Tag Archives: GIScience

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.

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.


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.”

Can Open Data lead to Open Government?

The relationship between Open Data and Open Government is one that fascinates me. I’m curious as to how Open Data – that is, data that is easily accessible with a minimum of restrictions governing use or reuse, can be used as a conversation or focus point to increase the involvement of citizens in government. If government data is being collected to support decision-making, shouldn’t that data be shared with citizens? Wait, not only shared with citizens in a passive, uni-directional manner, but shouldn’t that data form the foundation of a two-way conversation between citizen and government? On November 14th of this year, I was invited to give a keynote address at the University of Waterloo GIS Day. GIS Day is an annual, global event that celebrates spatial information and showcases exciting research and teaching using and advancing Geographic Information Systems. I’ve embedded a slideshare of my presentation for this event.

Volunteered Geographic Information special session at CAG 2012

For anyone heading to the 2012 Canadian Association of Geographers Annual Meeting in Waterloo (May 28 – June 2), I am co-hosting (with Dr. Rob Feick) two sessions on VGI and GIScience 2.0. The session are called “TECHNOLOGY, SCIENCE AND CITIZENS: GIScience 2.0 and the role of volunteered geographic information”. The first session is from 1:30-3:00 on Wednesday May 30th, and the second is from 3:30 – 5:00 on the same day. Both sessions are being held in the Peters building, room 1013, on Laurier University campus. Here is a list of abstracts being presented:

Session One

Wednesday 1:30 to 3:00, Peters 1013

1. Shayne Wright, University of British Columbia Okanagan, “Access, Engagement and Change: Characteristics for Indentifying Community Participation on the Geospatial Web.”

2. Michael G. Leahy, ESRi Canada, “The influence of Participation Format on VGI Creation and Collaboration in a PPGIS.”

3. Jonathan Cinnamon, Simon Fraser University, “Volunteered Geographic Information and the data- divide.”

4. Michael Martin, University of British Columbia, “Online Volunteerism, Geographers and the Global South: Recognizing Opportunity and Reality with Mapping across Borders.”

Session Two

5. Samantha Brennan, University of British Columbia Okanagan, “Igniting Interest in Online Participatory Mapping: VGI and Forest Fire Impacts.”

6. Richard Kelly, University of Waterloo, “The Snowtweets Project: crowdsourcing snow information using social media.”

7. Peter A. Johnson, McGill University, “How Sustainable is the Geoweb?”

Hope to see you there!

Why we should all learn to code

I recently read an article in Inside Higher Education called “Should All Majors, Not Just Computer Science Majors Learn to Code“. If you know me at all, then you probably know my answer to this question: YES. I’m not saying that all undergraduates need to know the ins and outs of several languages, but I do think that some knowledge of a common language like Java, Python, or even just how to whip up a website in HTML is becoming a basic skill, just like using Word and Excel were essential for students 15 years ago (don’t ask me how I know). This recent article in the NYT talks about the emergence of Big Data and the drive towards quantification in the social sciences. As our lives are increasingly measured and recorded, this provides a huge source of information for analysis. It really is very exciting to think of the implications of ubiquitous mobile tracking technology for spatial social science. Learning to code is big part of being able to access and use this data – and not just for research, but for business, hobbies, and just general interest, a basic understanding of the way that computers and software work is essential. My advice for anyone getting into GIScience and wanting a career in it, is to make sure that their educational institution is teaching at least some coding, or providing them with the opportunity to get their feet wet with code. This will set you apart from all the other GIS ‘users’ out there – the person who can code is a developer, not just a button-pusher. And with that, if you have never coded before, I encourage you to take the plunge and sign up for the excellent Code Academy Year of Code.