Geothink&Learn 14: The Algorithmic City

Data-driven algorithms increasingly impact how governments make decisions. While the popular narrative remains that algorithmic governance promises to improve efficiency and impartiality, the on-the-ground reality can be far different. The use of data  with historical prejudices (often unconsciously imparted to programs) on race, gender, religion, ethnicity, and other personal identifiers can severely bias how these digital tools make decisions. Consequently, the public requires knowledge of how algorithms influence government decision-making in urban places and citizens need understanding of what areas pose the greatest concerns for their own welfare. Our speakers considered the lessons learned from open data and smart city movements as they investigate how computational processes will increasingly shape the way geospatial information is organized and presented to citizens. This panel brought together experts from Geothink’s municipal, nonprofit, and academic partners to discuss the algorithmic city and its implications for citizen participation and government decision-making. This session also marks our final Geothink&Learn of the grant and maps a road forward for these emergent topics.

On Wednesday, February 20 at 12:00 PM EST, Geothink hosted its fourteenth Geothink&Learn video conference session. This session was the final before the end of the Geothink grant.

The convener for the session was Geothink Head Renee Sieber, associate professor in McGill University’s Department of Geography and School of Environment. Speakers included Bianca Wylie, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in the Global Economy program; Tracey Lauriault, an assistant professor in Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication; and, Nasma Ahmed, director of the Digital Justice Lab.

A question and answer session followed after presentations concluded. Our panelists briefly talked about their own experiences and then reflected on this emergent topic.

Please download a poster for our session for distribution widely.

