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!

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!

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!