the Open Knowledge Foundation’s choice of datasets considered to provide greatest utility for the public. The project’s spreadsheet notes salient structuring and vocabulary of each dataset; such as the name, file format, schema, and available metadata. It especially notes which data standards these five municipalities are using for their open data (if any at all).

With consultation from municipal bodies and organizations dedicated to publishing open data, we developed a second spreadsheet, Inventory and Evaluation of Open Data Standards,  that catalogues and evaluates 22 open data standards that are available for domain-specific data. The rows of this spreadsheet indicate individual data standards. The columns of this spreadsheet evaluate background information and quality for achieving optimal interoperability for each of the listed standards. Evaluating the quality of the standard’s performance, such as whether the standard is transferable to multiple jurisdictions, is an important consideration for municipalities looking to optimally standardize their data. Examples of open data standards in this inventory are BLDS for building permit data and the Budget Data Package for annual budget data.

The project’s second spreadsheet is concerned with open standards for data. Open standards, as opposed to closed standards, requires a collaborative, transparent, and consensus-driven process to maintain its development (Palfrey and Gasser, 2012). Therefore, open standards honor a commitment to processes of transparency, due process, and rights of appeal. Similarly to open data, open standards resist processes of unchecked, centralized control (Russell, 2014) . Open data standards make sure that end users do not get locked into a specific technology. In addition, because open standards are driven by consensus, they are developed according to the needs and interests of participatory stakeholders. While we provide spreadsheets on both, our project advocates implementing open standards for open data.

In light of the benefits of open standardization, the metrics of the second spreadsheet note the degree of openness for each standard. Such indicators of openness include multi-stakeholder participation and a consensus-driven process. Openness may be observed through the presence of online forums to discuss suggestions or concerns regarding the standard’s development and background information about each standard’s publishers. In addition, open standards use open licenses that dictate the standards may be used without restriction and repurposable for any use. Providing this information not only allows potential implementers to be aware of what domain-specific standards exist, but also allows them to gauge how well the standard performs in terms of optimal interoperability and openness.

Finally, an accompanying white paper explains the two spreadsheets and the primary objective of my project for both publishers and consumers of open data. In particular, it explains the methodology, justifies chosen evaluations, and notes the project’s results.  In addition, this paper will aid in navigating and understanding both of the project’s spreadsheets.

Findings from this Project
My work on this project has led me to conclude that the majority of municipally published open datasets surveyed do not use civic data standards. The most common standard used by municipalities in our survey was the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) for transit data and the Open311 API for service request data. Because datasets across cities and sectors vary formats and structure, differences in them coupled with a lack of cohesive definitions for labeling indicate standardization across cities will be a challenging undertaking. Publishers aiming to extend data shared among municipalities would benefit from collaborating and agreeing on standards for domain-specific data (as is the case with GTFS).

Our evaluation of 22 domain-specific data standards also shows standards do exist across a variety of domains. However, some domains, such as budget data, contain more open data standards than others. Therefore, potential implementers of standards must reconcile which domain-specific standard best fits their objectives in publishing the data and providing the most benefits for public good.

Many of standards also contain information for contacting the standard’s publishers along with online forums for concerns or suggestions. However, many still full information regarding their documentation or are simply in early draft stages. This means that although standards exist, some of these standards are in their early stages and may not be ready for implementation.

Future Research Pathways
This project has room for growth so that we can better our partners who publish and use open data decide how to go about adopting standards. To accomplish this goal, we could add more cities, domains, and open standards to the spreadsheets. In addition, any changes made to standards or datasets in the future must be updated.

In terms of the inventory of open data standards, it might be beneficial to separate metrics that evaluate openness of a standard from metrics that evaluate interoperability of a standard. Although we have emphasized the benefits of open standardization in this project, it is evident that some publishers of data do not perceive openness as crucial for the successfulness of a data standard in achieving optimal interoperability.

As a result, my project does not aim to dictate how governments implement data standards. Instead, we would like to work with municipalities to understand what is valued within the decision-making process to encourage adoption of specific standards. We hope this will allow us to provide guidance on such policy decisions. Most importantly, to complete such work, we ask Geothink’s municipal partners for input on factors that influence the adoption of a data standard in their own catalogues.

Contact Rachel Bloom at rachel.bloom@mail.mcgill.ca with comments on this article or to provide input on Geothink’s Open Data Standards Project.

Guidoin, Stéphane and James McKinney. 2012. Open Data, Standards and Socrata. Available at http://www.opennorth.ca/2012/11/22/open-data-standards.html. November 22, 2012.
Open Knowledge. Open Definition 2.0. Opendefinition.org. Retrieved 23 October 2015, from http://opendefinition.org/od/2.0/en/
Palfrey, John Gorham, and Urs Gasser. Interop: The promise and perils of highly interconnected systems. Basic Books, 2012.
Russell, Andrew L. Open Standards and the Digital Age. Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Four Geothink Partner Cities Named to Top 10 on First Ever Canada Open Cities Index

Rankings of Canada's Top 10 cities out of possible max scores of 193 (Image courtesy of Public Sector Digest).

