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!

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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.

Highlights

  • 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.

Esri Canada Centres of Excellence (ECCE) App Challenge 2015

This is a guest post by graduate student Qing (Lucy) Liu about her team’s experience at the ESRI Canada App Challenge:

Esri Canada Centres of Excellence (ECCE) App Challenge By Qing (Lucy) Lu

The ECCE App Challenge is a coding completion held by Esri Canada. Started in February 27, 2015, teams of participants were given one week to develop an innovative app using open data and Esri software. The apps to be developed should be on some aspect of government services in Canada, for any of the following themes:

  • Housing
  • Health (human and/or animal/environmental)
  • Parks and recreation
  • Education, including daycare
  • Public/private transport, including infrastructure
  • Garbage collection/snow/branch removal
  • Emergency management
  • Information services (online information access and use
  • Utilities

Chen Chen and I teamed up with Jingwen Huang (a MSc student working with Dr. Su-Yin Tan) and participated in this competition. We named our team as WATERMELON for two reasons. Firstly, with symmetrically distributed stripes that can be seen as longitudes, watermelon is a fruit that look most similar to an earth. Secondly, we are following two leading cell phone companies that also choose a fruit as their names, which are Apple and Blackberry.

Chen, Jingwen, and Qing

Inspired by the theme of World Health Day 2015, “Food Safety: from far to plate, make food safe”, we decided to focus on food safety field. Region of Waterloo happened to provide Food Premise Inspections dataset, we decided to develop a WebGIS application that can be used to help consumers choose right restaurants.

The data used was obtained from Open Data Catalogue held by Region of Waterloo. It represents food safety inspections and re-inspections for geographically fixed food premises. Web AppBuilder was used to build our web application.

The map is composed of two layers; one represents a heatmap of critical infractions and the other contains points of food facilities. The heatmap is presented from red to grey based on the number of critical infractions inspected, and food facilities with the most number of critical infractions are shown in red while those with the least number are represented in grey. The two layers are displayed on the basemap of Streets by default, and the users can select their preferred basemaps. Information of a particular food facility can be displayed once a food facility point is selected, including facility name, address, telephone, number of critical infractions and number of uncritical infractions. In addition, queries are enabled for users to extract detailed infraction information including inspection date, whether a particular infraction is critical and a brief description of the infraction. Users can make the queries by specifying the facility name or a range of dates, and inspection information of facilities with the names specified or inspections carried out between the dates selected will be returned to the users. Further, users can select facilities on the attribute table, and the selected points will be highlighted on the map. On the side of the web page, general information of food safety is displayed, from which users can find instructions on how to report food illness, information of food safety training courses as well as contact information of Public Health.

In addition to developing the web application, we also created a pitch video that describes the usage and characteristics of the application. All the comic pictures were hand-painted by Chen Chen.

Participating in this competition is a great experience for all of us. We have explored government open data, new products and resources offered by Esri. Especially, WebApp Builder is very useful to build GIS applications that can run across any device. Ready-to-use widgets and some app templates save time and efforts for GIS people who are not necessarily skilled at writing codes, and enable developers to focus more on spatial analysis. ArcGIS online is a great tool for creating maps that can be viewed in a browser, desktop or mobile device. Compared to Desktop ArcGIS, it is intuitive and very easy for people without GIS background to create customized maps. One of the limitations of ArcGIS online is that it is not fully free to users. Users are required to buy ArcGIS online annual subscription once their 60-day trial ends. In addition, attribute names cannot be edited via ArcGIS online. This could be a problem as cause some confusions would be caused to end users of the maps if attribute names are not straightforward. Take our case as an example, the attributes of selected points are shown to users. As the data contain redundant attributes, and some attribute names are not straightforward, some useless information is provided, but there is no way to select attributes to show and change the display names of attributes.

