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!

Edmonton Neighbourhood Census Data

For a long time I’ve wanted to get the City of Edmonton’s neighbourhood census data in CSV format (or really any usable format other than PDF). Recently, with the help of Laura (and Sandra) at the City’s Election & Census Services department, who I met at the Open City Workshop, I finally got it. And now you can have it too!

Download the Edmonton Neighbourhood Census Data in CSV

I’ve also emailed this to the City’s open data team, so hopefully they can get it in the data catalogue soon.

Visualizing the Data

Why is having the census data in a format like CSV useful? Well for one thing, it enables creatives to do stuff with that data through code or other tools. For instance, I was able to generate a heat map for the City of Edmonton:

The darker sections are more heavily populated, the lighter yellow regions are less populated.

Not all neighbourhoods are reflected, as the City does not release details for neighbourhoods with a population between 1 and 49. Here are some other things we can learn from the data set:

  • Total population in the data set is 777,811, which means there are 4628 individuals unaccounted for (total for 2009 was 782,439).
  • The average neighbourhood population is 2424, or 3039 if you exclude neighbourhoods with a reported population of 0.
  • The median neighbourhood population is 2216.
  • Oliver and Downtown are the only two neighbourhoods with a population greater than 10,000.
  • More dwellings are owned (192,171) than rented (121,953).

ShareEdmonton

Another reason having this data in CSV is useful is because app developers can more easily integrate it into the things they are building. For example, all the census data is now available at ShareEdmonton! So when you view a neighbourhood, you’ll see the census data on the right side (see Alberta Avenue for example). You can also browse neighbourhoods by population. I’ve also fixed the neighbourhood search, so it works better now.

This is just the first of a few neighbourhood-related updates this month, so stay tuned for more!

Apps4Edmonton

Yesterday the City released more information on the Apps4Edmonton competition. The first phase, from now until May, is “accepting community ideas”. Basically they want you to tell them what data you want. Aside from the obvious “we don’t know what we don’t know” problem, I think the community has done a pretty good job of defining desired data sets already.

They City had a great start in January with the launch of the data catalogue, but we need more data. Especially data like the census data, which myself and many others have been asking for since the day the PDFs were released. There are clearly some internal issues that need to be worked out if I was able to acquire this before the open data team was. I hope they get everything resolved for the competition, because it’ll be a pretty boring one if we still only have twelve data sets (New York and other cities had dozens, maybe even hundreds, before their competitions).

That said, I know there are passionate, smart people working on it. Email opendata@edmonton.ca if you have data set requests or want to get involved in Apps4Edmonton.

Recap: Open City Workshop

Saturday’s Open City Workshop at the Art Gallery of Alberta was a fantastic event! Excellent turnout, great discussions, and lots of enthusiasm for the open data/open government movement here in Edmonton. We started the day with some opening remarks from Councillor Don Iveson, CIO Chris Moore, and FusedLogic’s Walter Schwabe. I really liked Don’s key values: transparency, empowerment, and collaboration.

Open City WorkshopOpen City Workshop

Next up was the panel, featuring David Eaves, Nick Charney, Mark Kuznicki, and Alayne Sinclair. They talked about what open government meant to them, took an odd detour into voting, and took some questions from the audience as well. Here are a few of the key things that stood out for me:

  • The idea of government as a platform is not new!
  • It’s about empowering citizens to make the city their own, enabling them to go after their passions.
  • Engagement is often a sign that you need to do something differently, not necessarily that you’re doing something right.
  • Civil servants are citizens too!
  • Open government is part of a broader cultural shift, and citizens have a responsibility to become participants.

I really enjoyed the panel – it was the highlight of the day for me. It was great to finally meet David, Nick, and Mark in person too.

After some forced networking and a break for lunch, the unconference part of the day got underway. We broke into smaller groups to discuss things like the role of journalism and storytelling in open data, the digital divide, thinking beyond technology solutions, and timelines/deliverables.

Open City WorkshopOpen City Workshop

Open City WorkshopOpen City Workshop

I attended the role of journalism and storytelling first, and we seemed to reach the consensus that storytelling is vital for open data/open government to succeed. We need everyone to tell stories, so that we achieve a diverse range of views. We also felt that journalism has a role to play in bridging the gap that exists between those who “get it” and those who don’t. The second session I attended was on engaging residents not familiar with technology. We ended up talking a lot about deliberative dialogue, and I was left with a lot to think about – how will access to open data affect the way a citizen looks at the world? We’re naturally selective, does open data change anything in that regard? For some thoughts on the other two sessions, check out Stella’s recap.

Open City WorkshopOpen City Workshop

Another really great aspect of the day was that it was streamed live online by FusedLogic in both English and French. There were dozens of people participating virtually, from Edmonton and around the world! I understand that they even held their own breakout discussion in the afternoon! Kudos to the FusedLogic team for taking on such a big task, and making it work so well.