Rankings of Canada’s Top 10 cities out of possible max scores of 193 in Public Sector Digest’s 2015 Open Cities Index (Image courtesy of Public Sector Digest).

By Drew Bush

Numerous city, state, and provincial governments across North America are finding new ways to share government data online. With more than 60 nations now part of the Open Government Partnership, it’s often difficult to determine which initiatives are simply part of a growing fad instead of being true attempts at more responsive and accountable government.

In the United States, President Barak Obama announced plans in 2009 to make many federal agencies open by default with government information, yet just last month the office charged with carrying out this directive failed to openly publish a schedule for its guidelines on this work. In Canada, a variety of city initiatives aim to allow citizens to more easily view crime statistics, find out information about neighborhood quality of life, or time the arrival of the next bus. With so many initiatives, it can be difficult to determine which best improves municipal responsiveness or offers new services to citizens particularly amidst promises by the newly elected Liberal government on open data (see Tweet below).

The authors of Public Sector Digest’s first ever 2015 Open Cities Index aim to solve this problem by providing “a reference point for the performance” of open data programs in 34 Canadian cities. The authors of the index undertook a survey to measure 107 variables related to open data programs. In particular, the index measures three types of data sets cities may have made available: those related to 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).

Across each data set in these three categories, municipalities were scored on five variables according to questions such as whether their data sets are available online, machine readable, free, and up-to-date. The aim was to help these municipalities, which often have limited resources to spend on open data programs, to assess their strengths and weaknesses and improve open data programs.

Four Geothink partner cities made the top 10 of the index, with Edmonton in first place, Toronto second, Ottawa fourth, and Vancouver sixth. At last year’s Canadian Open Data Summit, Edmonton also won the Canadian Open Data Award. You can find the full list of city rankings on the report’s home page. Yet the value of these types of ratings and awards will only be shown over time, according to many practitioners in the field.

“It’s hard to tell what it means to be ranked fourth because it’s a brand new thing,” said Robert Giggey, the coordinator and lead for the City of Ottawa’s Open Data program. “It’s not something that’s done every year, every month, that everybody knows about and is waiting for. So it’s kind of yet to be determined.”

The Value of the Index

Other indexes have measured open data at the national level, such as the Open Data Barometer. And measurements of municipal open data undertaken by two university students focused only on what types of data sets were available. The Open Cities Index works to take this a step further by engaging with key areas of interest. In particular, the index aims to standardize measurements around three themes:

1. Readiness—To what extent is the municipality ready/capable of fostering positive outcomes through its open data initiative?
2. Implementation—To what extent has the city fulfilled its open data goals and ultimately, what data has it posted online?
3. Impact—To what extent has the posted information been used, what benefits has the city accrued as a result of its open data program, and to what extent is the city capable of measuring the impact?

One Geothink researcher cautions, however, that it’s difficult to ascertain the worth of the index until its authors make the full report available along with more information on the 107 variables surveyed. In particular, he said, implementation can be a difficult metric to measure because different cities have different data collection responsibilities and different goals.

“I’m working on some research right now that shows that governments don’t actually have very good tracking metrics for use,” Peter Johnson, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Waterloo, wrote in an e-mail to Geothink.ca. “Much of their sense of who uses open data and what it is used for is anecdotal and certainly incomplete. Since open data is provided with few restrictions, it is difficult to track who is using it and what it is being used for in any comprehensive way.”

Beyond the data online now, cities interested in being included in future years of the index and accessing a detailed analysis of municipal open data programs across Canada must contact Public Sector Digest. Some municipalities, like Ottawa, may wait and see how it goes in those places that have already paid for the service, according to Giggey.

“I want to see what the reaction is from the open data community, from other jurisdictions, from other areas—Geothink—about what they think of the index,” he said. “Is this any good? Is it worth anything? Then we’ll look to see if it’s something we want to invest in.”

A screen shot of Toronto's Open Data portal for city hall.

A screen shot of Toronto’s Open Data portal for city hall.

The Reaction Among Geothink Partner Cities

The value of the index will be determined as more details on its methodology and conclusions are released, and, perhaps, it becomes a regular measure of open data work in Canada’s municipalities. For now city staff in charge of open data work in the cities interviewed by Geothink.ca agree that the index does achieve the goal of bringing recognition to the work they are doing. In Ottawa, this has included work to make the city accountable by providing datasets on elected officials, budget data, lobbyist and employee information, and 311 calls. Toronto got a relatively early start with city budgets in 2009 and now also has a portal with social data on neighborhoods (including datasets like demographics, public health, and crime rates).

“I am glad the index recognizes the time and effort each city puts in to make its data open and accessible for reuse and repurpose,” Linda Low, open data coordinator for the City of Vancouver, wrote in an e-mail. Datasets in her city include information on crime, business licenses, property tax, Orthophoto imagery, and census local areal profiles. “This doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly is a team effort to get to where we are today.”