Chen drawing graphics for the pitch video

In addition to experimenting with the products and tools, we gained experience in developing a complete web application product as we were also required to provide mission statement, characteristics statement, readme file and pitch video. These files are also very important as they are used for introducing and promoting our product to customers. Traditional GIS courses provide limited opportunities to experiment with new products related to spatial analysis, and they usually focus on very classic GIS concepts and GIS problems. Due to the rapidly advancing information technologies and fierce competitions between service providers, it is likely that students will find what they learn in school is out of date and of little use once they enter the workforce. In recent years, location data has been put enormous attention to, and GIS problems as well as data have entered into new stage. For example, open data provided by government and user-generated data are two new types of data, which are still at the early stage of research. I would recommend that the courses offered by institutions of higher education adapt the learning materials so that students are able to solve problems of the time.

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

The Canadian Water Network conference: “from knowledge to action”

This post is by PhD student Simone Philpot on her recent experience attending the Canadian Water Network Conference 2015.

When it comes to managing water resources, there is no shortage of problems. The consequences impact security, ecological health, environmental justice, and economic development. I recently had the opportunity to attend the Connecting Water Resources conference hosted by the Canadian Water Network. The 2015 theme, ‘from Knowledge to Action’ stressed the need to address a gap between what we know about sustainable and equitable water systems and our capacity to implement solutions.

When it came to implementation, the speakers uniformly put people, communities, cooperation, and governance front and center of the discussion. Former Premiere Bob Rae urged Canadians to critically examine assumptions of water security. More than 100 communities endure boil-water advisories in Canada. These advisories disproportionately impact remote areas, creating a gap between the water security experiences of different communities. Rae tasked Canadians to abandon ‘us and them’ mentalities and to address water security as a national problem. Patricia Mulroy gave a nod to water competition anxieties, opening her talk with “don’t worry, I didn’t come with any straws”. As the former director of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, Mulroy was responsible for securing water to support growing communities in a desert regime relying on a contested and stressed water source. Mulroy emphasized that all communities are linked to a common water destiny – or else, she says, “We will all fail together”. Margaret Catley-Carlson illustrated the centrality of water by playing off of the question “Is it a water issue?” Answering “yes of course it is” and -No “when water goes by your house and you can’t drink it, that’s not a water issue, that’s an exclusion issue”. Afternoon activities consisted of smaller group sessions. I attended Blue Cities: moving to the systems we need. A variety of topics relevant to municipal water managers were presented. Some important themes that surfaced were regulatory reform in the water sector, a willingness to look outward for solutions, and the importance of citizen engagement. These perspectives indicate a strong and growing role for the social sciences in water resources management.

Finally, there were the conversations that occurred in between events. I had the opportunity to hear about initiatives that aim to couple research and action in innovative ways. Of particular interest are the Ryerson Urban Water1 multidisciplinary collective in Toronto, Canada, and the Environmental CrossRoads Initiative2, in the City University of New York (CUNY), US. I have provided links below if you wish to learn more about these groups. At CWR-2015 lively discussions occurred across disciplinary and professional boundaries, without any sign of struggle. It can be done. I look forward to picking up on many of the conversations that started at the conference, and I look forward to the next Canadian Water Network event.

*The speakers are too numerous to discuss in this post, and although I identified a few themes and speakers, I have left out many excellent participants. For more information on the speakers and the conference, see the Canadian Water Network website3, listed below.

1Ryerson Urban Water http://ryerson.ca/water/

2Environmenta Crossroads Initiative http://rose.ccny.cuny.edu/~darlene/CrossRoads/about.html

Group Members at the 2015 Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in Chicago – April 20-25th

The AAG is always a great event, an opportunity to see the leading edge of geographic research, reconnect with colleagues, and of course, to meet new people while enjoying some great American cities. This year, the AAG returns to Chicago at the end of April – hopefully with some warm spring weather (we were spoiled by the AAG in Tampa last year). For this 2015 edition, myself and Andrea Minano will be presenting. Here are the sessions:

Peter Johnson

3115 Civic technology: governance, equity and inclusion considerations
is scheduled on Thursday, 4/23/2015, from 8:00 AM – 9:40 AM in Columbus EF, Hyatt, East Tower, Gold Level

4544 Challenges and Constraints to Municipal Government Adoption of OpenStreetMap
is part of the Paper Session:
OpenStreetMap Studies 2
scheduled on Friday, 4/24/2015 at 15:20 PM.

