Recap: CityCamp Edmonton

Canada’s first CityCamp was held here in Edmonton on Saturday at the Robbins Health Learning Centre downtown. Roughly 50 people attended the unconference focused on innovation for municipal governments and community organizations. We had a nice mix of municipal employees, developers, journalists, and citizens.

We started the day off with this timeline of Edmonton’s open data journey (click for a larger version):

A brief history of open data in Edmonton

It was a joint effort to create this. Jess put it together with input from myself and Ashley, and Raffaella created a Prezi for us. I was struck by two things when reflecting on the timeline:

  1. This journey really didn’t start that long ago. I guess two years in the technology world is a long time, but it’s pretty quick in the world of municipal governments.
  2. I was instantly reminded of London’s tube map when I looked at the timeline, which is fitting as so much of our open data journey in Edmonton has been based around transit. It was the GTFS feed that ETS made available to developers that really kicked things off back in 2009.

With that foundation in place, we invited everyone to pitch their topics for the day. There was a nice range of topics suggested, everything from “Modeling the Value of Open Gov” to “Increasing Awareness of Apps Among Edmontonians”.

CityCamp Edmonton

Raffaella and Ashley acted as our gridmasters, and arranged the topics into the day’s agenda. We broke into groups and the discussions began!

CityCamp Edmonton

The sessions I participated in looked at the media’s role in open government, the importance of archiving and digital preservation, and the benefits of open data in small municipalities. I really enjoyed the discussions and I think everyone got something out of them, even if it was just inspiration or motivation to go away and do something!

CityCamp EdmontonCityCamp Edmonton

In the session on small municipalities, I thought Devin made a really great point. He said that open data adoption today is kind of like website adoption was 15 years ago or so. At the time, having a website was a new concept, and municipalities approached it much like they are approaching open data now – with uncertainty, hesitation, and even resistance. Today every municipality has a website. How did we get over those initial roadblocks? Devin suggested that tooling has a lot to do with it, which echoed some of the discussion we had in the media session earlier in the day. Tools like FrontPage really opened up the floodgates and made it easy for people to create a website. We have since moved on to better things, of course, but it was an important enabler early on. Perhaps we need the open-data-equivalent of FrontPage for open data to really take off as well. In the media session we identified tools as one of the things holding up wider adoption of open data by journalists.

A session I didn’t participate in but which looked like a lot of fun was the modeling open government one. Jess was determined to have at least one session that wasn’t sitting around in a circle talking, and he succeeded!

CityCamp Edmonton

The space we were in was great, with lots of natural light (which I think is really important), though it was somewhat difficult to find in the morning. Everything worked out though!

CityCamp EdmontonCityCamp Edmonton

Though we did have a discussion about actions arising from the day’s sessions, I think drilling down on collective actions is always difficult at events like CityCamp. For me, the day was an opportunity to connect with other people thinking about the same issues and topics. That said, here are a few things you can do to take action right now:

  • Look at the open data catalogue, and start using the data. Share the things you’re doing with it!
  • As you come up with ideas that require data sets that aren’t currently available, add them to the UserVoice. I will take an action to clean that site up a bit!
  • Notes from the day will be going up on Civic Commons, so that’s a great place to capture and share your thoughts on open government in Edmonton.

Thanks to everyone who participated on Saturday! You can see my photos from the day here, and Jess’ photos here.