Edmonton’s recognition for its work derives from a 2010 decision by city leaders to launch an open data catalogue and the 2011 awarding of a $400,000 IBM Smart Cities Challenge award grant. Work in the city has included using advanced analysis of open data streams to enhance crime enforcement and prevention, an “open lab” to provide new products that improve citizen interactions with government, and interactive neighbourhood maps that will help Edmontonians locate and examine waste disposal services, recreational centres, transit information, and capital projects. More can be found on Edmonton’s work in a previous Geothink article.

“We are thrilled and honoured that our innovation and hard work have been recognized,” Yvonne Chen, a strategic planner for the City of Edmonton, wrote in an e-mail. She noted that Edmonton’s success, which results directly from a city council policy on open data, includes having an online budget tool that increases transparency about the allocation of public funds. “Our goal has always been to be a leader in the Canadian open government movement.”

While the recognition helps bring attention to the work being done by cities, much remains to be seen about how well the index actually compares cities against each other when objectives and the types of data recorded can vary greatly.

“It’s great to be in the top 10 any time, but we know from when we got the survey sent to us, we weren’t sure of all their measures that they were taking,” Keith McDonald, open data lead for the City of Toronto, said.

“We’d like to see other studies and maybe a little more apples to apples comparison for sure,” he added. “I think actually that was the intent—I can’t speak for the Public Sector Digest—but I think that was the intent of having an ongoing group that would buy into their measuring, so that people could continue to tweak and make it a stronger real apples to apples comparison. And we would support that.”

In fact, the value of an index like this one may lie in allowing cities to track their own progress over time.

“For all those cities included (and even those that aren’t) it can help to narrow the field as to where effort may be best placed to improve open data provision,” Johnson wrote of what he called a “high-profile external evaluation” of each city’s work.

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.

RECODE Open Data Youth Leader – My View on A Week of Open Data Events

By Suthee Sangiambut

This article contains personal reflections from Geothink’s Newsletter Editor and Student Coordinator, Suthee Sangiambut.

This year’s Canada Open Data Summit and International Open Data Conference confirmed that open data and open government are quickly becoming mainstream topics for all sorts of disciplines and subject areas. I consider myself part of the open data community, due to my masters research on open data as well as my involvement in the Geothink grant.

I had heard of some of the people and institutions prior to the event and felt excited to have the chance to talk in person. My own interactions with representatives of government and non-profits had already indicated a lot of optimism and passion for open data and government. From this perspective, I got what I was expecting – plus an eagerness to tackle problems of implementation. My hopes of getting an update on the current status of open data in Canada were also met, especially with people from so many sectors and multiple levels of government.

The panels and workshops throughout the week were informative. In particular, I enjoyed Bianca Wylie’s great line that “open government is government,” as a way to set our expectations of how essential the idea of open data has become for many governments.

It was interesting to listen to speakers from Canada, USA, and beyond on different open data-related initiatives. The panels confirmed for me a couple of observations: those implementing open data and open government initiatives around the world are facing similar problems (such as resources, politics, organisational culture), engagement through one-off events (such as hackathons) is insufficient, and there is still work to be done to make studies and evaluations (especially in the non-profit sector) more rigorous.

I had assumed that there would be groups of attendees who would be sending different messages. However, after listening to talks on “Moving beyond the hackathon” at the Canada Open Data Summit, and various panels on “Open Cities” at the IODC, I found speakers at both making the same point—that citizen engagement with open data needs to go beyond one-off events such as hackathons, and that we need to address the issue of ‘capacity building’ or ‘data literacy’.

As an aside, this issue of ‘training in open data’ also surprised me as a conversation that was both too broad and too vague. And the idea of ‘open data skills’ should have been discussed in much more concrete terms, as attendees were not able to separate out what levels of programming or analytical skills were required. On the other hand, this level of vagueness was also quite appropriate, given the rate of change we experience in technology. In fact, attendees often spoke on similar subjects but used slightly different terminology.

I was also rather surprised to see representatives of organisations and governments implementing open data initiatives in developing countries. What was surprising for me was that, to some of them, open data was another tool to tackle corruption. The potential for open data initiatives in countries experiencing endemic corruption is quite different from countries with much lower levels of corruption. What attendees appeared to be assuming was that open data could be a catalyst for social change.

My main take-home points were on citizen engagement and the need for sustained engagement. Furthermore, the conversations on capacity building were very welcome, as they help to address the issue of keeping people actively engaged with open data in the long term. Increasing people’s programming and analytical skills could potentially increase their demand for data as they increase their capacity to inform themselves of new data or the potential for new types of analysis. However, opening a new open data community or initiative in one’s own community would require a long-term plan in addition to short events.

If I met local open data activists in Thailand (my home country), my recommendations would actually be rather different from what I learned at the Canada Open Data Summit. Continuing on the thread from above, tackling transparency and accountability in countries experiencing endemic levels of corruption with the use of open data is perhaps a step too far. Solutions must always be appropriate and tailored to the locale. In the case of large digital divides (both in terms of broadband access and skills), gaps in education (both in society and in the public sector), and low quality in government data collection, it is really quite debatable whether or not open data is an appropriate or even cost effective solution to both social and economic problems. The first step to implementing open data and open government initiatives, is to think about democracy and its various forms. There is no single way to implement democratic government and I think this is an important point to recognise, as the open government and open data movement are, at the highest level, still ‘one size fits all’ movements. In the conversations during the week in Ottawa, there were only two situations mentioned where it was acceptable to withhold data – security/strategic assets and privacy. In countries like Thailand where democratic government is implemented very differently from Canada, open data activists in Thailand must be able to resolve the principles of open government and open data with their local contexts.