At the end of the day, Chris Moore took the stage once again to make a few announcements:

  • An RFP has gone out for the design and implementation of the next generation of productivity technologies at the City of Edmonton.
  • The City of Edmonton is partnering on open311.org, to bring open standards for 311.
  • On April 19, the City of Edmonton is planning to launch an iPhone app called CityWatch, developed by local company Touchmetric.
  • The City of Edmonton is calling for the creation of a “Code for Canada” organization, modeled after Code for America.
  • There will be an Apps4Edmonton app contest in the near future, with the prizes and winners to be showcased at GTEC2010 in October.

Exciting stuff! Congrats to Chris and his team for putting on a great event.

Stay tuned to the #openyeg and #yegdata hashtags on Twitter for updates, as well as the City of Edmonton’s open city page. You can see the rest of my photos here, and you can see the City’s photoset here. You can see a list of the attendees on Twitter here.

I’ll leave you with this TED video of Tim Berners-Lee talking about open data:

Bring on the data!

Open City Workshop & Participation Inequality

The City of Edmonton is hosting a workshop tomorrow at the Art Gallery of Alberta called Building Community through Open Information (on ShareEdmonton). It’s a follow-up to the open data workshop that happened last year and the conversations that have taken place since, but is focused on connecting stakeholders, increasing a shared understanding of Government 2.0, and planning the way forward. Devin wrote some great thoughts on the workshop here.

I’m really looking forward to seeing a diverse local crowd, representing a variety of agencies and interests. I’m also looking forward to meeting special guests David Eaves, Mark Kuznicki, and Nicholas Charney in person. All three are key players in Canada’s open government space.

And while I’m hopeful that we’ll see some new data released tomorrow, I’m mindful that data is not the focus. The three objectives listed on the event details page are about establishing Edmonton as a leader, and then lots of talk. I think the way you establish yourself as a leader is by actually doing things, but I’ll keep an open mind tomorrow 🙂

One thing I do want to talk about at the workshop is the divide that a number of people have picked up on. It’s great that Edmonton and other places are making progress on opening up data, but how does that impact the average citizen? There’s definitely a perception that only techies understand and can use open data. I don’t think that gives the average citizen enough credit, but I’m willing to concede that open data is not as accessible today as it needs to be. There’s lots of room for improvement.

Having said that, I think it’s important to keep participation inequality in mind:

All large-scale, multi-user communities and online social networks that rely on users to contribute content or build services share one property: most users don’t participate very much. Often, they simply lurk in the background.

If we think of open data (and open government) as a large community, then we should absolutely expect that a small subset of that community will be responsible for most of the activity. In the context of the 90-9-1 rule, 90% of the community won’t participate (they just observe or read), 9% will occasionally participate, and 1% will participate a lot.

Here’s one way to visualize the open community:

I’m sure there are other ways to break it down, but this makes the most sense to me at the moment.

  1. Goverati: these are government employees, folks from related agencies, non-profits, etc.
  2. Creative Professionals: these are people such as myself, developers, designers, etc.
  3. Business: for-profit organizations.
  4. Citizens: ultimately, the beneficiaries of all this open government stuff!

Of course, this picture is somewhat misleading, because all goverati, creative professionals, and business folks are also citizens, but let’s set that aside for now. I think the goverati and some creative professionals fall into the 1% category, the rest of the creative professionals and business fall into the 9% category, and citizens account for the 90% category.

The 90-9-1 pattern can be seen in action all over the web, perhaps most notably on Wikipedia. A tiny percentage of Wikipedia’s user base is responsible for the vast majority of all content produced. I think we can do better with open data/open government, however. Through applications, interactive visualizations, and the other interesting things that the goverati, creative professionals, and businesses build, I think more and more citizens will move from the 90% category to the 9% category.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that considering how the average citizen benefits from open data is important, but we shouldn’t let that hold us back from making progress at this point. We need to empower businesses and creative professionals to build things that the average citizen will ultimately benefit from. As we do that, there’s an opportunity to educate citizens if they want to be educated!

There’s only a few hours left to register for the event. Hope to see you there!

What would make you attend the Open Data event on March 6?

As you might have seen on Twitter, the City of Edmonton is planning another open data event for Saturday, March 6, 2010 at City Hall. If you haven’t already, block that day off in your calendar! It’ll be a great opportunity to connect with others who are interested in open data and open government, as well as a chance to provide feedback to the City on its data catalogue and plans for the future.

And who knows, if we’re lucky, there might even be some new data to play with! For more information on the data catalogue, which launched last month, click here.

The details for the event will go up on the website soon I’m sure, but first we need to have a better idea of what everyone wants to get out of the event. Here are some ideas:

  • An unconference, followed by a hack night. Maybe a keynote to kick things off, then time for unconference-style discussions about open data and open government. The hack night could take a variety of forms, and the discussions could be wide-ranging.
  • Discussing how to frame open data in terms of citizen benefit might a potential topic. Why would my parents or grandparents be interested in open data?
  • One idea for the hack night is to get some developers together to try to improve the tooling around OGDI. This might be writing custom formatters (CSV, plist, etc) or perhaps something else. All of this would be contributed to the community.
  • Another idea is to hold a competition – what can you build in just one evening?!
  • Or a twist on that, a competition where teams produce mockups & ideas, not necessarily a working app.
  • Or the hack night could be as simple as a walk-through of how to use the open data catalogue, etc. Or maybe it’s a longer “hack day”.

What do you think? What would make you attend the open data event on March 6? Either leave a comment below, or email opendata@edmonton.ca with your suggestions.

It would be great to have representatives from a variety of organizations too, not just the City and developers. If you’re at all interested in open data or open government, please join us. Hope to see you there!

Open Data comes to Edmonton

Today I’m excited to share the news that Open Data has arrived in Edmonton! In a presentation to City Council this afternoon, Edmonton CIO Chris Moore will describe what the City has accomplished thus far and will outline some of the things we can look forward to over the next six months (I’ll update here after the presentation with any new information). This morning, he announced the initial release of data.edmonton.ca, the City of Edmonton’s open data catalogue. Starting immediately, developers can access 12 different data sets, including the locations of City parks, locations of historical buildings, and a list of planned road closures.

PDF You can download the report to Executive Committee here in PDF.

The report was created in an open fashion – the information inside was provided by 39 contributors who had access to a shared document on Google Docs.

Data Catalogue

The data catalogue is currently in the “community preview” phase, which basically means that the City of Edmonton may make breaking changes. Critically, the data available in the catalogue is licensed under very friendly terms:

“The City of Edmonton (the City) now grants you a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive licence to use, modify, and distribute the datasets in all current and future media and formats for any lawful purpose.”

Developers access the data in the catalogue using the APIs. This might seem a little cumbersome at first, but it actually means you can programmatically traverse and download the entire catalogue! Developers can also run simple queries and view preview data on each data set page.

The catalogue features a prominent “feedback” link on every page, so check it out and let the City know how to make it better.

OGDI

The City of Edmonton’s data catalogue is built on Microsoft’s Open Government Data Initiative (OGDI) platform. OGDI is an open source project that makes it easy for governments to publish data on the web. The City of Edmonton, which is the first major government agency in Canada North America to use OGDI, will be contributing enhancements back to the project. OGDI is built atop the Windows Azure platform, and exposes a REST interface for developers. By default it supports the OData, JSON, and KML formats. Developers can access ODGI using their technology of choice, and C#, Java, and PHP developers can make use of the toolkits provided by Microsoft.

History of Open Data in Edmonton

We have been talking about open data for roughly a year now (and probably even longer). On February 18, 2009, Edmonton Transit officially launched Google Transit trip planning, which made use of a GTFS feed provided by ETS. At TransitCamp Edmonton on May 30, 2009, that data was made available to local developers. I led a discussion about open data a couple of weeks later at BarCampEdmonton2, on June 13, 2009. Councillor Don Iveson submitted a formal inquiry on open data to City administration on October 14, 2009. A few days later, the community talked again about open data at ChangeCamp Edmonton on October 17, 2009, focusing on Councillor Iveson’s inquiry. That event led to the creation of the #yegdata hashtag, a UserVoice site to identify potential data sets, and a number of smaller follow-up events. It also prompted Chris Moore to open up access to the creation of his report. On November 23, 2009 the City of Edmonton hosted an Open Data Workshop at City Hall that was attended by about 45 people.

What’s next?

First and foremost, developers need to start using the data! There will also be opportunities to provide feedback on the catalogue, to help prioritize new data sets, and to get involved with crafting the City strategy. Here’s the Program Plan for the City’s Open Data Initiative:

  • January 13, 2010: Initial release of City of Edmonton data catalogue
  • January 2010: Sessions with utility & organizational partners to obtain more data
  • February 2010: Public Involvement Plan
  • February – April 2010: Official data catalogue release, application competition!
  • March – April 2010: Development & approval of open data strategy for the City of Edmonton
  • May 2010: Open Data Administrative Directive, approved by City Manager
  • May – June 2010: Open Data Road Show, to communicate the strategy

In Vancouver, the policy came first and the data catalogue came second. In Edmonton we’re doing the reverse. We end up with the same result though: by the spring we’ll have a data catalogue in use by developers, and an official policy and strategy for open data in the future. This is fantastic news for all Edmontonians!

Congratulations & Thanks

Congrats and thanks to: Chris Moore for providing the leadership necessary at the City of Edmonton for all of this to become a reality; James Rugge-Price and Devin Serink, for organizing the workshop in November, for doing most of the behind-the-scenes work, and for always keeping the discussion alive and interesting; Jacob Modayil, Stephen Gordon, Jason Darrah, and Gordon Martin for supporting this initiative from the beginning, and for bringing valuable experience and leadership to the table; Don Iveson, for recognizing the positive role that open data will play in building a better a Edmonton; all of the members of the community who have contributed ideas and helped to spread the word about open data; all of the other City of Edmonton employees who have supported open data in Edmonton. And finally, thanks to Vancouver, Toronto, and everyone else who came before us for leading the charge.

Enough reading – go build something amazing!

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!