Tag Archives: hackathon

Second Annual AquaHacking Event Invites You To Hack to Preserve the Water of the Saint Lawrence River

Un navire arrive à Montréal.

The 2016 AquaHacking event will focus on the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec with a summit to be held in Montreal in October.

By Drew Bush

AquaHacking will bring together water stakeholders and technology enthusiasts (and hackers) to solve freshwater issues including those related to climate change. The weeks-long hackathon will culminate in a two-day summit in Montreal, QC on October 6 & 7, 2016.

The organizers of the event believe it’s a great opportunity for developers and water researchers alike to come together to address problems of water preservation and gain valuable exposure and contacts with NGO’s, companies, and government organizations. The second annual event is organized through a partnership between IBM Canada and the de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation.

Participants will have a chance to win up to $50,000, sign their first client contract, have their solution supported by recognized incubators, win accounting/legal/marketing advice, access software/hardware companies, and showcase their projects to high-profile decision-makers and investors.

Last year’s challenge brought 300 participants together with 70 hackers developing ten mobile/web applications to preserve the Ottawa River. The first place winner was the River Ranger application that allows anyone to help collect data about streams, lakes, rivers, and bays. All of the applications were then distributed to the local community.

Those interested in this year’s challenge can sign up here. Or follow @AquaHacking on Twitter.

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.

Twitter Chat: Civic Participation on the Geoweb

We Grow Food Trading Table ...   #FoodisFree #WeGrowFood

For her Ph.D. research, Victoria Fast explored how urban food assets can be crowdsourced onto the geoweb — civic participation in action.

All cylinders were firing by the time we wrapped up our Nov. 23 Twitter chat on meaningful civic participation on the geoweb. There were many parallel conversations that we hope will continue among participants and the wider Geothink community into the future. Here we share a few highlights, as well as a transcript of the chat.

  • We should ask what criteria define “civic participation”? Even passive or unknowing involvement may qualify as meaningful participation.
  • Intermediaries (infomediaries) are major mediators of the geoweb — leading projects, supporting learning, and providing citizens with tools and open data access. Librarians were identified as important infomediaries.
  • The geoweb can enable citizen participation on all levels of ‘meaning’. Yet we need to be mindful of who is being left out & not blame the excluded.
  • There can be different benefits from short-term engagements such as hackathons and long-term involvement such as contributing to OpenStreetMap. But both can trigger enduring civic interest.
  • It can be useful to consider when geoweb contributions using open data do not qualify as civic participation.
  • Both time-decay (sustainability) and distance-decay (activities concentrating around intermediary’s location) are issues that can affect civic participation on the geoweb.




Spotlight on Recent Publications: Open Data and Official Language Regimes

screenshotCanadian  open government website

The bilingual federal Open Government portal

By Naomi Bloch

Teresa Scassa is a Geothink co-applicant researcher and Canada Research Chair in Information Law at the University of Ottawa. In a recently published paper, Scassa and co-author Niki Singh consider some of the challenges that arise for open data initiatives operating in multilingual regions. The authors use Canada’s federal open data initiative as a case study to examine how a government body in an officially bilingual jurisdiction negotiates its language obligations in the execution of its open data plan.

The article points out two areas for potential concern. First, private sector uses of government data could result in the unofficial outsourcing of services that otherwise would be the responsibility of government agencies, “thus directly or indirectly avoiding obligations to provide these services in both official languages.” Second, the authors suggest that the push to rapidly embrace an open data ethos may result in Canada’s minority language communities being left out of open data development and use opportunities.

According to Statistics Canada’s 2011 figures, approximately 7.3 million people — or 22 percent of the population — reported French as their primary language in Canada. This includes over a million residents outside of Quebec, primarily in Ontario and New Brunswick. Canada’s federal agencies are required to serve the public in both English and French. This obligation is formalized within Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the Official Languages Act. Government departments are provided with precise guidelines and frameworks  to ensure that they comply with these regulatory requirements in all of their public dealings and communications.

Scassa and Singh reviewed the various components of the federal open data initiative since the launch of the program to determine how well it is observing bilingual requirements. The authors note that while the open data infrastructure as a whole largely adheres to bilingual standards, one departure is the initiative’s Application Programming Interface (API). An API provides a set of protocols and tools for software developers. In this case, the API supports automated calls for open data housed in government databases. According to the authors, “As this open source software is not developed by the federal government, no bilingualism requirements apply to it.” While professional developers may be accustomed to English software environments even if they are francophones, the authors point out that this factor presents an additional barrier for French-language communities who might wish to use open data as a civic tool.

In their analysis of the data portal’s “apps gallery,” Scassa and Singh observed that the majority of apps or data tools posted thus far are provided by government agencies themselves. These offerings are largely bilingual. However, at the time of the authors’ review, only four of the citizen-contributed apps supported French. In general, public contributions to the federal apps gallery are minimal compared to government-produced tools.

As part of their analysis, the authors also looked at the two Canadian Open Data Experience (CODE) hackathon events sponsored by the government in order to promote civic engagement with open data. Communications leading up to the events were provided in English and French. Government documentation also indicated strong participation from Quebec coders at the CODE hackathons, though native language of the coders is not indicated. Interestingly, the authors note, “In spite of the bilingual dimensions of CODE it has produced apps that are for the most part, English only.”