Thank you to the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation for their support with the RECODE programme, and thank you to Open North for their organisation of the Canada Open Data Summit.

For more summary of the events of the week, see our posts on the Canada Open Data Summit, IODC 2015 Day 1, and IODC 2015 Day 2.

If you have thoughts or questions about this article, please get in touch with Suthee Sangiambut.

Torts of the Geoweb: (or the liability question) Part I


Mapping Ottawa’s open data on tobogganing hills (Photo courtesy of ottawastart.com)

By Tenille Brown, PhD student in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa

Recently, on March 3rd as part of the continuing Geothink Project, I hosted a Twitter chat about tort liability with Mapping Mashups. This online forum was joined by Geothink partners and friends and the primary topic discussed was the role of tort law and how and where it fits in the context of the Geoweb, liability and moral responsibility. One active participant of this Twitter discussion was British academic Muki Haklay, a collaborator on the Geothink project more broadly, and Haklay later wrote up some highlights from this discussion, available here. I have been considering the role of tort liability in multiple contexts for some time now, both prior to the online discussion and subsequent to it. I have not been thinking of this idea so much in a typical “finding a problem” lawyerly way, but more in a “trying to understand the allocation of responsibility” kind of way. From the legal perspective, questions about how we should handle the mountains of data collected and produced by governments and citizens alike, jumps out at me. For these reasons I chose to place the focus of the Twitter chat on tort liability rather than the challenges of protecting the privacy of personal information, or copyright issues in geospatial information, which have been discussed elsewhere.

With the increase in platforms and data sources (both government and volunteered) on the geoweb, there is also an increase in opportunities for legal liability to attach to this information. With Canadian cities releasing data sets of all types of information, from proposed roadways to beach water sampling data, the liability question is not hypothetical, but of increasing importance. Of course, cities are carrying out their due-diligence by ensuring personal information does not get released, following the principles of the open government license. But still, some questions remain to be answered such as, what legal tools are in place to deal with third parties who take government information and use that information in a way that causes harm?

One example that immediately comes to mind is the use of open data to create apps for the reporting of pot-holes through cities 311 app, as happens in Toronto. A more apt example for Ottawa is the recently released information about hills open to tobogganing throughout the city, which was collated in a map here. Does liability attach to this information? If so, would information which highlights any hazards on the hill amount to a defence in a negligence action? How would we assign liability if citizenship were to take government data and create an open data app which contains outdated data?

In his write-up about the chat, I think Muki Haklay framed this problem correctly as an ethics problem. Haklay writes, Somehow, the growth of the geoweb took us backward. The degree to which awareness of ethics is internalised within a discourse of ‘move fast and break things‘, software / hardware development culture of perpetual beta, lack of duty of care, and a search for fast ‘exit’ (and therefore IBG-YBG) make me wonder about which mechanisms we need to put in place to ensure the reintroduction of strong ethical notions into the geoweb. As some of the responses to my question demonstrate, people will accept the changes in societal behaviour and view them as normal… In fact, tort liability principles recognize that if a wrong has been committed (sometimes even without intent), then the person who committed the harm might be required to compensate the individual. The very basis of tort law is that we ought to provide remedies for those wronged. Based on this aim, the courts don’t always uphold contracts of adhesion (which seek to limit liability).

The principles of tort liability understood as a matter of ethics and responsibility, provides opportunities for the prevention of harm and the accountability of government. This has long been recognized in the New York context, where the law stipulates that should a person trip on the sidewalk (or pothole), the city is only liable if it has been reported. To ensure reporting, every year the Big Apple Pothole and Sidewalk Corporationmaps out the cracks, holes and potholes throughout the city (and here). For its part, Toronto reports it has filled in almost 50,000 potholes in 2015 to date and over the past years there has been a 40% increase in drivers receiving compensation from pot-hole induced damage to cars. (The same report does not detail the number of complaints that have been made by the 311 reporting service).

The twitter conversation demonstrates that legal analysis questions, such as who has standing to bring a legal claim, who bears legal responsibility for information, and which courts have jurisdiction, are only the beginning of tort legal questions. A second analysis begs that we understand data in a larger framework which takes into account duties and responsibilities. Focusing on the prevention of harm, we could argue, that there should be a larger set of core activities or areas for which liability cannot be contracted out. These core areas presumably would pertain to the health, safety and well-being of citizenship, particularly that they be tailored to protect the interests of those who cannot be expected to know the details of tortious liability, nor necessarily how to navigate geoweb activities.

Tenille Brown is a PhD student in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa and a Geothink student member. Her research is in the areas of legal geography, including property, spatial and citizen engagement, in the Ottawa context.

