We are honoured to have Matthew Dance author the first guest blog post on our Open Data Portal. If you don’t know Matt, you will get an idea of what he is about from his LinkedIn profile summary:
“I am passionate about making the world a better place through the application of technology to social issues. I am particularly interested in Internet-based GIS applications combined with sensor networks and crowd-sourced data as a means to monitor and manage our environment, and to create a deeper understanding of the interactions between humans and the world around us.”
If you do know Matt, you will also know that his passion for open data is second to none.
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to him. We truly appreciate Matt for agreeing to participate in this first of many citizen engagement opportunities.
(My Hope for) The Future of Open Data in Edmonton
Thank-you to the City of Edmonton Open Data Team for inviting me to be the first in a series of guest blog posts on the broad topic of open data.
My hope for the future of open data in Edmonton can be found within the opening paragraphs of the City of Edmonton’s Open City Initiative (which is worth a read):
Philosophically, an open city is connected and responsive to the goals and objectives of an informed and engaged public, who in turn are partners consulted in setting the goals and objectives of the city. Physically, an open city reduces barriers to information and provides access to services through digital networks, connecting people wherever they are. City of Edmonton, Open City Initiative (pp.2).
This is an optimistic philosophy that speaks to our elected officials, bureaucracy and citizens working collectively on city building. Ideally, this collaborative process has a government that engages with citizens to help define those questions that need a solution; a government that seeks input on how to problem solve and strives to design policy decisions via consensus building and participatory decision making. Ideally we would have a municipal government and civil service that supports meaningful citizen engagement as a matter of daily practice and process.
Open data plays a key role as the foundation for participatory and collaborative city building. I will provide three examples of this pertaining to
- public consultation
- evidence based policy making, and
- inviting citizen collected data to the open data portal – AKA citizen science.
It seems that our public consultation process is often relegated to time limited public meetings (in the evening or on weekends!) where information is disseminated via handouts, slideshows and discussions with City of Edmonton content experts. What would it look like if we were to engage in additional public consultation through other, electronic means?
For instance, I can imagine Edmonton implementing something like a Participatory Geographic Information System (a lot of research has been done on PGIS and PPGIS – hit me up if you’re interested) which is essentially a map where citizens can contribute their place based understanding to any question with a spatial component. Furthermore, interesting web-based interactive maps can be created to explore or explain the specific issue in question, allow citizen questions and input in-situ.
A PGIS in Edmonton is not without precedent – a Participatory GIS mapping tool is currently being used for the Breath consultation to allow citizens to represent their experience of place on a map. It is my hope that these citizen inputs are anonymized and posted as open data and as an input into an evidence based policy process thus setting citizen based priorities for the decision makers to consider.
Evidence based policy
Evidence based policy is a specific type of policy development that is driven by evidence gleaned from a number of different sources, such as research or from the measured experience from other jurisdictions. By definition, engaging citizen input into an evidence based policy process is difficult, but it can be done at a couple of junction points – in defining the issues, and holding decision makers to account.
If citizens are engaged early in a process they can help define the place-based concerns that they have in their specific neighborhoods, parks, etc. These questions can inform the direction that a policy development process takes.
Furthermore, evidence based policy within a municipal government that is interested in transparency has a few implications
- that the best available evidence is presented to the decision makers (in this case, city council) in support of a recommendation, and
- that evidence (data, other support documents) are made available to the citizenry for scrutiny.
From an open data perspective, it would be very helpful to see a file or clusters of variety of open data, from policy reviews to survey results, that are directly related to policy recommendations before council.
For example, the City is currently undergoing a public consultation process on our parks and open spaces. It would be wonderful to see, placed on the open data portal, a file of all the data and documentation used to support the policy presented to council. If citizens could see all of the data and support material in one location, citizens would be in a better position to contribute useful information, and to understand how specific policy recommendations were developed.
Finally, the open data portal could support contributions from citizens. I am not talking about citizens being able to upload any random Excel table, but rather
- linking specific citizen used sensors, such as something like the AirBeam air quality sensor to the open data portal so that data can be uploaded directly in real time, or
- citizens working with City of Edmonton open data owners to clean data so that it can be opened placed on the portal.
The point of this exercise is it to engage citizens in the creation of data through a variety of methods, to increase engagement and data literacy. How cool would it be for a Jr. High science class to link a sensor to the City’s open data portal? For the students to see data streaming in real time, and then to analyze and visualize those very data?
There is a great deal of opportunity in thinking of open data as an asset and a tool for citizen engagement. It is optimistic to think of citizens as partners “…in setting the goals and objectives of the city.” But for this vision, outlined in the City of Edmonton Open City Initiative, to be realized, we must be willing to engage in the hard discussions that move policy around citizen engagement towards the optimism written about in the Open City Initiative.