Edmonton Public Schools & Open Data

Today I’m very excited to announce that Edmonton Public Schools has taken a big step into the world of open data by releasing a data set containing information on all of their schools, including the six opening later this year. I understand the data will be made available in the City of Edmonton’s Open Data Catalogue early next week, but you can download the CSV file today if you like.

Download the Edmonton Public Schools Data in CSV

Back in early February I met Jeremy and Paul for lunch to chat about open data and the community here in Edmonton. One of the things we talked about was how Edmonton Public Schools could get involved. In addition to attending events like the Open City Workshop, Jeremy and his team also started working behind-the-scenes to pull together data that might be useful to share. I helped define the fields that should be included and did the geocoding work, but they did all the rest. The result is a great data set of public schools in Edmonton, containing the name, address, lat/long, grade levels, programming information, and contact details for each.

Edmonton Public Schools follows in the footsteps of the Edmonton Public Library in embracing open data. Both organizations should be applauded for being “early adopters” and for their enthusiastic participation in the open data movement here in Edmonton. They have set an example that others can follow. Specifically:

  • Start small! EPL released branch locations, EPSB released school locations.
  • Work with the community! In both cases, I was able to help with some of the work. There are many others in the community who are eager to help as well.
  • Engage the City! In addition to getting the data in the catalogue, which is really important to have a central repository, the City has also offered some suggestions for improvements.

Thank you to Jeremy and the rest of the team at Edmonton Public Schools for making this happen!

No post about a new data set would be complete without mentioning that the data is now available at ShareEdmonton! You can now see a list of all public schools and on the details page for each one, you can see the relevant school ward, grade level, and programming information on the right side (for example, McNally, the high school I attended). More improvements coming soon!

28 thoughts on “Edmonton Public Schools & Open Data

  1. Quick question Mack for clarification sake. You appear to be showing a data set within ShareEdmonton that was specifically supplied to you prior to the public release of the EPSB CSV file, am I correct?

  2. There is no link on the EPSB site that I’m aware of, just the CSV file linked above that I am hosting on Amazon S3.

    As mentioned, the place to get the data should and will be the data catalogue. Thanks!

  3. Hi Walter – we’ve made a decision to work with the City and post the data on the Open Data Catalogue. That info will go online next week.

    Mack’s request for school data for Share Edmonton was a key reason we decided to follow the City’s lead and make the data available. This information is all publicly available, it just wasn’t in one place, in a usable format until now.

    As Mack suggests, starting small is a great first step for any organization looking participate in open data.

  4. Jeremy, thanks for your input and none of what I’m about to say is personal. Like Mack, you and A Canadian Foodie, I also think it’s a great thing that the Edmonton Public School Board is sharing the data.

    My concern is ironically this wasn’t an Open Data release as announced by the EPSB, it was a blog announcement made by a private citizen (Mack), with a link to another site owned by Mack that had content bolstered by a quiet, non-transparent data release that he got to reap the benefit of.

    Personally, I wouldn’t have an issue with any of this, the least of which in how it’s being displayed on ShareEdmonton had the newly organized dataset been offered first via the CoE data catalogue. Available for anyone who would like to use it (that’s not necessarily us by the way) at the same time or if the information was offered on the EPSB site. For a private citizen to have advanced access of public data sets in a new format for personal gain, in this case so that he could make the announcement first and leverage it for another site, calls into question several things. Further, it certainly undermines in a small way the whole transparent “Open Data” movement.

    The City of Edmonton for example, has been very careful to ensure fairness for all developers via their Open Data releases for precisely this reason. I applaud and encourage the EPSB to continue to think about Open Data and how it can improve services. I also encourage considering the above different perspective. This sets a questionable precedent and the optics are probably not what the EPSB would prefer. Just one guy’s opinion and certainly nothing personal directed at you, Paul or Mack, you just happen to be the principles in this event.

  5. Walter, it seems to me you’re looking for a reason to be negative here. Did you actually read the post?

    The reality is that I helped EPSB create the data set. How could I not have had access to it before it was finished? I added the lat/long information and most of the wards to the data set. I couldn’t have done that without getting the file before it was finished, obviously.

