Geothink&Learn 13: The Evolution of Open Data in Canada

When the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Grant Geothink began in 2012, it was only one year after Canada’s federal government started its Open Data website.  Open data refers to a concept that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use (especially when created through public funding) and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents, or any other forms of control. During the more than five year duration of the grant, Geothink researchers have taken an interdisciplinary lens to investigating open data as it pertains to privacy issues, accessibility, interoperability, and its use with new communications and networked technologies. Canada is a big country, almost ten million square kilometers, so there is no wonder that our Partnership bore witness to a variety of changes to municipal and governmental uses of open data and associated technologies. This panel brought together experts in open data from Geothink’s municipal, nonprofit, and academic partners to discuss how open data has evolved during the grant.

On Thursday, January 24 at 12:00 PM EST, Geothink hosted its thirteenth Geothink&Learn video conference session. This session (along with four final webinars planned for the remaining months of the project) marked the end of the grant.

The panel was convened by Geothink Co-Applicant Peter Johnson, an associate professor in University of Waterloo’s Department of Geography and Environmental Management. Other panelists included Dan Murray, Director of Information Technology and Services at City of Kitchener and Jean-Noé Landry, Executive Director of OpenNorth; and, Patrick Lozeau, an Innovation and Open Data advisor for the Montreal Urban Innovation Lab.

A question and answer session followed after presentations concluded. Our panelists briefly talked about their own experiences and then reflected on the Partnership’s work.

Please download a poster for our session for distribution widely.

1. Interested in your reaction to David Eaves’s article on the evolution of open data Key points are “transformation of public officials’ attitude toward data” & “Without the open data movement the conversation would have been controlled by vendors and third parties” JN is answering some of this. My sense is this is a narrowing of the vision of open data to the public and private sectors and constricts goals of democracy via transparency and accountability.

I think this is a good article. The ancillary benefits of open data (or the process-based outcomes) may be more significant vs. the actual program outcomes. Like the culture change in public service inspired by open data. Would we have the current interest in young people in working in civic tech and gov without open data? Probably not. But maybe it is time to separate open data programs from broader gov goals of transparency and accountability. Like Open Data is only one part of that.

2. Another question: sure we’ve evolved in standards, automation, and business intelligence. But have we evolved in achieving actual value from open data?

TBA – is that a response? 🙂 I think the real question is value for who. Value for specific audiences, for sure. Broad value for citizens at large? Hard to say.

3. Is “open by default” cause any issues?

Good question! Will pose this to the panel in the Q and A. I am not sure that Kitchener or Montreal have this as a policy.

4. Ethical implications of “openness”: to what extent are ethics going to be determined in such a way that benefits government and business? IOW, not citizens. An ethical framework around privacy can actually benefit a risk averse government more than citizens.

Answered live during session.

5. What factors are used to grantee the data quality? Is there any at all?

Answered live during session.

6. I would ask of Jean-Noe and others is open data in demand by the public? And does the public fully understand what open data means for them as it has changed in Canada?

Answered live during session.

7. Is there any detailed example showing how the government shifting their roles along the open data movement? How the government is taking leadership to delivery digital services?

Answered live during session.

8. Add to the ethics issues: Compare to the discussions in the artificila intelligence (AI) community. Most of the ethical frameworks are being developed by the AI firms as a backstop type of legal protection.

Answered live during the session.

9. Could you talk more about “open with purpose”? Does that conflict with “open by default”?

Answered live during the session.

10. I would like to hear about how their organisations see the added value of open data for them (or their stakeholders). Is there a direct added value? Do organisations measure the value? Are they balancing the value with the costs of open data? Thanks.

Answered live during the session.

11. What is the evolution in terms of citizen engagement? JN talked a little bit about that but it’d be good to hear from the others as well?

Answered live during the session.

12. Curious about relations between “open government” and “open data”, is the government going to do more than data?

Answered live during the session.

13. One thing the panelists have not discussed is the role of crowdsourced data that is useful to government but held in private hands (think Waterfront TO, think use of Strava data). How should that be handled?

Answered live during the session.

14. In terms of using the data, GTFS is a good example. I suspect the data that are made as machine readable mainly about transit, building or environment. How about the something like culture in cities? How this will be presented by machine-readable data? Is there a problem if not?

Answered live during the session.

15. In response to thinking about Patrick’s comments, how do citizens have a voice in figuring out what data is important to have be open? Does Montreal solicit this?

Answered live during the session.

16. Is there bias in the government open data? The government’s data is value-neutral itself and in the use?

Answered live during the session.

12:00 PM to 1:15 PM January 24, 2019 [NOW CONCLUDED]


After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Convener: Peter Johnson

Moderator: Sam Lumley


Image result for peter johnson waterlooPeter Johnson is an Associate Professor in Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Waterloo. His research seeks to evaluate the affordances that new geospatial technologies create for communications and information sharing between government and citizens, identifying emergent adoption challenges and constraints.


Image result for dan murray kitchenerDan Murray is the Director of Technology Innovation and Services at City of Kitchener, a thriving city located in Southern Ontario with a population of 230,000. Dan has worked in Information Technology for close to 20 years. More than 17 of those have been with the City of Kitchener holding various roles and leading numerous technology initiatives.


Image result for jean-noe landryJean-Noé Landry is Executive Director of OpenNorth, Canada’s leading non-profit working on open data and open smart cities. OpenNorth works with parliaments, governments, media organizations, non-profits, and others. OpenNorth runs projects designed to assess the demand for open data and intersectoral collaboration, while offering support for building the capacity of open smart cities internationally.


Image result for patrick lozeauPatrick Lozeau works for the City of Montreal. He’s an Innovation & Open Data advisor for the Montreal Urban Innovation Lab. The Lab is in charge of applying the open data policy inside the City of Montreal.