Andrea Minano

3253 Geoweb Tools for Climate Change Adaptation: A Case Study in Nova Scotia’s South Shore
is part of the Paper Session:
Citizen Science and Geoweb
scheduled on Thursday, 4/23/2015 at 10:00 AM.

You can also check out all the University of Waterloo attendees by searching by affiliation here. See you in Chicago!

Chicago's Millennium Park
Chicago’s Millennium Park

Funded Doctoral Opportunities in GIScience, Open Data, Mobile Technology

Two Funded Doctoral Opportunities:

Citizen/government interactions mediated by mobile devices

Open Data as a contributor to Open Government

The Department of Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo, is pleased to announce two funded opportunities to pursue Doctoral Studies in Geographic Information Science, with project themes of Citizen/government interactions mediated by mobile devices and Open Data as a contributor to Open Government.

Under the supervision of Dr. Peter Johnson (https://uwaterloo.ca/geography-environmental-management/people-profiles/peter-johnson), you will carry out doctoral studies in one of the two themes.

  1. The first theme, Citizen/government interactions mediated by mobile devices, will explore how a location-enabled society generates data that can be integrated into government decision-making, through processes such as crowdsourcing. This project is supported by the SSHRC-funded Geothink partnership grant: geothink.ca, and infrastructure funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.
  2. The second theme, Open Data as a contributor to Open Government, will involve developing metrics of the value of Open Data in government, tracing benefits derived to distinct data user communities. This research is funded by SSHRC.

The Department of Geography and Environmental Management is ‘twinned’ at the graduate level with Wilfrid Laurier University, and the resulting Waterloo-Laurier Joint Program in Geography (WL-JPIG) is one of the largest Geography concentrations in North America with over 55 faculty members. Doctoral coursework and committee members can be drawn from either campus – the two campuses are walking distance from each other.

Doctoral Applications should be submitted via the process outlined at these two links:

https://uwaterloo.ca/discover-graduate-studies/choose-your-program/programs/geography-phd

https://uwaterloo.ca/discover-graduate-studies/ready-apply/application-process/apply-online

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Funding: How it Works

The Faculty of Environment aims to attract and support the next generation of outstanding researchers. Many sources of funding are available to support doctoral students: scholarships, research assistantships, teaching assistantships, etc.  We want to overcome the financial uncertainty that students sometimes face by guaranteeing $90,000 over four years ($22,000, $22,300, $22,700, $23,000). This is the minimum. The actual funding package you receive will comprise a mix of Scholarships, Teaching Assistantships and Research Assistantships.

Scholarships: We encourage students to apply for major external scholarships (NSERC, SSHRC, CIHR, OGS, etc.) and note that successful students will also be awarded the President’s scholarship ($5,000 scholarship and $6,800 TA for an additional $11,800).

Research Assistantships: Many research topics can attract research funding from research councils (NSERC, SSHRC, CIHR), provincial agencies or private partners. We encourage these sources to be used to support students and to focus energies on the research.

Teaching assistantships/Sessional teaching: Graduate students often work as teaching assistants in a variety of roles (tutorial presenters / facilitators, markers, etc.) to help deliver our undergraduate programs. Senior doctoral students (year 3 or 4) often have an opportunity to teach a course to help build their teaching skills and portfolio. The amount of teaching-related activity that a doctoral student performs will depend on the combination of resources acquired from scholarships and research funding to ensure that they earn at least the $90k minimum guarantee over four years.

Note: scholarships, research studentships (a form of RA for research related to your dissertation), and graduate experience awards (given in association with teaching assistantships) are typically not taxed as income.

For more information about these two Doctoral opportunities, please contact Dr. Peter Johnson at peter.johnson@uwaterloo.ca

Research on GIS, Open Data, and Mobile Technology, supervised by Peter A. Johnson at the University of Waterloo

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