    Are you authorized to speak on behalf of the city? Because the reality is different than what you’re suggesting. Citizens like myself are helping the CoE obtain data for the catalogue (see yesterday’s post). If a citizen is doing the work to create or to help create the data set, of course they are going to get access to it first.

  6. Hmmm…Honestly, I received the comments in my mailbox as requested… and as an outsider looking in who should probably keep my mouth shut, but rarely ever do because I believe it is important to add one’s 2 cents worth into every public discussion – otherwise, they would not exist… or not exist in the fullness that they should. So – as I see it, that is how life is. One works hard, and reaps the benefits. Mack worked hard, assisted, covered all of his basis and pays exceptional attention to detail. Everyone doesn’t do this. And because he does do this, he has an exceptional reputation. Because of his exceptional reputation, his acute attention to detail, and his forward thinking in all areas of his business interest and that of our city, he finds himself in positions he has created for himself. Then he writes about it. Sharing only what he has very carefully secured in the appropriate manner to share.
    And Walter stated, it wasn’t personal. Maybe you didn’t think about the outcome of your questions, Walter? – but as a reader, it did appear at the very least territorial, if not personal. Otherwise, the questions and concerns would have been directed to EPSB as the institution releasing the information, instead of here.
    Anyway, that is what I see, as a private citizen, in this interaction. Walter, are you in the same business as Mack, and a competitor of his? Maybe this is where the what looks like sour grapes are coming from? In any case, and in the spirit of TEDx, I will offer a toast to the vital importance of collaboration.

  7. A Canadian Foodie, thanks for your comments, you make a great point: “Otherwise, the questions and concerns would have been directed to EPSB as the institution releasing the information, instead of here.”

    You’ll notice the questions about the specifics of how this happened were first directed at the person who released the information first – Mack. I agree with you, that the role “should” have first been with the EPSB. Secondly, the questions then were directed at Jeremy once he joined the discussion. The fact that any of this is taking place here at all “first” without concern for others in the space is really the core point that the EPSB will need to address. This has nothing to do with “sour grapes” just that a public organization should act with certain things in mind.

    I’m with you, collaboration is very important and encouraged with “anyone” who would like to participate on a fair and equitable basis.

  8. Valerie, thanks for your nice comments!

    Walter, I think you need to stop making factually incorrect remarks. I’m not sure where you got the idea that all of this work happened without concern for others in the space. Why do you think I pushed so hard to get the data so it could be shared?

    Furthermore, this was about collaboration. It’s not about being unfair or inequitable. Quite the opposite actually.

    Organizations can’t do everything themselves, sometimes they work others to achieve things. You should know that better than most, considering that’s what you sell.

  9. Mack, I think this is a terrific conversation and a great discussion and example regarding how data should be released to the public by public organizations, about optics and about process.

  10. Mack, I think you’re making a bit of a strawman argument here… it sounds like Walter is talking about process and optics. While he comes off a bit strong, It’s a valid concern.

    You’re coming back like its a personal attack, thus obscuring the real issue.

    “Let’s discuss process”
    “Why do you hate me?”

  11. Phil, I think you have hit the nail on the head.

    I think what Walter is highlighting is that the process or the policy needs to be considered.

    I don’t know Mack, and I am sure he put a lot of work into helping and he is a great guy, but that isn’t the point – in other words, it isn’t about personality – it isn’t personal.

    Years will come and go and the players will change… what will the process be in the future? What precedent is being set today?

    A person’s personality or level of commitment can not be used to determine policy. If we start that, where does it end? how nice of a person? how committed? how much work? Do we have an open competition to see who is the nicest, most dedicated and therefore gets any “perks” from helping?

    Another “P” to consider is perception. What does this look like to the Average Joe? Does he know what kind of work Mack put in? how nice he is? how dedicated? or does Average Joe see a government body giving preferential treatment to a private citizen? There is a difference between having access to the information while you are assisting and publishing it on a private website.