She can be reached on twitter, @TenilleEBrown and via email, Tenille.Brown@uottawa.ca.

Geothink 2nd Annual General Meeting – Ottawa, ON, Canada – 2014

Geothink is happy to announce it’s second annual general meeting (AGM) June 11-13th being hosted at the University of Ottawa.

Agenda for 2nd Annual General Meeting
June 11 – 13, 2014 (Ottawa, Canada)
Position papers related to talks available on Geothink.ca.
Wednesday, 11 June 2014
19h00Get together for a drink/dinner at The Black Tomato (drinks sponsored by IBM)
(near Byward Market, corner of Sussex and George, 12 mins walk from University Ottawa)
Address: 11 George Street, Ottawa, ON K1N 8W5
Telephone: (613) 789-8123
Dress code: Casual


Thursday, 12 June 2014
Venue – Room FTX137, Fauteux Hall, 57 Louis-Pasteur
Law School, University of Ottawa


09h00Explanation of Activities and Objectives (Renee Sieber)
09h30-11h20 Researcher presentations: Informal, open presentations by co-applicants (10 minutes each)

Time Title Presenter
9:30-9:40 Civic Hackathons: Innovation, Procurement, or Civic Engagement?At all levels, governments around the world are moving towards the provision of open data, that is, the direct provision to citizens, the private sector, and other third parties, of raw government datasets, controlled by a relatively permissible license. In tandem with this distribution of open data is the promotion of civic hackathons, or ‘app contests’ by government. The civic hackathon is designed to offer prize money to developers as a way to spur innovative use of open data, more specifically the creation of commercial software applications that deliver services to citizens. Within this context, we propose that the civic hackathon has the potential to act in multiple ways, possibly as a backdoor to the traditional government procurement process, and as a form of civic engagement. We move beyond much of the hype of civic hackathons, critically framing an approach to understanding civic hackathons through these two lenses. Key questions for future research emphasize the emerging, and important, nature of this research path. Pamela Robinson
9:40-9:50 A Framework for Assessing the Value of Open DataDownload

We present four categories to value open data; political and social, economic, operational and technical, and organizational. The four categories of value constitute a framework for determining what types of value various user groups derive from open data. Key challenges to realizing value from open data include the lack of metrics (both quantitative and qualitative) for measuring non-economic types of value.

Peter Johnson
9:50-10:00 IP , Privacy and Open Data

This paper examines some of the challenges presented by the transition from ‘closed’ to open data within the municipal context, using municipal transit data as a case study. The particular lens through which this paper examines these challenges is intellectual property law. In a ‘closed data’ system, intellectual property law is an important means by which legal control over data is asserted by governments and their agencies. In an ‘open data’ context, the freedom to use and distribute content is a freedom from IP constraints. The evolution of approaches to open municipal transit data offers some interesting examples of the role played by intellectual property at every stage in the evolution of open municipal transit data, and it highlights not just the relationship between municipalities and their residents, but also the complex relationships between municipalities, residents, and private sector service providers.
A second paper considers some of the privacy challenges related to making government information available through proactive disclosure or as open data. The research undertaken in this area is carried out with the goal of developing a best practices guide for municipalities (and other levels of government). A brief overview will be given, but interested partners are also invited to speak with us about becoming involved in this project.

Teresa Scassa, Alexandra Diebel* and Amy Conroy*
10:00-10:10 Implied License and Waiver for Downstream Uses of Copyrighted Information on the GeowebDownload

One complication for increasing public participation in the Geoweb is the possibility that copyright rights may apply to material that individuals submit to government-operated or government-endorsed websites. Authors of copyrightable works are the first owners of copyright and have a bundle of exclusive rights, including the right to prevent others from copying and publishing their works. Copyright arises automatically, and authors need not actively affirm or register their copyright to obtain protection. Moreover, individuals do not waive their copyright by a failure to exercise their rights. However, certain actions by copyright owners may constitute an implied license or waiver of copyright, permitting others to do activities that would otherwise be copyright infringing. The Geoweb promises to connect individuals seamlessly, to allow individuals to communicate with government, and for governments to use these inputs to fashion policy responses. But copyright is potentially an obstacle to realizing the potential of Geoweb-based public participation, as it may be difficult to determine what information is protected by copyright, when copyright subsists, and what uses the government and the public may make of information posted online by others. This paper will examine the application of copyright to information that individuals contribute to the Geoweb and suggest best licensing practices to facilitate public participation in a copyright-compliant manner. The paper focuses, however, on legal mechanisms that are available where best practices with regard to licensing have not been followed and there are no applicable contractual terms governing the copyright. Implied license and waiver are two common law doctrines that courts may apply to fill a contracting gap by retroactively interpreting what the parties intended, although did not make explicit. The paper will detail the two doctrines, discuss their application in past copyright cases, and outline how they may be applied to facilitate access to copyrighted information on the Geoweb.

