Tag Archives: University of Ottawa

The Perils, Pitfalls, and Promise of Open Government – a Geothink Interview with Daniel Paré


Geothink researcher Daniel Paré examines design-reality gaps in Canadian municipal open government platforms.

By Drew Bush

Earlier this month, Public Sector Digest’s first Open Cities Index ranked Canada’s municipalities according to their openness in supplying municipal data online. The index examined the number of data sets available in three areas of 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) for 34 Canadian cities. Find more details on this index in a previous Geothink.ca story.

But this type of examination represents only one aspect of a city’s openness. Geothink researchers have cautioned that one must consider each city’s goals in making datasets available (as well as tracking how they are used) when assessing the openness of a city. City platforms that utilize open data, sometimes referred to as e-government, are often hailed as a panacea for making government transparent and the political process more open and inclusive. Such pronouncements have accompanied the digitization of government records and data since the 1990s.

Geothink.ca recently sat down with one Geothink researcher to assess the validity of this claim, the downsides of e-government, and to discuss his research on the topic. Daniel Paré is an associate professor in the Department of Communication and School of Information Studies at the University of Ottawa where he also serves as an associate director at the Institute for Science, Society and Policy. His research focuses on the social, economic, political, and technical issues arising from innovations in information and communication technologies in developing and industrialized countries.

Geothink.ca: So tell us a bit about your current recent interests right now, and what you are most excited about in your work.

Paré: What I’m interested in looking at is the points of convergence and divergence between the rhetoric surrounding e-government in the late 1990s early 2000s with much of what we’re hearing about open government data and open data and the promises and perils and pitfalls and such, and sort of contrasting those two. In large part, it’s motivated by the fact that one of the things that I’ve been struck by just sort of informally is it just seems to me that there’s just tremendous parallels almost to the point of sort of repeating the same sort of mantras that we were repeating a little more than 10 years ago what with regards to e-government.

So I want to see the way that that holds. It plays into this whole idea in terms of the myths that are associated with technological change in terms of the liberating potential, the progressive potential, these sort of technological developments. So certainly in the area of open government data, the question becomes, or the issue is sort of, we hear lots of rhetoric about political progress and economic progress and such, and I basically want to suss those things out.

Geothink.ca: What are the differences between citizen-government and client-government interactions and what do you think the transformation toward open government is doing for both of those audiences?

Paré: Well, if we go back to e-government, at the time that e-government came on to the scene, part of the debate was between e-governance and e-government. And a lot of the early discourse and rhetoric around there was focused on the democratic potential. So citizens would be able to now access information much more easily— government information—become more engaged with their government on multiple levels, and, in order to simplify here, everything would become rosy. The underlying assumption being basically that with the ability to have access to information, citizens would seek out that information and would become more engaged in the political domain as a result of that. And almost sort of, in its more extreme cases, [it was] presented almost as sort of linear, ipso facto, done deal.

It was quickly identified, that in many ways e-government wasn’t about e-governance per se, certainly not in the political sense. It was about delivering services more effectively to citizens but in the role of clients essentially. Nothing wrong with that but that’s fundamentally different from political engagement as it’s normally understood. So, yes, it’s fantastic that, yes, I can file all my taxes online, or that we can get information, or that we can renew our licenses, or that we can have access to that information, but that’s more of a client service based implementation and usage than a sort of political domain.

If we jump forward now to the recent years in terms of open government and open data, we have a number of sorts of different discourses that are playing around. Part of it is to say that yes there’s open data and open government—bearing in mind that they’re separate things—that, you know, with access to this information, that fosters greater transparency and hopefully greater transparency [fosters] less corruption, more effective government, etc. The other aspect of that—complementary aspect—is sort of the economic angle saying well if people have access to government information they can harvest this information, they can come up with new sorts of innovations whether that be an app or some sort of other product that gets developed as a result of an analysis of the information that’s now available to them. And this then becomes a means or mechanism for fostering economic growth.

So you have those discourses or those narratives playing out. Now the issue, or one of the many issues, is the fact that realizing those benefits depends on a whole host of factors. And [governments] are dealing here with issues in terms of how do [they] organize and respond to demand, how do [they] organize and respond to supply, and how do [they] organize and respond and try to promote innovation. So you have those sorts of three things playing out. And so to come back to what I mentioned earlier about notions of myths around technologies…we tend to do away with, narratively, with the complexities and ambiguities that are associated with these processes. And so if we say, yes, you know, open data and open governance is a fantastic tool for promoting transparency and enhanced democracy, well possibly, yes, and possibly, no. We need to unravel that. It’s not a done deal. But the myth of that rhetoric is a punchy message. Likewise if we say, yes, well open data and open government is fantastic because it can spur economic growth and all sort of innovations. Fair enough. But again that covers up the challenges and complexities that are associated with that.