    Disclaimer: I don’t know Mack, I have met Walter and exchanged maybe two sentences with him. I am not in any way involved or associated with open data nor do I make money from it in any way. But I am a stickler for process, when necessary.

  12. Okay we can talk optics.

    Until yesterday, there was no data from EPSB publicly available in an easily-consumable form. Now creative professionals can access that data and do with it whatever they like. Until next week, it’s accessible from the link I have provided. After that, it’ll be accessible within the data catalogue.

    How did we get there? EPSB got interested in open data. As a passionate supporter of open data, I reached out to EPSB and offered to help. Over the course of a couple weeks, we worked together to create the data set (with EPSB doing the bulk of the work, of course).

    I was excited about the data, and I still am. I asked if I could post about it, and EPSB said yes.

    There are no ads on this blog. There are no ads on ShareEdmonton. The only benefit I received here, was the ability to make this blog post. And given the nature of this comment thread, I’m not sure it’s fair to call that a benefit.

    If you want to complain about optics, why not challenge the City on the iPhone app they are launching? They worked with a partner, who got access to data and APIs before anyone else. In exchange, that partner gets first crack at things.

    I don’t see the harm in that. I think that’s realistically how things are going to get done.

  13. I always appreciate discussion. I believe it is how we grow and learn. But, relationships do play a role in how one discusses things. And, clearly, there was a “real”, not just “cyber”, relationship between Mack and Walter. When a relationship exists, there is a respect that one hopes would be fundamental to communication (even without an existing relationship). Respect is the demonstration of value to a person or a thing. It was clear to me, that at the onset of this discussion, a demonstration of value was not communicated by Walter. He may have “felt it”, but if it is not apparent in writing – and clarity in writing has become extremely important in this information era – then, the ommission appears purposeful, Particularly considering the nature of the comment. That being said, I would consider it difficult, if I were Mack, to not take offence to what would feel like a lack of respect for my work.
    Just a little teacher moment. 🙂

  14. I’d like to thank Mack, and Jeremy for the discussion. Thanks also to Phil and Carla for their input. Their comments seemed to highlight my purpose better than I was able to relating to the issue of “how” the data was released by the EPSB.

    I agree Valerie, this discussion was an interesting learning experience on many levels. I feel like I can always learn and this was great from that point of view. Did I communicate perfectly? As usual far from it, I’m imperfect. That said, we all choose how we interpret things based on what is most important to us and that’s nothing that other communicators can control. For example, I could interpret your comments any number of ways, I choose to think you are attempting to help in your own way and I thank-you for that.

    Also, it’s terrific that the data is now on the CoE website, that was great of the IT Branch to pick up on the work Mack, Jeremy and Paul did and turn it around so quickly.

  15. I’d also like to say a big thanks to the CoE Open Data team for the work they’ve done with EPSB to get the data into the catalogue.

    And though there have been questions raised about the timing of the data going up on the catalogue, I want to make it clear that this was not an afterthought.

    From the beginning of our plans to get involved in open data, City staff have worked with EPSB to make the data available there, so that we could be part of the larger initiative, rather than in our own silo.

    Looking forward to seeing other organizations around the city start to do the same… 🙂

  16. Quick question here – Jeremy, was it part of the plan to release the info in question through Mack’s site? Was the roll-out plan Mack’s site first, then http://data.edmonton.ca ?

    I’ve seen silos get in the way of government initiatives and fully support public-private partnerships, so I’d like to learn more. Are there lessons learned here that can benefit the rest of the OpenGov community?

  17. Hi bxmx – the plan was to release the data on the CoE catalogue as soon as the data was finalized. And if we had developed and released the data by ourselves, that would have been the only method of release.

    However, this being our first foray into open data, we were please to be able to work with Mack on a request for data for ShareEdmonton.

    Respecting this partnership, and the work Mack put into helping us, we made the data available to him as soon as it was finalized (Thursday). The CoE folks posted it Friday. It would have been sooner (in fact, probably Thursday as well), but our contact at the City had been away and we weren’t able to connect until then.

    Here are some lessons I’m taking away from the whole experience, and that others will hopefully find useful too:

    1 – get advice from people who will actually use the data before releasing it. Chances are, the business owners of the data don’t use it the same way that the wider community will. Mack’s perspectives helped us shape the information and get it ready for release.

