Tag Archives: open data

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.

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:


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.

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.

Mapping Vacant Land Parcels in Detroit

I’m pleased to announce that a student project, started during the winter 2010 semester when I instructed Socioeconomic Applications of GIS at McGill University, has recently been published in volume 23, no. 2 of the journal of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA Journal). This paper, titled “Neogeographic tools to create open-access data: mapping vacant land parcels in Detroit”, co-authored with two McGill Geography undergraduates, Nora Belblidia and Stefan Campbell, demonstrates a “do-it-yourself” approach to the creation of geospatial data that may otherwise be unavailable or inaccessible.


Using a manual digitizing approach, we show how Google Earth can be used to provide a base map for visual interpretation of landscape features. The digitizing tools that are part of Google Earth allow for the rapid creation of new data, which can then be shared or used for a variety of purposes. We decided to make our visual interpretation of vacant land parcels available for others using the geospatial data sharing service Geocommons. You can download the data in a variety of formats here.