Elizabeth Judge + students
10:10-10:20 What Shapes Open Data from Cities?For several reasons, cities are opening up data, which traditionally been the means to decision-making, to civil society and the private sector. The shape this open government data takes depends on factors like the availability of data, data quality, resource constraints, analytics to measure the value of these initiatives, existing app and platform development, opportunities for citizen engagement and the general political, economic and legal regime in which cities operate. I will present a broad overview the potential for and nature of open data in municipal settings, particularly with examples from Canada. Renée Sieber
10:20-10:30 Open and Free? The Political Economy of the GeowebWe present three concepts. We first outline the concept of political economy as a toolbox to understand the geoweb. The political economy is the production and distribution of information as a commodity. Second, we apply these tools to produce a working understanding of the political economy of the geoweb. Finally, we highlight future research priorities for political economists of the geoweb. Leslie Shade* and Harrison Smith
10:30-10:40 You can’t get there from here. Or, can you? Toward an understanding of design-reality gaps in the implementation of open government in Canadian municipalities Daniel Paré
10:40-10:50 Putting ourselves on the map: exploring under-represented groups use of the Geoweb as a deliberative tool to transform space to place (will screencast this)http://youtu.be/hIRR4bBLZeI


Research in Geographic Information Studies has played an important role in supporting public participation in planning processes. Community cartography, participatory geographic information systems and now the participatory geoweb, have all been used with varying levels of success. This paper will discuss the dichotomy between the expectations we have of the participatory geoweb and its ability to deliver. It will frame this discussion around Rittel and Weber’s (1973) conceptualization of wicked problems. The paper will draw on the empirical research being conducted through the development, deployment and ongoing scaling up of one particular example of the participatory geoweb. This example is Geolive, a participatory web-mapping application conceived, coded and maintained at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Geolive is currently being used in a number of participatory mapping projects. Despite the differences between Geolive projects, key themes have emerged which shape our understanding of the ability and inability of the geoweb to influence participatory processes. These include: (1) Addressing preconceived, and at times unrealistic, understandings of the extent of the geoweb’s ability; (2) Overcoming the inability to create functional templates that can be carried between projects; (3) Understanding our (in)ability to finish projects; and (4) Tempering how we speak about the outcomes and impacts of participatory geoweb research and practice. The paper concludes that there dwells an inherent wickedness in most forms of participatory mapping project, and that we as practitioners and researchers need to be acutely aware of this, and must, as a result, take on a stronger sense of responsibility in our research and practice.

Jon Corbett
10:50-11:00 Opening new partnerships through shared and landed HistoriesDownload

Data is data; it can be big, little, personal, public, open, closed, but context – that is the social context of data – is everything. Equity issues frequently arise around access (i.e., the digital divide) but all data exists in a sociological context, and the shape, texture, and positioning – the very utility of data – depends on more than access writ large, but also who can select what is available and how access is configured. For land based practices, like agriculture for example, the geoweb is a new and potentially powerful tool for accessing information, for articulating priorities and concerns, for mobilizing support, and for creating community both virtual and face-to-face. This paper explores how deliberate linkages between the methodologies for researching/mobilizing around the concerns of small holder agriculturalists and geoweb based technologies can more effectively address (that is improve) wicked problems by ensuring data is both produced and consumed with an eye to its sociological and geo-political context.

Mike Evans
11:00-11:10 What is VGI, Anyway?Download

Claus will describe what volunteered geographic information (VGI) is and why it is important for Geothink. Summary of research on a systems perspective on VGI and a classification of user contributions on the Geoweb.

Claus Rinner

* indicates presenters

Supplemental position papers:

Prof. Scott Bell – University of Saskatchewan – ” Mapping the Spatial Pattern of the Uncertain Data” – Download

11h10-11:25 Break

11h25-12h10 Roundtable Discussion (led by Barbara Poore, USGS)

This is where the partners turn the table on the co-applicants and they reflect on/synthesize the morning’s talks from a partner perspective. “This is what we thought we heard from you.” We encourage partners to “take the stage” and ask us, for example, “Are we on the right track?” and “What opportunities are we missing?”.

12h10Lunch served in nearby room

13h40-15:10 Partner presentations:  Informal, open presentations by partners (10 minutes each or flexible)

Time Title Presenter
13:40-13:50 The Neptis GeowebMarcy will present their Geoweb platform and Project, the launch and direction, that is where Neptis plans to go with it. Marcy Burchfield
13:50-14:00 United States Geological Survey (USGS) and Citizen ScienceDrawing on Muki Haklay’s [collaborator] levels of participation in citizen science, Barbara will discuss citizen science projects at the USGS. These range from a long history of citizen seismology to the more recent Tweet Earthquake Detection project which relies on citizens as sensors. Two recent projects, The National Map Corps, in which volunteers map structures data, and iCoast, which is crowdsourcing coastal change after extreme storms, offer examples of impediments to full citizen participation in the scientific endeavors of a governmental science agency. Barbara Poore
14:00-14:10 Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)CIPPIC is legally representing Geolytica, a crowdsourcing company that is being sued by the Canada Post Corporation. The litigation between Canada Post and Geolytica raises important issues about copyright in facts and in compilations of fact in Canada. Beyond this, the case raises important public policy issues about access to and use of public sector information. David Fewer
14:10-14:20 IBM and GeothinkBrief overview of IBM, including describing IBM’s investments in research in Canada as well as the many vehicles available to support Canadian academic researchers. They will then dive into the IBM Academic Initiative program which has been created to provide free software in support of teaching and/or research projects Don Aldridge (Research Executive) and Stephen Perelgut (Sr Relationship Manager, Academic Partnerships)