    2 – be prepared to revisit what you’re offering. Already, we’ve had requests about re-shaping what we’ve got, adding details, re-naming a few things. I see this as an ongoing part of the process, and it should be expected.

    3 – get involved with the larger initiative. Hosting the data on the City’s catalogue aligns us with the open data initiative, makes the information available to a larger audience, and allows us to follow the City’s existing terms of use.

    I’d be interested to hear any other perspectives/lessons learned from public-sector organizations.

  18. Boy did this experiment end up in an explosion.

    Time for Daddy to jump into the sandbox and keep the kiddies from getting sand in each others’ eyes.

    This may seem extremely odd to Mack and Walter, both of whom know me and are aware of propensity for one-sided and hard-nosed opinions, but I agree with EVERYONE in this debate. Yes, Mack there is a Santa Claus.

    I don’t have the wisdom of Solomon, but I think, even in the age of participation, we can still split the baby.

    We, those of us in the know, are appreciative of all the work Mack has done in the furtherance of Open Data in the City of Edmonton. Even those of us who regularly disagree with his position on most matters in the city agree on the point that he goes above and beyond in his desire to move the city towards open communication.

    EPSB could do no better than accept his offer of help. From what I have read here I conclude that Mack did nothing wrong. He helped EPSB put their data into a usable format. He then sought permission to host the compiled and formatted data on ShareEdmonton. Upon receiving clearance he hosted it and blogged about it.

    So far nothing Mack did is wrong, immoral or illegal. (Biting my tongue regarding budget websites here ;-))….

    So where is the problem? I think we all know, and I am certain Jeremy knows. I am certain Jeremy has learned a valuable lesson from this debate.

    The problem lies with EPSB granting a private citizen permission to post and blog about Data which, while not of a sensitive nature in the least, should have been rolled out where it belonged, on the CoE site. The data was destined for the CoE site as part of the Open Data program. This is where it should have appeared first. After it was rolled out in the proper forum I see absolutely no problem with, THEN, allowing Mack to also host it on ShareEdmonton and blog about it to his heart’s content.

    By allowing a single private citizen who, admittedly, is a competitor with many of other private citizens in their business dealings, opens the EPSB and, vicariously through EPSB, the Minister of Education up to accusations of favouritism.

    Clearly, after reading Jeremy’s last comment, EPSB has learned something from all of this. Hopefully, in the future, they will continue to use the expertise of our participation experts without forgetting that the community is smaller than it seems, and perception means everything!

    I think we can all agree mistakes were made here. Now shake hands and make nice.

  19. Thanks for the comment John, I appreciate it.

    The only thing I have an issue with is this: I think the private sector (whether individuals or organizations) is vitally important here, both for pushing for the data AND for helping to create, distribute, and improve it.

    It’s kind of like a public-private partnership, only less formal and involving less risk.

  20. That’s all good an well, and I don’t disagree with you.

    However, the dataset referred to in this article was explicitly destined for the CoE OpenData site. The question isn’t whether or not indiduals should partner with goevernment in dissemination of the dataset. The question is whether or not it should be published by a privat individual when the destination was the CoE site.

    As I stated, I don’t think you did anything wrong. I think EPSB needs to have a firm policy in place for the future. They won’t always be in a relationship with one individual. Down the road you may not be around. Should they then entrust datasets to me to publish? Why not just publish to the site the data is destined for with the understanding that you may also host it once it is generally released.

    Again, it is a matter of perception.

  21. I think ALL datasets should be destined for the CoE Open Data site! Even if someone creates one and hosts it elsewhere with no intention of getting it into the catalogue initially.

    I think there are two issues here – the creation and first use of the data, and publishing the data.

    I think I’ve covered the first issue. On the second one: I published the EPSB dataset, but it would have gone up on the data catalogue regardless. I don’t think EPSB was “entrusting” me to publish the data, they simply said I could share it. And now that it it’s in the catalogue it doesn’t matter – anyone can share it.

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