July 2007

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Putting Canadian “Piracy” in Perspective, a video from Geist and Albahary is a great way to present an argument. In Geist’s words

over the past year, Canadians have faced a barrage of claims painting Canada as a “piracy haven.” This video – the second in my collaboration with Daniel Albahary – moves beyond the headlines to demonstrate how the claims do not tell the whole story.

The video also uses quite a bit of public and private sector data to support its argument. This to me is what public data are for and this is what democracy looks like – when civil society has access to the data it requires to keep its government accountable, can keep citizens informed and can temper industry desires with public interest!

One of the cultural issues that has become pervasive as of late is the proliferation of policies and decisions being based on assumptions and not on facts, and in the case of the very powerful lobby against Canada on IP in the cultural sector – really biased reports that are not based on facts but on an industry’s desires and self interests. Look for the sources of the data and the methodology in all reports. Even in this great video! Geist and Albahary do a great job in this to show what is being said and repeated (memes) about the cultural industry in Canada and reality.

It is interesting that the video ends with a slide acknowledging the photos used, the music heard, the creators of the video and the license but not all the data sources in the charts! Some of the data references are in some of the bar charts while most statements are referenced with their source at the bottom of the slide. I always look for data references, else how can I go back and verify what was purported!

The data in the charts were:

  • Hollywood Studio Revenue Growth – Data Source unknown
  • Top Hollywood International Markets – Data Source unknown
  • Canadian Music Releases – Statistics Canada
  • Canadian Artist Share of Sales – Canadian Heritage Music Industry Profile
  • Digital Music Download Sales Growth – Data Source unknown
  • Private Copying Revenues 2000-2005 – Data Source unknown
  • RCMP Crime Data – Data Source unknown but assume the RCMP

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NOTE: See the comments of this post, the references to the data, quotes and reports that were not listed in the credits or with the information in the film are now fully described on Michael Geist’s Blog here.

Statistical Data in Schools and Public Libraries

Datalibre.ca received and excellent comment on the DLI post about access to some of the Statistics Canada data in schools and public libraries. Today I am looking at E-STAT online and am quite impressed – but alas I have not yet gone to a public library to check out what is actually there and what I can do. Nor do I know the limitations of CANSIM data. I did however speak on the phone with a fine librarian at the Main Ottawa Public Library this morning and look forward to digging for data later on today or tomorrow.

E-STAT is:

Statistics Canada’s interactive learning tool designed with the needs and interests of the education community in mind. E-STAT offers an enormous warehouse of reliable and timely statistics about Canada and its ever-changing people.

Using approximately 2,600 tables from CANSIM*, track trends in virtually every aspect of the lives of Canadians. Updated once a year during the summer, CANSIM contains more than 36 million time series.

Hundreds of schools across the country and Depository Service Program Libraries make these data accessible if you go in person to access them. You can get access to these data online only if you are registered with one of these institutions.

The E-STAT license on the data are quite restrictive.

The Government of Canada (Statistics Canada) is the owner or authorized licensee of all intellectual property rights (including copyright) in the data product referred to as E-STAT. Statistics Canada grants the educational institution a non-exclusive, non-assignable and non-transferable licence to use the data product subject to the terms below.

The data product supplied under this agreement shall at all times remain under the control of the institution. It may not be sold, rented, leased, lent, sub-licensed or transferred to any other institution or organization, and may not be traded or exchanged for any other product or service. The data product may not be used for the personal or commercial gain of any authorized user, nor to develop or derive for sale any other data product that incorporates or uses any part of this data product.

The data that are made available are Yearly updated Canadian Socio-economic Information Management System (CANSIM) data, the daily updates are sold for commercial purposes. I am also not sure how fine the geography is for E-STAT data, for instance if the data are available by Dissemination Blocks, Dissemination Area or, Census Tract, or Urban Areas (Note the cost associated with these and other maps). These make a difference, since DB is the finest granularity, DA is a larger neighbourhood level while CT covers a larger areas, while UAs are larger still. Each scale is for a different level of analysis and the boundaries if you aggregate any of these do not necessarily line up. Additionally, DB and DA are only for the 2006 Census while CT and UA are for others. I am guessing E-STAT is CT Scale data and larger.

E-STAT also has some census data, agricultural data, aboriginal survey data, some environmental data and health behaviour data for school aged children. Clearly not all the data are available and certainly not the specialized surveys such as business, waste management, household spending surveys, health, the survey of particular sectors etc. The data come with explanations, and teachers and users guides.

Lets see what we can get once I make a visit!

FedSpending.org

Another great American project, Fedspending.org is:

a free, searchable database of federal government spending…. With over $14 trillion in federal spending, this more open and accessible tool for citizens to find out where federal money goes and who gets it is long overdue. We believe this website is a good first step toward providing that access.

The project is run by OBM Watch, a “a nonprofit government watchdog organization located in Washington, DC. Our mission is to promote open government, accountability and citizen participation.” Funded by the very busy Sunlight Foundation.