Geothink.ca: How does this relate to gaps you are seeing in how platforms are designed for e-government and their actual implementation in terms of how they are used?

Paré: In other work that I’ve done, we do a lot of stuff around the ideas of design-reality gaps. And so the notion there being that, you know, we may design a particular platform with a particular purpose in mind. And it has particular potential but then when we look at the implementation of a particular platform often times it has a host of unintended consequences. There is no guarantee that it will be used in a particular way. And so the opportunities and potentials that were meant to be reaped don’t materialize, right?

In some of those cases that might be linked to the platform itself and in others cases it might be linked to organizational factors. So we can think in terms of a government information system. If we are going to put in a new information system in the government bureaucracy, for example, the assumption is that it will enhance interdepartmental exchanges of communication and information. What that view overlooks is the turf battles between departments and agencies within government. The idea there, in this example, being that it’s not because we have the effective communication system in place that it will actually be used in an effective manner because there are other sociopolitical and cultural factors in that regard.

In the case of open data and open government, we tend to see for example a lot of claims about, sort of, hey, it’s great this information is online people are going to use it. But one of the early challenges that we encountered was, say, well those who can actually use it and do something with it are a very limited and niche segment of the population…The raw data—the raw information that’s there—is in such a form that people don’t know what to do with it or how to manipulate it. So on the one hand, yes, it’s open data the information is there, on the other hand, great, it’s there but what do I do with it if I don’t have the computer savvy or the statistical skills to deal with the information that’s there? So those are those sorts of gaps and complexities that I’m interested in.

Geothink.ca: How does your work relate to Geothink’s research goals and what do you think of the partnership?

Paré: Great question. Geothink relates to this for me in the sense of the open data, open government aspect of it. I had come to this project, Geothink, sort of as an outsider. For me, Geothink, very early on before I knew very much about it was oh, you know, you’re talking about geographical information systems. Which I’ve since learned we’re moving well beyond that. So for me, the issue in terms of Geothink and Geoweb, it fits into issues of open data, open government and clearly the geo part sort of entails a locational element in terms of locational types of data.

Tweet your ideas on this interview to Daniel Paré @DJ_Pare

If you have thoughts or questions about this interview, get in touch with Drew Bush, Geothink’s digital journalist, at drew.bush@mail.mcgill.ca.

GIS in the Classroom: Geography and the Law

GIS DayBy Naomi Bloch

This Wednesday, November 18, marks the 16th annual GIS Day. Throughout the week, Geothink will present a series of posts looking at some of the ways in which our collaborators, partners, and friends around the world are critically examining and using GIS as a tool for civic engagement and understanding.
The community snapshots presented this week highlight diverse perspectives and uses for GIS. 

Tenille Brown headshot

Tenille Brown, Ph.D. candidate in the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law

In the winter 2016 term, Geothink’s Tenille Brown, a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, will be teaching a new course called Law and Geography. The seminar course will be offered as a first-year elective option for J.D. students. “It’s really exciting because it will be the first law and geography course in a Faculty of Law in Canada that I am aware of,” said Brown.

The intention of the course is to introduce new law students to the emerging field of legal geography, which focuses on spatial and place-based aspects of law and legal regulation. The course description highlights several focus areas, including public and private spaces; property and the city; critical perspectives of identity, racism and the law; gender, property and the law; indigenous peoples and the environment; and globalization. “There’s a wide variety of topics,” said Brown, “and within that I have a couple of classes which will look at issues of GIS and a lot of the themes of Geothink in relation to legal geography scholarship and in relation to the law.”

Brown notes that GIS is addressed in the legal literature to some extent, but such discussion is in its nascent stages. For example, the field of technology law deals with liability issues in relation to GIS, and issues such as copyright and privacy. “And there’s a little bit of GIS analysis in relation to understanding crime, and criminality,” said Brown. “That’s a big area of research, but I think there are many, many, many GIS narratives which are not captured at all.”

All of these GIS-oriented legal issues will play a role in her course, however she’s also hoping to draw in some students who have previous practical experience with GIS technologies. “If there are students who have a particular interest in GIS or have skills in GIS, and they’re willing, then we can explore not just legal liability in relation to GIS but also, how can we use GIS to help the functioning of the legal system? So really opening it up for those skills to be brought into the classroom.”

“I’m interested in knowing how information about a place, which is maybe more than property-related, can influence how we regulate or understand a particular area of a city, for example,” Brown said. “How can we bring in different information about a city that is not captured by a property title deed, or a traditional survey that we might have? We see a lot of non-traditional information collection right now. That is, it’s non-traditional from a legal perspective — information about how people use a place. Typically the law doesn’t care about that. Typically the law just wants to know who has the title deed, and that’s it.”