Nova Scotia Community Counts (NSCC) and the Geoweb: Making the Connections

Nova Scotia Community Counts is a publicly supported website that provides information for and about communities and 14 other levels of geography in Nova Scotia. Community Counts (CC) provides a common platform for statistics that count for communities. Most of the data comes from Statistics Canada (SC). Community Counts adds value by converting the SC standard geographies into geographies understood by Nova Scotians, e.g. counties, municipalities, communities. The data is also provided in multiple formats – tables, charts, graphs, maps, profiles, policy views – for easy use. The Map Centre offers over 40,000 maps that are dynamically generated based on user requirements and provides tools for thematic mapping and asset mapping. Community Counts relates to these research themes: Spatial Authenticity, Accuracy, and Standards; Space, Place and Social Justice. Malcolm Shookner will make the connections in his presentation

Malcolm Shookner (Chief Statistician, NSCC)
14:30-14:40 Ryerson Journalism Research Centre (RJRC): The Geoweb, Open Data and Journalism: Challenge and OpportunityThe geoweb and open-data initiatives have opened up a whole new range of challenges and opportunities for journalists. Data journalism, which makes extensive use of geo-data, is a powerful new tool for investigation, story telling and doing business. Use of the geoweb as a tool for identifying  sources, verifying content, generating story ideas and reshaping the business of journalism will be discussed. Government commitments to open data will also be reviewed from a journalism perspective. April Lindgren
14:40-14:50 Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC)Technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), facial recognition, wearable computing, always-on smart phones, geo-spatial technology and advanced analytics raise significant and novel privacy issues. This talk will explore some of OPC’s recent work and current research priorities, several of which concern privacy issues that are raised by interconnected and location-aware technologies. Melanie Miller-Chapman, Manager of Research at the OPC
14:50-15:00 Open North: Open Data and Civic TechnologyOpen North (http://opennorth.ca/) is a Canadian nonprofit that provides digital tools to more easily access and understand government information and to influence and provide input to government decisions. Represent (http://represent.opennorth.ca/) is its online tool for finding the elected officials and electoral districts for any Canadian address or postal code, at all levels of government. It uses shapefiles from over 350 governments and collects elected officials’ contact information from over 100 of them. Open data, data standards, and data aggregation have a significant role to play in reducing the cost of expanding Represent’s coverage across Canada. Open North was recently awarded a grant from the Canada Internet Registration Authority to understand the barriers to adoption of open data and data standards at the municipal level, and to design appropriate solutions. Stephane will talk about the project he has with Renee on the Evolution of Open Data Standards. Stéphane Guidoin
15:00-15:10 Montreal Ouvert: Transitions of an Open Data Civil Society GroupIn 2010, Montreal citizens came together as Montreal Ouvert to push for government transparency and engagement appropriate for an digital age. At that time, the concept of “open data” was unknown by elected officials and bureaucrats in Quebec. After four years of successfully organizing hackathons, educating elected officials, doing interviews, writing editorials, participating in public consultations, and testifying at the National Assembly the grassroots group will be undergoing a transition. This presentation will (briefly) review the activities of the group and discuss the future. Michael Lenczner


15h10-15:25 Coffee Break

15h25-16h00 Roundtable Discussion (led by Peter Johnson, University of Waterloo)

This is where the co-applicants reflect on/synthesize the afternoon talks from a researcher perspective. “This is what we thought we heard from you.” We encourage everyone to “take the stage” and ask, for example, “How can we add value to what you’re doing?” and “Where are the hooks in what you’re doing?”. Challenges in matching partner, researcher interests.

16h00  Getting the most out of Geothink (led by Marcy Burchfield, Neptis Foundation) This is a larger discussion of how partners and the researchers in the network (which includes students) can get the most out of the partnership. Can we create a more formal structure that allows partners to exchange ideas and create opportunities to tap into the expertise of the network? The structure should reflect the realities of the academic year and be a formal mechanism for students to benefit from opportunities provided by the partners and vice versa. Student exchange with partners or summer institute with partners, if that’s considered a good idea.

17h30End of Day 1

18h30Dinner at Vittoria Trattoria

(near Byward Market, between George and York, 13 mins walk from University of Ottawa)

Address: 35 William Street, Ottawa, ON K1N 6Z9

Telephone: (613) 789-8959

Dress code: Casual


Friday, 13 June 2014

Venue – Room (to be advised on Thursday – June 12), Fauteux Hall, 57 Louis-Pasteur

Law School, University of Ottawa


09h00Explanation of Activities and Objectives (Renee Sieber)

09h30-11h20 Session 1: Grand research challenges and opportunities of this grant – a chance to think big

This is the time in which we get to be unmoored from the day to day issues of our jobs and filling out forms and student management and technical details. This is the longer term, not what we are doing but what we could be doing. We break into groups and do some blue sky thinking. And we find a way to actualize it in Session 2.