UN Commons Database

United Nations Common Database (UNCDB) … “provides selected series from numerous specialized international data sources for all available countries and areas.”

Even better:

As of 1 May 2007, use of the Common Database will be FREE OF CHARGE. No subscription will be necessary after that date, and any user can enjoy the full range of data, metadata and various search tools without restriction.

Does anyone know of any exciting applications of these datasets?

Jon Udell: Data as Performance Art

Jon Udell has been writing about public data a fair bit of late (and he’s agreed to do an interview with us, coming sometime soon). In his latest post, he puts into practice an interesting theory, that good data presented in the right way is a kind of performance art. He demonstrates with a recent hobby horse of his, crime data from his hometown of Keene, which he runs through in a screencast with narration.

Jon’s inspiration for this style of presenting data is Hans Rosling, whose past two TED Talks made data sexy for many who never thought they might consider sexy and data in the same universe.

What Rosling and Udell are illustrating is the sort of thing that governments don’t seem to have time or interest in doing: presenting data in a way that average people can grasp. By doing that, our communities will necessarily become much better at making sensible decisions, for instance about how and where to spend money. There is no reason why governments can’t be doing this too … but more importantly, there is no reason why taxayers should not get access to this kind of data. With the data, citizen can find new and innovative ways of displaying and using the data (meaning the government doesn’t have to), which, if one has faith in data, people and democracy, should translate to better decision-making in the community.

I tripped over this yesterday while looking for some arguments for and against cost recovery. The arguments are quite good and comprehensive. If any of you can think of more send them to the civicacces.ca list or leave comments here.

This texte I believe was put together by Jo Walsh and colleagues as they were preparing positions for the INSPIRE Directive that became official May 7, 2007. Public Geo Data put together a great campaign, an online petition, a discussion list and superb material to lobby EUROGI for Free and Open Access to Geo Data. At the time the UK was pushing heavily for the Ordnance Survey‘s extreme cost recovery model for the EU while other European nations were working towards more open and free access models. You can read more about it by going through the archive of their mailing list.

Here is the full text for Why Should Government Spatial Data be Free?

We’re planning to do some email interviews about citizen access to government data and related projects with academics, hackers, web project instigators, statisticians, activists, politicians, bureaucrats, writers and the like.

Our first interview is with Rami Tabello, of IllegalSigns.ca – Tracking Toronto’s Outdoor Advertising Industry, a Toronto-based, grassroots project set up to fight illegal billboards. Says the about:

Our Streets are where civic capital is created. Illegal billboards monetize our civic capital, under no colour of right, by treating citizens as consumers first. Illegal billboards commodify what is unique about our neighbourhoods by turning our Streets into pages of a mass-market magazine, without regard to the law. Join us as we fight to legalize and democratize Toronto’s visual environment. Join us as we fight to Reclaim the Streets.

And here is the interview:

1. What do you think of the state of democracy in Canada?
I donÂ’’t much think about it. I think the British Parliamentary system tends towards stability.

2. What do you think of the state of democracy in Toronto?
The problem in Toronto is not lack of democracy, it’Â’s a public service that doesnÂ’’t work and doesn’t hire the right people.

3. How do you think the mechanisms of democracy can be improved?
I have no idea. David Meslin is working on a project to bring instant runoff voting to Toronto: Whorunsthistown.to.

4. Are you optimistic? Why?
IÂ’’m optimistic because city councilors want to do something about illegal billboards.

5. Why did you start illegalsigns.ca?
More of a challenge than anything. An easy way to make a big difference to the visual environment.

6. What tools do you use in illegalsigns.ca?
Our main tools are freedom of information inquiries. We have been barred from that process. Please see: The City Clerk Tries to Shut Down Our Research Team [ed: well worth a read * see below]. We are currently appealing this to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

7. What has been the public reaction to your project?
Nothing but positive feedback from the public, the media and city councilors.

8. What has been the reaction from the City?
On the other hand, the bureaucracy has reacted negatively, mainly because we are a source of criticism. See above.

9. What other similar projects would you like to see in Toronto or Canada?
WeÂ’’d like to see a site that tracks illegal parking lots. Illegalparkinglots.ca. half the lots in Toronto are illegal.

*Illegalsigns.ca has filed hundreds of freedom of information claims to get the information on hundreds of signs they claim, and indeed have proved to be illegal. The reaction of Toronto’s City Clerk, is to ban them from the process (see review here, and the Clerk’s letter here-pdf). The Clerk claims the requests are “frivolous and/or vexations,” which means the City might not have to respond. Here’s the key summary about dealings with Toronto’s City Clerk:

The Clerk claims: “the high volume of your requests appears to be for the sole purpose of revisiting enforcement policy matters that City enforcement staff have already addressed with you.” In fact, the high volume of our requests is due to the high volume of properties in Toronto that have illegal billboards on them; this high volume was created because the bureaucracy was operating without scrutiny. The Clerk’s decision, if upheld, would shut down that scrutiny.

Indeed.

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