Brown offers the example of First Nations groups in Canada, who are currently using GIS and GIS technologies to collect oral histories and map out their histories spatially. “There’s a big push from indigenous communities, and a willingness and a desire to engage with GIS technologies to capture these different narratives,” Brown said. “And they’re wanting to use it to support land claims. That’s their whole aim.

“So it’s important to figure out how modern information can be incorporated into a legal system which relies on historical treaties,” Brown explained. “There’s a lot of legal questions about using that information and the strength of that kind of information from an evidentiary perspective. The law has a very non-GIS approach — a non-tech approach — to adjudication. So I think one of the really important questions is, how can we get this modern GIS counter-narrative and make sure that it’s solid as evidence that is effective for the legal system?”

For Brown, encouraging students with a GIS or geography background to consider how their knowledge can contribute to the legal process is just one motivation for her course. “They’re first-year law students,” Brown said,  “so they’re just beginning to get to grips with what takes place in the Faculty of Law. They’re in shock a little bit, at this point. With this class, I’m really hoping to open it up for students that already have an undergraduate degree in something spatial-related. If there’s anyone who’s done work with GIS, that will definitely enrich the classes.”

Do you have questions about Tenille’s course or research? Contact her on Twitter at: @TenilleEBrown 
Tenille Brown is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa. She is a Geothink student member, and a member of the university’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre. Her research is in the areas of legal geography, including property, spatial and citizen engagement in the Ottawa context.

For more of Geothink’s GIS Day coverage, see:

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

Geothoughts 2: The Meaning of Open Government and the Role of Citizens with Daniel Paré

In our second Geothoughts podcast, we discuss the promise and peril of open government.

In our second Geothoughts podcast, we discuss the promise and peril of open government.

By Drew Bush

In our second edition of Geothoughts, we’re excited to bring you an interview with an expert in the issues that arise with innovations in information and communications technology. Daniel Paré is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at University of Ottawa. You can also subscribe to this podcast by finding it on iTunes.

In this interview, we explore how Canada’s Action Plan for Open Government 2.0 focuses too much on the technological side without emphasizing the need for open government across the entire Canadian government information environment. In particular, Paré discusses his views on open data and what the evolving role of the engaged citizen might be.

Thanks for tuning in. And we hope you subscribe with us at Geothoughts on iTunes. A transcript of this original audio podcast follows.


This week we ask the opinion of an expert in the issues that arise with innovations in information and communication technologies about Canada’s Action Plan for Open Government 2.0 and the role of open data. Daniel Paré is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at University of Ottawa.

[Geothink.ca theme music]

Welcome to Geothoughts. I’m Drew Bush.

For Paré, open government has much less to do with the technological aspects of the portal being emphasized in the Action Plan than whether the idea has transcended the technological issues to include all aspects of governance.

“What we need to do—what people need to do—is clearly distinguish between when we are talking about open government are we talking about the data platform and the portal. Or are we talking about the idea of open government being government-wide in terms of the policies that are in place, in terms of the whole information environment, if I can call it that, that includes the platform but that transcends it?”

If implemented with the whole information environment in mind, he argues, the idea of open government has the potential to democratize and make transparent Canada’s government. However, such a step requires more than data being made available online.

“One of the weaknesses with that point is that you know when you look at the information available online, one of the things you increasingly see is that it’s actually quite difficult for the average individual like you or me to actually do something with those datasets unless we have some pretty advanced understandings of computers and standards and how to do stuff with that.”

A Geothink researcher, Paré specializes in social, economic, political and technical issues arising from innovations in information and communication technologies (ICTs) in developing and industrialized countries. In particular, his research examines e-commerce, Internet governance, information and communication policy, e-government, and knowledge networks.

It’s for this reason that he believes Canada’s Action Plan for Open Government 2.0 might have a very nice technological and economic agenda but still miss on making the government transparent if a flawed access to information system is left in place legislatively. Some of his concerns echo those expressed by Tracey Lauriault in previous Geothink.ca stories.

“Open government is a wonderful narrative contract and you can have a wonderful discourse about that in terms of yes, you know, we’re open so were more transparent, we’re more democratic. It’s all a great thing. But the issue comes down to how that’s really manifest and how that’s really open. How that’s really sort of implemented. And, so, what my concerns is that when we talk about open government, is that it does tend to focus our attention, I think, too narrowly on things like the open government portal or the technological side.”

