Category Archives: geothink

Aligning Canadian Open Data Programs with International Best Practices – and OpenNorth

The Geothink partnership is a great opportunity for academics to work directly with those organizations pushing the leading edge of our field. Last fall, uWaterloo student Erin Bryson held a co-op placement working at Montreal-based non-profit (and Geothink partner) OpenNorth. Working closely with OpenNorth staff, Erin wrote an excellent white paper on the potential for current Canadian open data programs to adopt the International Open Data Charter (IODC). The IODC presents 6 main principles as a set of best practices for governments around the world that produce and distribute open data (see image below from



In creating her report, Erin interviewed a number of municipal governments across Canada, asking them to consider how the IODC could inform their existing work with delivering open data and to determine how aligned existing practices are with the IODC. Erin’s full paper is available for download from the OpenNorth website. Congratulations Erin, and thank you to OpenNorth for your continued work with Geothink.

Group Members at AAG 2016: San Francisco

Looking forward to some sun (or fog) in California! Myself and two group members, Sara Harrison and Qing Lu are off to present at the Association of American Geographers annual conference in San Francisco. I’ve pasted the links to sessions below. Also check out other presenters as well. Hope to see you there!

The Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers will be in San Francisco, CA from March 29 to April 2.

Sara Harrison

Crowdsourcing in Emergency Management: A comparative analysis of crowdsourcing adoption by governments in the United States and Canada


Qing Lu 

Potential and challenges of mobile technologies in the public sector: a case study of 311 requests in Edmonton, Canada


Peter Johnson

Reflecting on the Success of Open Data: How Municipal Governments Evaluate Open Data Programs



Measuring the Value and Impact of Open Data: Recruiting Doctoral Students

I’ve recently been successful with obtaining five years of funding from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation’s Early Researcher Award (ERA). This generous funding will allow me to measure the value and impact of open data initiatives, assessing how open data is accessed, used, and exploited. This research will directly impact how governments provide open data and how stakeholders such as private developers, other governments, non-profits, and citizens build applications and businesses models that rely on open data.

As part of this award, I am now currently recruiting for graduate students (PhD students in particular) that are interested in working with me on open data topics, with a focus on government provision, measuring value, and the development of metrics. If you are interested in these topics, please take a look at my comments for prospective students and the Faculty of Environment Dean’s Doctoral Initiative page for funding opportunities.

This work will build on my current open data work as a part of the SSHRC-funded Partnership Grant, led by Dr. Renee Sieber at McGill University.

Civic Hackathons: Innovation, Procurement, or Civic Engagement?

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. How the Geospatial Web 2.0 is reshaping government-citizen interactions

Recently I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of a team that has been awarded a SSHRC Partnership Grant for a 5-year study of “How the Geospatial Web 2.0 is reshaping government-citizen interactions”, also called Geothink. This is an unparalleled opportunity to make a long-term impact on emerging research themes of open data, citizen digital participation, and to trace the changing nature of geospatial data creation and use. A description from the grant application:

“Major technology firms like Google, Microsoft and Apple are competing for dominance in web and mobile mapping. These new technologies represent not only a multi-billion dollar industry but a revolution in mapping. Firms build platforms like Google Maps and Bing Maps; individuals “mash” them up on the web or in location-based applications (apps). People contribute the data; they tweet street conditions; their mobile apps deliver directions to the nearest coffee shop, whose reviews also were contributed by individuals. Governments add to the data stream by increasing accessibility of their data, like realtime transportation information. These new forms of map making, called the Geospatial Web 2.0 (Geoweb), are important for Canada, known as a world leader in map making and geographic technologies but whose leadership has since waned.


Our research untangles the hype of the Geoweb. The hype is that the Geoweb increases government efficiency and transparency because more data is online and because non-experts provide data formerly the domain of government. New apps promise to improve citizen participation in a global conversation about where they live and even rewire power relationships. Behind the hype a rapidly evolving Geoweb might rework concepts of individual privacy and collective community. A lack of funding or staff can prevent Geoweb adoption by government; status quo approaches and complex legislation can block efforts to improve government data sharing and may close channels for direct citizen input. Most governments struggle to open their data for sharing or find it difficult to measure the accuracy or authenticity of crowdsourced data. Web 2.0 can reduce respect for experts and increase a tendency for people to be “alone together”, interacting exclusively online.”