The 2015 event, which was sponsored by government but organized by a private company, had a bilingual website and application process. However, Scassa and Singh found that social media communications surrounding the event itself were primarily in English, including government tweets from the Treasury Board Secretariat. Given this, the authors question whether sufficient effort was made to attract French-Canadian minorities outside of Quebec, and if specific efforts may be needed to gauge and support digital literacy in these minority communities.

While it is still early days for Canada’s open data initiative, this case study serves to highlight the challenges of supporting an open data platform that can meet both legal obligations and broader ethical objectives. The authors conclude that, “In a context where the government is expending resources to encourage the uptake and use of open data in these ways, the allocation of these resources should explicitly identify and address the needs of both official language communities in Canada.”


The open data movement is gathering steam globally, and it has the potential to transform relationships between citizens, the private sector and government. To date, little or no attention has been given to the particular challenge of realizing the benefits of open data within an officially bi- or multi-lingual jurisdiction. Using the efforts and obligations of the Canadian federal government as a case study, the authors identify the challenges posed by developing and implementing an open data agenda within an officially bilingual state. Key concerns include (1) whether open data initiatives might be used as a means to outsource some information analysis and information services to an unregulated private sector, thus directly or indirectly avoiding obligations to provide these services in both official languages; and (2) whether the Canadian government’s embrace of the innovation agenda of open data leaves minority language communities underserved and under-included in the development and use of open data.

Reference: Scassa, T., & Singh, Niki. (2015). Open Data and Official Language Regimes: An Examination of the Canadian Experience. Journal of Democracy & Open Government, 7(1), 117–133.

If you have thoughts or questions about this article, get in touch with Naomi Bloch, Geothink’s digital journalist, at naomi.bloch2@gmail.com.

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.

CODE Hackathon Set to Kick-Off as New Report finds the World’s Governments Slow to Open Governmental Data


A new year for open data? (Photo Credit: Tactical Technology Collective)

By Drew Bush

In the first weeks of the New Year, two important news items for the Geothink audience made headlines. In Toronto, the Canadian federal government got ready to kick-off its second annual multi-city Canadian Open Data Experience (CODE) while the World Wide Web Foundation ranked the United States 2nd and Canada 7th for openness of governmental data in its second annual Open Data Barometer.

Canada Ranked 7th

Canada tied with Norway out of 86 countries surveyed based on whether government data was “open by default” as stipulated in the 2013 G8 Open Data Charter. Of more importance, however, was the country’s positive movement in the rankings and scores from last year, moving one spot up the index.

The survey examines availability of core government data such as company registers, public sector contracts, land titles, how governments spend money and how well public services perform. The U.K. is considered the global leader for open government data, publishing nearly all of these types of data.

Globally, the authors of the report state “there is still a long way to go to put the power of data in the hands of citizens. Core data on how governments are spending our money and how public services are performing remains inaccessible or pay-walled in most countries.”

That’s because fewer than 8 percent of surveyed countries publish datasets on subjects like government budgets, spending and contracts, and on the ownership of companies, in bulk machine-readable formats and under open re-use licenses.

A few key highlights of the report: 1. Only the U.K. and Canada publish land ownership data in open formats and under open licenses; 2. Only the U.K. and the U.S. publish detailed open data on government spending; 3. And, only the U.S., Canada and France publish open data on national environment statistics. Finally, open mapping data is only published in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany (an area where Canada lags).

CODE Hackathon Kicks-Off

In Toronto, developers, graphic designers, students, and anyone interested in trying their hand at coding are getting ready to create innovative uses for the Canadian government’s open data and to win up to $15,000 from the Government of Canada. The 48-hour event is set to begin on February 20th.

Innovations developed at hackathons like this could one day fuel improvements in access to government data. The event attracted 927 developers in 2013 and that number increased to over 1,000, organizers said, the day of the event.

“Open data is a brand new industry,” Ray Sharma, founder of the event and XMG Studios, told CTV News. “We are in an ice berg situation where we’ve only seen the tip of the data that will become available.”

But just what kind of industry is open to debate, as Geothink researchers Peter Johnson and Pamela Robinson examined in a recent paper. Their questions included whether civic hackathons have the potential to replace the traditional ways that government purchases products and services, and whether these events can be considered new vectors for citizen engagement, according to a post Johnson wrote for Geothink.

For more on CODE, you can watch Canada’s President of Treasury Board, Tony Clement here or read more about this year’s event here.

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.

Civic Hackathons: Innovation, Procurement, or Civic Engagement?

By Peter Johnson

I’ve recently published a jointly-authored viewpoint piece with Dr. Pamela Robinson from Ryerson University in Review of Policy Research. Titled ‘Civic Hackathons: Innovation, Procurement, or Civic Engagement?‘, we take a critical look at the recent phenomenon of civic hackathons – time limited contests typically run by governments designed to promote use of open data resources, and potentially solve local issues.

Both Pamela and myself have been struck by the high level of interest and hype that many civic hackathons have received, and decided to examine the multiple end points and implications generated from these events. For example, do civic hackathons have the potential to replace the traditional ways that government purchases products and services? Similarly, are these events considered to be new vectors for citizen engagement, and if so, who is actually participating in them, and for what purposes? This is a rich area for future questions, as this paper provides guidance towards a more fully developed research program that critically evaluates the hackathon process and outcomes.

Peter A. Johnson
Assistant Professor
Department of Geography and Environmental Management
University of Waterloo

Cross post from Geospatial Participation