As for the emphasis on technological innovation and economic gain in much of the Action Plan, Paré believes it juxtaposes the need to enhance democratization and citizen engagement. A better question, he asks, is if government should see citizens as their clients or as simply requiring information to “facilitate, improve, enhance and participate in the democratic process.

This story originally reported by Prajakta Dhopade, many thanks to her.”

[Geothink.ca theme music]

[Voice over: Geothoughts are brought to you by Geothink.ca and generous funding from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.]


If you have thoughts or questions about this podcast, get in touch with Drew Bush, Geothink’s digital journalist, at drew.bush@mail.mcgill.ca.

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.

Spotlight on Recent Publications: Teresa Scassa at the Intersection of Intellectual Property Rights and Municipal Transit Data

By Drew Bush


Teresa Scassa is Canada Research Chair in Information Law at the University of Ottawa.

This story was originally reported on Teressa Scassa’s personal blog which you can find here.

In a paper just published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal, Geothink researcher Teresa Scassa argues that the actual laws governing intellectual property (IP) rights are often surprisingly irrelevant in disputes over rights to municipal transit data. Instead, she finds that being in a position to make a claim to IP rights is often more important than actually having a good claim.

“How people decide to interact with each other is more important than what their precise legal rights might be,” Scassa, the Canada research chair in information law at University of Ottawa, wrote in an e-mail to Geothink.ca. “Often, to understand the precise boundaries of those rights it is necessary to litigate and one or both parties may lack the resources to go to court. So, in those circumstances, parties may reach an understanding of how they will set the boundaries of their relationships.”

Her paper, entitled Public Transit Data Through an Intellectual Property Lens: Lessons About Open Data, examines some of the challenges presented by the transition from ‘closed’ to open data within the municipal context. She completed the paper as part of a Geothink project examining open data in a concrete context that’s particular to municipalities.

“In the municipal transit data context, there was generally an imbalance of resources between developers and municipalities, and there was little desire on either part to go to court,” she added. “Nevertheless, in the early days, municipal transit authorities asserted their IP rights using cease and desist letters. This assertion of IP rights was met with arguments about the need for open data, and eventually compromises were reached around open data that shifted over time, and varied from one municipality to another.”

In the paper, she examines how these legal developments have impacted the use of real-time transit data by developers seeking to make use of this data in digital applications and corporations hoping to add value to products and services they offer. In particular, the paper covers three types of data: 1) Route maps; 2) Static data (such as bus timetables that only change seasonally); 3) And, real-time GPS data generated by units installed on transit vehicles.

A number of municipalities exerted their IP rights over such data because of concerns that ranged from ensuring its quality and authenticity to preserving the ability to make data available on a cost-recovery basis.

“The emerging open data movement shifted some of these concerns and created a new set of expectations and practices around open municipal transit data,” she wrote in her e-mail. “As data become more complex (with the advent of real-time GPS data, for example) the IP issues shifted and changed again, raising new questions about open data in this context. This is where the next phase of my research will take me.”

To find out more about Teresa Scassa’s work, visit her personal blog here or follow her on Twitter @teresascassa. For more on IP, check out another of her recent papers (written with Univeristy of Ottawa doctoral student Haewon Chung) that analyzes various types of volunteer citizen science activities to determine whether they raise legal questions about IP ownership.

Find a link to the article along with its abstract below.

Public Transit Data Through an Intellectual Property Lens: Lessons About 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.

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.

Paper Spotlight: “Enabling Access and Reuse of Public Sector Information in Canada” by Elizabeth Judge

Enabling Access and Reuse of Public Sector Information in Canada: Crown Commons Licenses, Copyright, and Public Sector Information

Elizabeth Judge

University of Ottawa – Common Law Section
October 14, 2010


Although the proactive disclosure of public sector information has been called a “basic right of citizens” and a “public right,” Canada has not yet implemented a national strategy to support public access to public sector information and enable its reuse. Public sector information, which is information created by government in the course of governing, is essential for transparency, accountability, democratic participation, and citizen engagement. This article examines public sector information and analyzes developments in Canada and other jurisdictions to promote its public access and reuse. It discusses the extent to which public sector information has been integrated into copyright reform efforts and, where public sector information is copyright protected, it discusses the mechanisms available within the copyright framework to facilitate public access and reuse of public sector information, focusing in particular on licensing. In Canada, Crown copyright restrictions and complicated licensing limit access to public sector information. The article recommends that Canada establish a centralized portal for open government data and implement Crown Commons licenses, which together would advance the objective of open government data by ensuring that public sector information is accessible online in usable formats, easily found, and not encumbered by restrictive Crown copyright licensing conditions.


Number of Pages in PDF File: 45

Keywords: public sector information, open government data, government data, open access, Crown Copyright, Creative Commons, copyright


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