For example, what are the big challenges and opportunities for:

  • cities (smart or otherwise)
  • engagement in municipal government
  • open government
  • digital mapping
  • open data (e.g., what happens if all data is open, or should everything be open?)
  • government use of information and communications technology writ large
  • citizen science
  • social media and government-citizen engagement
  • geospatial data sharing and infrastructures
  • digital society (who wins and who is excluded)

11h00-11:15 Break

11h15-12h00 Session 2: Actualizing Session 1

This is where we actually put our money where our mouth is with suggestions for projects for Y3 and beyond. This is also where Alex will talk about the Rapid Response Think Tank, which will be inaugurated with Elizabeth’s and Teresa’s 90 hour undergraduate legal internship program. After we hear from Alex, we will break into groups and discuss. We also can use this time to envision fun things we want to do regarding research activities and grant engagement.

 12h00Lunch served in nearby room

 13h30-15:00 Session 3: Knowledge Mobilization

This is where we put our logistical hats on to realize the deliverables, for example

  • Annual Association of Geographers (AAG 2015–this is where we see many of our collaborators) + academic and other conferences and workshops
  • Geothink summer school with students 2015
  • Publication plans (books, articles, whitepapers, blogs)
  • Student internships with partners and exchanges between institutions
  • White papers, use cases, webcasts and other ways we ensure our research is relevant to partners

 15h00-15:15 Coffee Break

 15h15-16h00 Session 4: Administration and grant functioning (Alex and Renee)

This is where we discuss paperwork and grant communication, basically, how to make this easier for everyone. Alex will once again review the annual report. Our conversation includes, but is not limited to:

  • Meeting SSHRC reporting requirements
  • Increasing conference call frequency
  • Keeping in touch and exchanging information via traditional and social media (e.g., Blog, listserve, website, newsletter)
  • Refining governance structure and committees
  • Meeting leverage goals for Year 2.5 (we’re only at $400K of $3.2m), which will impact research activities in Y2.
  • Serving theme objectives and not overlapping (i.e., a coherent and cohesive strategy for answering theme questions posed in the grant application)
  • Crafting strategies for surveying partners because there’s considerable research contemplated and in progress that requires partner (i.e., municipal) surveys. This refers not only to researcher activities but also student activities

16h00End of meeting



Name Affiliation Role Attendance?
Renée Sieber Geography, McGill Principal Investigator Confirmed
Daniel Paré Communications, Univ. of Ottawa Deputy PI Confirmed
Teresa Scassa Law, Univ. of Ottawa Co-applicant Confirmed
Elizabeth Judge Univ. of Ottawa Co-applicant Confirmed
Peter Johnson Geography & Environmental Management, Univ. of Waterloo Co-applicant Confirmed
Rob Feick Planning, Univ. of Waterloo Co-applicant Confirmed
Claus Rinner Ryerson University Co-applicant Confirmed
Pamela Robinson Ryerson University Co-applicant Confirmed(June 11 & 12)
Leslie Shade Information, Univ. of Toronto Co-applicant Confirmed
Daren Brabham Univ. of Univ North Carolina-Chapel Hill Co-applicant Virtual
Scott Bell Univ. of Saskatchewan Co-applicant Virtual
Michael Evans Univ. of British Columbia Collaborator Confirmed
Stephen Foster Univ. of British Columbia Collaborator Confirmed
Stéphane Guidoin Open North Partner (non-profit) Confirmed
Michael Lenczner Montreal Ouvert Partner (non-profit) Confirmed
David Fewer CIPPIC (U of Ottawa) Partner Confirmed
Don Aldridge IBM Partner Confirmed
Marcy Burchfield Neptis Partner Confirmed
Barbara Poore United States Geological Survey Partner Confirmed
April Lindgren RJRC Partner Confirmed
Philippe Leclerc City of Regina Partner Confirmed
Melanie Millar-Chapman OPC Partner Confirmed
Robert Giggey City of Ottawa Partner Confirmed
Madelaine Saginur CLTS Partner Confirmed
Malcolm Shookner NSCC Partner Confirmed
Brent Hall ESRI Partner Confirmed(June 12)
Jing Hoon Teo McGill University Research Coordinator Confirmed(June 11 & 12)
Alexander Taciuk McGill University Project Manager Confirmed
Matthew Tenney (PhD) McGill University Student (RS) Confirmed
Amy Conroy (PhD) University of Ottawa (Law) Student (TS) Confirmed
Alexandra Diebel (U/G) University of Ottawa (Law) Student (TS) Confirmed
Elizabeth Marasse (M) University of Ottawa Student (DP) Confirmed
Albert Lessiwe (M) University of Ottawa Student (DP) Confirmed
Tenille Brown (PhD) University of Ottawa Student (EJ) Confirmed
Cheryl Power (PhD) University of Ottawa Student (EJ) Confirmed
Laura Gracia (PhD) University of Ottawa Student (EJ) Confirmed
Edgar Baculi (U/G) Ryerson University Student (CR) Confirmed