Category Archives: research

Now hiring: Postdoctoral Research Associate – Assessing the Impact of Civic Technology

Postdoctoral Research Associate: Assessing the Impact of Civic Technology

Applications are now being accepted for a postdoctoral Research Associate to support current research measuring the value and impact of civic technology, with a specific focus on open data, mobile apps, crowdsourcing, and participatory data creation for use in government. The successful candidate will be invited to co-develop a program of research that advances one or more of these themes, and falls within their area of expertise. This position is full-time, based at the University of Waterloo, with an initial appointment of one year, with potential for extension depending on funding and performance. Salary is competitive, with benefits and a travel/conference stipend.

Qualifications: A PhD is required, with a subject focus in Geographic Information Science, Information Technology, Geography, Urban Planning, Political Science, or other related area. The successful candidate will have interest and experience in one or more of the following areas; open data, civic technology, government adoption of technology, and civic participation. Demonstrated experience in collecting and interpreting qualitative data is required, and experience with GIS and spatial data is an asset.

Applicants should submit a statement of research interests, a CV, two sample publications, and a list of three references to Dr. Peter Johnson, Department of Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo at Consideration of candidates will commence July 6th, 2018, with an anticipated start date of September 2018, or when negotiated. For more information, please see research websites:,, and follow me on Twitter @peterajohnson.

The Department of Geography and Environmental Management has a strong reputation for teaching and research in earth systems science, geomatics, resource management, and human geography. Consistently ranked in the top 4 in Canada, and top 100 globally (QS rankings) in geography, the Department is a dynamic, supportive, and collaborative environment, committed to individual and communal success. For additional information see:

The University of Waterloo respects, appreciates and encourages diversity. We welcome applications from all qualified individuals including women, members of visible minorities, Aboriginal peoples and persons with disabilities.


Crowdsourcing the Disaster Management Cycle

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and recent record flooding in Bangladesh, I was reminded of the foundational role of mobile communications technology in the response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. A pivotal moment in the development of the Geoweb, the response to Hurricane Katrina (or lack thereof) is widely considered to be the first example of the use of mobile phones to communicate crisis information. Using mobile technology during a crisis can support first responders to identify the location of affected individuals as well as to give emergency response managers more up-to-date information as a crisis unfolds. A recent publication from UW graduate Sara Harrison picks up on this thread, examining the disaster management cycle and presenting results from US and Canadian emergency managers as to their adoption of crowdsourcing tools and social media. Constraints and challenges to adoption of crowdsourcing are presented, with specific recommendations for government at all levels. The integration of crowdsourcing into emergency management systems can provide a conduit for two-way exchange of information, in real time, between citizens in need and emergency response professionals. In the decade + since Katrina, the development of this area of application of crowdsourcing has begun to show real benefits, but as Sara Harrison’s paper shows, there are still real development and deployment challenges to be overcome.

Read the full paper here, available open access:

hurricane irma
Hurricane Irma



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.

New Publication: Evolving Relationships in Community Participatory Geoweb Projects

At long last, a team publication from the GEOIDE grant The Participatory Geoweb has been published in ACME journal. This paper, co-authored by myself, Jon Corbett, Chris Gore, Pamela Robinson, Renee Sieber, and Patrick Allen, takes a critical view of the general enthusiasm for Geoweb projects. We challenge the commonly held notions that the Geoweb is ‘easy’, and highlight several implementation challenges derived from a variety of case studies. For those working with the Geoweb, crowdsourcing, and VGI, I would recommend this as a good overview of the challenges of both developing these types of tools and implementing them within a community context. It’s open-access, so please check it out!


Civic open data at a crossroads: Dominant models and current challenges

I’ve co-authored an exciting new paper with Dr. Renee Sieber from McGill University. It is currently online first with Government Information Quarterly. With this piece we take a look at the dominant models of open data provision by government and start to lay out what the challenges are for delivering open data. We tried to make this both a reflective look at where open data is, and also to push civic open data forwards, examining how open data works as part of open government strategies. I’ve copied the highlights below. A pre-print copy is available.


  • We define four main models for how government delivers open data; data over the wall, code exchange, civic issue tracker, and participatory open data.
  • We define challenges for the continued delivery of open data, including; conflicting motivations, the shifting role of government, and the fragility of ‘mission accomplished’.
  • We propose that open data be framed as more than provision, but rather as way for government to interact with citizens.

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: