Category Archives: Open Data

2017 ESRI User Conference and The Cost(s) of Geospatial Open Data

I had the amazing opportunity recently to attend the 2017 ESRI User Conference in San Diego, California. The ESRI ‘UC’ as it’s known is an annual event that showcases what’s new and hot in the ESRI GIS world, and provides a chance for over 16,000 GIS and map nerds to get together, learn from each other, and generally celebrate everything geospatial.

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What’s your super power?

I was attending the UC with the support of the ESRI Canada Centres of Excellence program (of which UW is a participant), and to present a co-authored work for a special issue of Transactions in GIS. The paper I presented, co-authored with Renee Sieber, Teressa Scassa, Monica Stephens, and Pamela Robinson, is titled ‘The Cost(s) of Geospatial Open Data”, and is available open access from the publisher site. The SSHRC Partnership Grant Geothink.ca has a lovely writeup of the paper and some thoughts of mine about our motivations for writing it. I had some supportive and thought-provoking comments during and after the presentation as part of the Frontiers in GIScience session organized by Dr. Michael Gould from ESRI.

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Dark conference room, but sunny outside

I also had the chance to take part in many of the UC events, including the vendor expo, map gallery, Canada night social and other events. One thing I couldn’t help noticing was the shout-out to Roger Tomlinson, the ‘father of GIS’, on this display of the ESRI press 20th anniversary. I had the pleasure a number of years ago to meet Dr. Tomlinson at a reception after his awarding of an honorary degree at McGill, and the naming of Dr. Renee Sieber’s research lab in his honour.

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Roger Tomlinson on ESRI Press 20th anniversary display

Lastly, no trip to California would be complete without some delicious fish tacos beside the water. Here was one particularly notable dinner at the Carnitas Snack Shack on the San Diego harbourfront. Great tacos and great Alpine Duet IPA. And yes, that 99/100 rating on Ratebeer.com is well-earned!

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Aligning Canadian Open Data Programs with International Best Practices – Geothink.ca 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 opencharter.net).

 

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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.

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 geothink.ca, led by Dr. Renee Sieber at McGill University.

SSHRC Insight Development Grant Award: Establishing the Value of Open Data

I’ve recently been fortunate to be awarded a SSHRC Insight Development Grant, along with Dr. Pamela Robinson from Ryerson University and Dr. Renee Sieber from McGill University, to Establish the Value of Open Data. This grant runs for two years and aims to:

1) establish the existing value of open data as reported by diverse user communities (government, non-profit, community organizations, private sector developers); 2) detail the current limitations and opportunities inherent in the open data provision system, from a multiple stakeholder perspective; and 3) derive a set of metrics to guide the evaluation of open data strategies at all levels of government, assessing possible constraints to adoption.

This research will make important contributions to current academic discourse on the value derived from government open data and the potential for open data to form a basis for citizen engagement, tracking the changing nature of the relationship between government and citizen. Key users and audiences of this research include both public and private sector organizations. Principally, this research will clarify for governments who accesses their data and how that data is used or exploited. Tracing this system of open data access and usage has implications for how government provides open data and how stakeholders such as private developers, non-profits, and citizens build durable applications and businesses models that rely heavily on open data.

SSHRC listing of awardees:

http://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca/results-resultats/recipients-recipiendaires/2013/idg-sds-eng.aspx

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.

Balloon Mapping Experiment

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It’s no secret – I’ve got a real love for DIY and small-scale data collection methods. Ever since I first heard about the Public Lab of Open Technology and Science (PLOTS, or simply ‘Public Lab’) balloon mapping techniques applied during the Gulf Oil Spill, I really wanted to give it a try. After reading about the experience of some friends and colleagues with balloon mapping in Vancouver, I decided to purchase a balloon kit with the idea of testing it out for a new ‘hands-on’ first-year course in our Geomatics program (GEOG 187: Problem Solving in Geomatics). After a somewhat lengthy ordeal sourcing a helium tank, I got together with my research assistant Grant and some willing helpers from the Faculty of Environment Mapping, Analysis, and Design team (thanks Scott, James, Mike, and Collin – nice writeup here). We waited for a clear, not-so-windy day, and headed off to the Columbia Lake playing fields, on the uWaterloo campus to test the balloon ourselves. Here is the photo-journal description of our morning, with big thanks to Collin from MAD for the awesome photos.

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The balloon – not even close to being filled. And just FYI for others interested in doing this – you don’t need a regulator on the helium tank, though of course we had no idea how much helium we were putting into the balloon.

 

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Closing off the stem of the balloon with a set of zipties (subtitle to this picture is – “Do you have it? Do YOU have it?”)

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Alright, now we are talking! Balloon is all inflated and tethered to the spare tire from my car. Nice group shot, gentlemen!

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With my compact camera (hacked via CHDK to take pictures every 10 seconds) attached to a ‘custom made’ pop bottle crash cage (thanks Grant, for your excellent craftsmanship on this one), and the PLOTS balloon harness clip system, we were ready to go.

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And we’re off!

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Lots of mad flailing about by the camera rig at this point (hopefully it smooths out at altitude?). Around now is probably when the camera slipped, which resulted in a sliver of the harness obscuring the photos.

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James and Mike doing the real hard work here – controlling the balloon while Scott lets out line.

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Mike with some solid linesmanship here.

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We had the balloon up for about 45 minutes, walked the length of a soccer field with it, and brought it down fairly smoothly. Everyone crowding around to take a look at the photos!

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One of the higher altitude photos – showing the centre of Columbia Lake (and the rim of the crash harness pop bottle).

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Another one showing the shoreline

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Oblique shot of Warriors field and Columbia Ave.

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I like this one because it shows the balloon line + us on the ground.

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One of the last photos taken before the camera memory card filled up. Busy people below, reeling in the balloon.

 

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Lastly, here is the georeferenced and mosaicked images all put together using mapknitter.org. You can take a look at the zoomable version here (can’t embed this in a wordpress.com blog, unfortunately).

Overall, a ton of fun on a sunny late spring morning. Other than the obvious adjustments to the camera harness, and perhaps choosing a more interesting location, I’m not sure what we would have done differently. I think this speaks to how well set up the PLOTS balloon kit and instructions were, and also the number of other people who have done similar experiments out there. This gives me quite a bit of confidence that this could actually be done in the context of a first-year class – hopefully I get the chance to put this plan into action!

 

 

 

Geothink.ca: 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.

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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.”