11:33:41 From Geothink .CA to All Panelists : Hello!
11:33:47 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : hey
11:47:19 From Bianca Wylie : hi hi
11:47:51 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : bonjour
11:52:13 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : dooobie dooobie dooooooo
11:52:23 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : manum manum
11:52:34 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : pa ti ti ti ti
11:52:38 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : manum manum
11:52:43 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : pa ti ti ti
11:56:49 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : i tried to get us singing bianca
11:57:00 From Geothink .CA : Welcome!
11:57:14 From Renee Sieber : Welcome everyone
11:57:31 From Tracey Lauriault : hello world!
12:00:14 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : there is some water stuff or toilet sounding stuff somewhere
12:20:22 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : bianca can you point me to this housing now doc
12:22:45 From Renee Sieber : Nasma—“how do we have to know to make an informed decision” is Herbert Simon (old urban theorist) on steroids with the algorithmic city
12:23:32 From Renee Sieber : Shot spotter is super interesting because it’s trotted out as “how can you not want that?”
12:24:01 From Tracey Lauriault : like the safe city ideals that Bianca was discussing
12:25:29 From Tracey Lauriault : WOT!
12:26:52 From Renee Sieber : There’s also tons of mission creep in these algos
12:28:37 From Renee Sieber : Cities need to remain as places where we constantly confront our biases and frailties
12:38:48 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : there is a question in the Q & A
12:42:05 From Tracey Lauriault : and normalizing new behavious – accepting the social score
12:43:34 From Renee Sieber : Yes—we’re normalizing a lot of behaviours that maybe we shouldn’t. One norm might be “you must allow data to be collected about you. If you turn it off then you’re suspicious.”
12:44:20 From Renee Sieber : Law isn’t the answer, yes. And I think that algos are being used to formalize cultural norms
12:44:30 From Tenille Brown : I agree Bianca. Added to that, historically law has a great difficulty in regulating the city. The right to the city (which touches on all the equity issues, claims to place, city movement, etc.) has not translated into a legal right.
12:45:00 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : SEEE Q & A
12:45:02 From Renee Sieber : Tenille is a law scholar
12:45:18 From Tenille Brown : Therefore law in the algorithmic city, as a singular concept, is also a challenge – and questionable as a goal
12:45:25 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : SEE Q & A
12:45:28 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : 2 good questions
12:45:49 From Renee Sieber to Geothink .CA (Privately) : Could you ask the question in Q&A?
12:45:50 From Tracey Lauriault to Geothink .CA (Privately) : See the Q & A 2 good questions
12:47:16 From Tracey Lauriault : Values and impact assessment
12:48:07 From Tracey Lauriault : See
12:48:10 From Tenille Brown : I am intrigued by this values, social values, and impact assessment idea
12:48:13 From Scott Hardy to All Panelists : Great observation Matt. Governments seem to be taking the deep pocket of private industry approach of throwing money (tech) at a problem to solution without the much needed research and public oversight.
12:48:33 From Tenille Brown : Thank you for that link Tracey
12:50:42 From Tracey Lauriault : 🙂
12:52:07 From Tracey Lauriault : “An Open Smart City is where residents, civil society, academics, and the private sector collaborate with public officials to mobilize data and technologies when warranted in an ethical, accountable and transparent way to govern the city as a fair, viable and liveable commons and balance economic development, social progress and environmental responsibility.”
12:52:29 From Tracey Lauriault : what is the Algorithmic chain in this!
12:53:00 From Tracey Lauriault : What is the future we want!
12:54:26 From Tracey Lauriault : Hey can you share the authors and books mentioned?
12:55:21 From Leslie Shade : Useful too, Mimi Sheller on Mobility Justice; and rethinking the commons as a mobile commons…
12:55:29 From Tracey Lauriault : yes
12:58:53 From Tracey Lauriault to Geothink .CA (Privately) : grab question #3
12:59:57 From Tracey Lauriault : How we collectively purchase affects others!
13:00:22 From Tracey Lauriault : We had rules and no agility is overidding the rules!
13:00:35 From Tracey Lauriault : Now no no 🙂
13:01:03 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : SEE Q & A
13:05:34 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : heterogeneity vs homogeneity
13:06:33 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : Societal values – and metrics to monitor and manage these systems
13:07:12 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : Bianca
13:07:46 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : Also open source etc.
13:08:58 From Renee Sieber : how we build public education for something so complex? So important
13:09:04 From Tenille Brown : Thank you to all for your presentations and discussion. It has been excellent.
13:09:36 From Scott Hardy : Your thought leadership is so inspiring – thank you all!
13:09:51 From Renee Sieber : Really useful—Mimi Sheller on Mobility Justice; and rethinking the commons as a mobile commons…
13:09:58 From Matthew Dance to All Panelists : Thank you!
13:09:58 From Renee Sieber : Thanks, Leslie!
13:10:06 From Tracey Lauriault to All Panelists : yes OS, Open data, accessibility etc.
13:10:59 From Tracey Lauriault : lets all have pints more often and discuss!
13:11:00 From Leslie Shade to All Panelists : thanks alL!
13:11:08 From Ian Tattersfield to All Panelists : thanks very interesting
13:11:09 From Leslie Shade to All Panelists : pints for points

12:00 PM to 1:15 PM EST February 20, 2019 [NOW CONCLUDED]


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

Convener: Renee Sieber

Moderator: Sam Lumley


Renee Sieber is the head of Geothink (Project Director) and recognized worldwide for her research in Public Participation Geographic Information Systems (PPGIS), the Geospatial Web 2.0 (Geoweb), and community participation in use of new information and communications technologies. In 2016, she became the first recipient of the Canadian Association of Geographers (Geographic Information Systems and Science Special Interest Group): Lifetime Achievement and GIScience Excellence Award.


Image result for bianca wylieBianca Wylie: Bianca is an open government advocate with a dual background in technology and public engagement.  She leads work on public sector technology policy for Canada at Dgen Network and is the co-founder of Tech Reset Canada.  Bianca is also a Senior Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in the Global Economy program.

Image result for nasma ahmedNasma Ahmed is a technologist and community organizer that works  within the intersections of social justice, technology and policy. She is currently Director of the Digital Justice Lab, an organization that focuses on building a more just and equitable digital future.


Image result for tracey lauriaultTracey Lauriault is an Assistant Professor of Critical Media and Big Data in the School of Journalism and Communication, Communication Studies, at Carleton University. She is also a research associate with the the Programmable City Project and the Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre.