Recap: City of Edmonton Open Data Workshop

On Saturday afternoon about 45 people met at City Hall to discuss open data in a workshop hosted by the City of Edmonton’s IT department (you can read the Edmonton Journal’s coverage here). I think we made great progress, and I’m happy that so many people gave up their Saturday afternoon to come out and help!

Open Data Workshop
Photo Credit: Ryan Jackson, Edmonton Journal

Our emcee for the day was Jas Darrah, and he did a great job of keeping us on track. We started with an introduction to open data, delivered by me. My job was to just make sure everyone was on the same page, and to hopefully start a little excitement by sharing what other cities have done. Here are the slides I presented:

Stephen Gordon spoke next, adding some context and background on the City of Edmonton’s perspective. It was great to have him available throughout the day to answer questions. After that, Gordon Martin took over to facilitate a session on defining our guiding principles for open data. We broke into three groups to brainstorm, and I was surprised that each group came up with different principles. Here’s the tag cloud that Devin created based on the results of our work:

That took us to lunch, which was catered by Three Bananas. After the break, we reconvened to talk about the City of Edmonton’s approach, and about a potential data catalogue. Devin Serink led the discussion, which at times got very intense! People have strong feelings about how a catalogue for data should work. I’m not sure we came to a decision, but I think the general feedback was that both a data catalogue and an app catalogue are necessary, but that the City of Edmonton doesn’t necessarily need to create and host both.

Throughout the day we had flip chart sheets on the wall to capture opportunities, desired data sets, and anything else we didn’t have time to discuss. I think all of those, including the principles that each group came up with, will be typed up and shared sometime soon. Devin documented some of the day’s work on Prezi.

Open Data WorkshopOpen Data Workshop

It was great to have a focused discussion on open data at the City of Edmonton, but there’s still a lot to be done! There were a number of times during the day that we could have broken off into another sub-discussion, so there’s probably still a lot more input the City could gather. The report back to Council still needs to be written and presented. And of course, we need to start releasing some data sets. Still, I’m grateful that we have a supportive Councillor (and potentially more than one) and an engaged and open City Administration to make it happen.

Thanks to the City of Edmonton IT department for hosting the workshop, and especially to James Rugge-Price, Devin, and Jacob Modayil for making it happen! I’m really looking forward to the next steps.

You can see the rest of my photos here. Stay tuned to the Open Data page on the City website and to the #yegdata hashtag on Twitter for updates.

Update on Open Data in Edmonton

I’m encouraged by the progress that is being made on making open data a reality here in Edmonton. I think the open data sessions at ChangeCamp had an impact, as did Councillor Iveson’s formal inquiry. There’s still a lot of work to do, however!

A few brief updates:

  • Just a reminder – we’re using #yegdata on Twitter.
  • The Edmonton Public Library has created an Open Data portal, and is hosting a CSV file of all EPL branch locations, complete with latitude and longitude. It also shows recent tweets!
  • I updated the open data page on the ChangeCamp wiki with some more notes. If you have notes to add, please do so!
  • Chris Moore, CIO for the City of Edmonton, is really embracing the concept of open. He’s charged with delivering a report to City Council by the end of the year, and has decided to open up the creation of that report anyone interested. You can see the document on Google Docs here, just ping Chris and he’ll give you access.

We’ve also started having open data chats with beer! Our next one takes place tomorrow evening:

#yegdata conversation
November 4, 2009 at 4:30pm (come whenever)
Rose & Crown Pub, 10235 101 Street

RSVP on Facebook
See the event on ShareEdmonton

Feel free to drop after work. Our last discussion was really great. One of the things we talked about was the approach we should take. In general, I think the preferred approach is something like the following:

  1. Low-hanging fruit (stuff that is already on the website, just in a closed format, etc)
  2. Data that doesn’t have FOIP implications but that isn’t already available
  3. Everything else
  4. APIs for real-time data?

We’ve got more than enough with the first two to keep everyone involved busy for quite some time.

One of the things we discussed was identifying and prioritizing the first two. What kinds of data does the community want? Which data is already up on the website in a closed format? To help facilitate that, I’ve created a UserVoice site for #yegdata, and have seeded it with 18 types of data that I’d like to see the City of Edmonton make available. Here’s where I need your help!

  • Add other types of data that you’d like to see/use, or that you’ve identified as already available in some format on the City of Edmonton’s website.
  • Everyone gets 10 votes – please vote on the data you’d most like to see/use.
  • Spread the word and get others to add/vote as well!

There are no guarantees that the data and priority identified through the UserVoice site will be what actually happens, but it’ll definitely help the City move forward. Thanks in advance!

Help us identify and prioritize open data here!

Open Data at ChangeCamp Edmonton

Tomorrow morning local politicians, bureaucrats, and ordinary citizens will gather at the University of Alberta for ChangeCamp Edmonton. I’m encouraged by the number of people that have registered, and by the conversations that have already started. That’s what tomorrow is all about: getting people together to discuss ideas and solutions.

I don’t know exactly which topics people will want to discuss tomorrow, but I know for sure that open data will be one of them. There’s significant momentum building for the concept, and we’re starting to see progress on making it happen throughout Canada (and elsewhere).

Open data here in Edmonton received a nice boost this week from Councillor Don Iveson when he submitted a formal inquiry to City administration:

In local, national and sub-national governments around the world there is a trend toward making up-to-date government information freely available on-line in generically accessible data formats as so-called ‘Open Data’.

  1. What level of awareness does the City Administration have regarding Open Data in municipal government?
  2. What current initiatives are underway within City Administration that might qualify under the spirit of Open Data?
  3. What further initiatives are under consideration within the city, and on what basis are they being evaluated?
  4. Is Administration monitoring any successes and or challenges with this trend in other jurisdictions, especially large Canadian cities, and if so what can be shared with Council?
  5. What would City Administration’s recommendation be on next steps regarding Open Data plans or strategies?

I know there was already some things going on behind the scenes at the City of Edmonton, but Don’s inquiry should expedite and give credibility to those things. This is an important step.

I’ve been pushing for open data in Edmonton for a while now, along with many others. I think ChangeCamp will be a great opportunity to further discuss the concept and next steps. I generally think about open data in the context of a municipality, but there’s room for discussion at the provincial and federal levels too. Here are some of the key things I think we can cover:

  • Let’s make sure everyone (citizens, politicians, City administration) is on the same page about what we mean by “open data”. This could be high level (what kinds of data are open) and low level (what formats are considered open).
  • What is the City working on? What are citizens working on? Let’s get a status report from both sides.
  • What kinds of data could be made open? Which data is most in demand by citizens? What data has been made available in other cities, such as Vancouver or Toronto?
  • Licensing is vital for open data to work. We need to ensure data is licensed as permissively as possible, otherwise we’re restricting its utility. Which licenses make sense? What have other municipalities used?
  • Often lost in the discussion about what data to make available is how to be notified of changes to that data. RSS feeds, email subscriptions – how should citizens be notified when data is updated or otherwise changed?
  • Another aspect that we need to consider: the creation of data. There is lots and lots of data that our governments can start making available in open formats, but there’s even more data created on a daily basis. What can we do to ensure that it is open data also? How about APIs or other mechanisms for citizens to provide input/data? Open 311 comes to mind.

Here are some links that might be useful tomorrow:

See you in the morning!

Edmonton’s new Centre for Public Involvement

One of the items that was discussed at today’s Executive Committee meeting (agenda in Word) was the proposed Centre for Public Involvement, a joint venture of the City of Edmonton and the University of Alberta. The idea is to combine the strengths of both organizations to “intentionally consider and apply the most effective means to undertake public involvement.” Here’s the proposed mission:

To provide leadership in understanding and applying innovative practices and new technologies for citizen participation, engagement, and deliberation.

The centre would try to strike a balance among research, best practices, and consulting. Annual operating costs would be $300,000, split equally between the City and the University. Other partners may join at some point in the future.

I really like the idea. That said, I want to echo the opening statement of the prospectus:

The timing is right for establishing the proposed Centre. In reality, the timing is probably late by ten years.

Both the City and the University have already started exploring new forms of public involvement. The City has been quite successful with its social media endeavors, and the University is starting to experiment as well. It seems there’s a new U of A account on Twitter each week (the latest I’ve come across is the International Centre)!

While it is true that there is some frustration among the public with regards to being able to impact decision-making, not everyone has become angry and complacent. Initiatives such as ChangeCamp are proof that some citizens are already engaged in re-imagining public involvement.

I think there’s a great opportunity here for the City, the University, and the public to work together to explore the future of public involvement. I think Raffaella nailed it in a recent post discussing the new City of Edmonton blog she’s been working on:

We seek to create informed communities, engaged citizens, and generally make our lives better.

You can download the Centre for Public Involvement Prospectus in PDF here.

ChangeCamp Edmonton – October 17th

As you may have heard, we recently picked a date, time, and place for ChangeCamp Edmonton! We’ve been talking about it for months now, and for a while it really felt like we’d never make any progress. We had a really hard time defining the event, though it sounds simple in concept:

Let’s get as many citizens, politicians, policy-makers, technologists, design-thinkers, change agents, and media creators as possible together in the same room to explore one central question: “How do we re-imagine government and citizenship in the age of participation?”

Was it a single day or many? Physical or virtual? A spark or a process? How much should we define up front? How do we get people interested? Should we borrow from cities that have already held ChangeCamps or try something completely different?

We still don’t have all the answers, but we’ve decided to move forward anyway. In the spirit of ChangeCamp and other unconferences, we’re going to have a conversation, and you’re invited! Here are the details:

WHO: You, everyone!
WHAT: ChangeCamp Edmonton
WHEN: Saturday, October 17th, 2009 from 8am to 4pm
WHERE: Lister Conference Centre, University of Alberta (map)
WHY: To start a conversation about re-imagining government and citizenship in Edmonton, Alberta

We are still working on defining how the day will unfold, but it’ll be similar to ChangeCamps in other cities. Stay tuned to the official website as well as our Google Group for updates.

If you’d like to help out, just let us know! Right now we need help spreading the word, more than anything else. Tell your friends, tell your colleagues, tell your elected representatives. Let’s make October 17th a day to remember in Edmonton!

You’re asking the wrong question

Last week’s issue of SEE Magazine was a “theme” issue, focusing on the future of the media industry (“print in peril”). In addition to this interesting article, there was a panel comprised of four local newspeople with lots of experience: Linda Hughes (U of A, formerly Edmonton Journal), Ron Wilson (CBC), Jeremy Lye (iNews880), and Roy Wood (MacEwan, formerly Edmonton Journal). They discussed a range of things, including the fact that the industry didn’t develop these problems overnight. The general consensus is that journalism is important, but what it looks like in the future is up in the air.

Of course, you can’t have an article on the future of media without asking who’s going to write about City Council, and the panel didn’t disappoint! Linda Hughes asks:

But with breaking news and local-level news, who is going to go sit in a courtroom all day for a three-paragraph story that is important to know about but isn’t sexy and is just part of the pubic discourse? Who is going to do that? Bloggers often provide a lot of insight, but most bloggers are not going to go to sit in city council committee meetings for five hours to keep track of what city council is doing.

Ask a sports writer about the future of news and he’ll probably use this defense, even though he never sets foot inside City Hall! It’s the easy way out, and it’s an incredibly common response lately from journalists in the hot seat. To make things worse, SEE asked the question again later in the piece:

If newspapers and mass media outlets do dwindle, then, who will be the watchdogs in society to ensure politicians don’t run wild? Who will pay for the investigative reporters who can zero in on one thing for months and all of a sudden have the biggest story of the year?

Sigh. There will still be passionate individuals who follow specific topics and do investigative reporting. Probably more now than ever thanks to easy publishing systems (blogs, wikis, Twitter, etc). And they’ll produce much more interesting content than someone who does it just because they get paid to.

Let’s ignore that argument for a minute, however. Asking how to pay a journalist to sit through meetings to get three paragraphs is still the wrong question!

The real question is, why have we ever had to pay someone to sit through five hours of City Council committee meetings? Let’s get rid of that absurd need altogether and this discussion becomes irrelevant.

This is why I’m so excited about ChangeCamp and the possibilities it represents. If we can change the way our government communicates with us, the need for a newspaper filter could go away altogether.

Let’s focus less on how we’re going to pay a journalist to sit with Council all day and more on how we can get Council to communicate with us in a meaningful way. If we can do that, the journalist will have much better things to cover!

Will Speaker Ken Kowalski come to ChangeCamp?

I’m not sure how much overlap there is between the readers of my blog and the readers of Dave Cournoyer’s blog, but I wanted to highlight a post that Dave made on Wednesday. He wrote a letter to Ken Kowalski, current Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. Here’s a small excerpt:

I would urge you to revisit your initial reaction to the use of online communications from the floor of the Assembly. I agree that Members should respect the institution and proud traditions of the Legislature, but it is important to understand the limitless potential that these technologies now play in connecting elected Members to citizens outside the Dome.

I think Dave’s letter is very well-written, not to mention incredibly important. Banning the use of Twitter and other online communications tools from the floor of the Assembly is shortsighted, to say the least. I suspect that Speaker Kowalski, like so many others, is just afraid of social media because he doesn’t understand it.

This is the kind of issue I hope we can address with ChangeCamp Edmonton. We need to help politicians like Speaker Kowalski get over their fear of social media. We need to help educate them about its power. And we need to make it clear that we want social media to play an important part in our democracy.

I look forward to the discussion, should Speaker Kowalski be willing to participate.

Planning ChangeCamp Edmonton

Tonight we held our first planning meeting for ChangeCamp Edmonton. Though it went a lot longer than I expected, it was definitely productive. Lots of great ideas and discussion. ChangeCamp is an event in the spirit of BarCamp or DemoCamp, but focused on government and citizenship. The central focus is to “re-imagine government and citizenship in the age of participation.”

Here’s how the idea is described at

ChangeCamp is an event format, an open community and a set of tools and ideas designed to give citizens and governments the ability to work collaboratively in new ways to make change and to better address real-world challenges in our communities.

We didn’t form any really solid plans tonight about what the Edmonton version of ChangeCamp will look like, but did set some goals and came up with a list of things we need to consider. We’ll meet again in a few weeks to progress things further. In the meantime, check out the wiki for our meeting notes and to get involved.


Here’s who attended (yes we’re all on Twitter!): @fusedlogic, @Imparo, @ChrisLaBossiere, @JillLaBossiere, @jdarrah, @davecournoyer, @mastermaq, @paulney, @eadnams, @dibegin.

A bunch of us will be at IDEAfest tomorrow at the University of Alberta, so if you drop by ask about ChangeCamp and let us know what you think!