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I was just awarded a small but not insignificant award as part of the Carleton University COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Grants. Below is a description of what I will be up to, along with some great students and expert advisors.  I will share everyone’s names later.  Results of the work will be published here as it becomes available!  Stay tuned. Also, let me know if you want to contribute in any way! Tracey dot Lauriault at Carleton dot CA

Research Summary

There is much official COVID-19 data reporting by federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous Communities. As the pandemic evolves, and more information comes to light, there is a call to add data attributes about Indigenous, Black and Racialized groups and of the affected labour force, and to report where cases predominate. The pandemic also revealed that foundational datasets are missing, such as a national list of elder care homes, maps of local health regions and data about the digital divide. This project will embrace technological citizenship, adopt a critical data studies theoretical framework and a data humanitarian approach to rapidly assess data shortfalls, identify standards, and support the building of infrastructure. This involves training students, conducting rapid response research, developing a network of experts, learning by doing and a transdisciplinary team of peer reviewers to assess results. The knowledge will be mobilized in open access blog posts, infographics, policy briefs and scholarly publications.

Research challenge:

Official COVID-19 public heath reports by Federal, Provincial, and Territorial (F/P/T) and First Nation Communities are uneven and there are calls to improve them ( 1 CBC News, Toronto Star). Asymmetries can be attributed to dynamically evolving challenges associated with the pandemic, such as working while practicing social distancing; jurisdictional divisions of power in terms of health delivery; and responding to a humanitarian crisis, where resources are stretched and infrastructures are splintered (i.e. digital divide, nursing home conditions).

The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) developed a rights-based approach to the management of data and technologies during crisis situations which includes the right to: be informed, protection, privacy and security, data agency and rectification and redress (2). These apply to contact tracing (3 ITWorld, Scassa) and to equity groups calling for demographic data (1). Other have conducted rapid response data reporting, for example after the Haiti Earthquake volunteers developed real-time crowdsourcing data collection systems to support humanitarian responders (4 Meier) and WeRobotics mobilizes local drone expertise to objectively assess proposed pandemic response technologies (5 WeRobotics).

This research will apply a critical data studies (CDS) theoretical framework (6 Kitchin & Lauriault), the principles of the HHI and, practice technological citizenship (7 Feenbert) to the study of the Canadian COVID-19 data response. Lauriault will leverage her expertise and Canadian and international network of open data, open government, civic technology experts in government, civil society, and Indigenous Communities (see CV) as seen in the policy briefs published on DataLibre.ca (8) to rapidly assess and support COVID-19 data management and reporting.

The objective is to carry out the following activities:

  1. Compare official COVID-19 public health data reports to identify gaps and best practices (9 Lauriault & Shields).
  2. Identify and support the building of framework datasets to standardize reporting (10 Lauriault).
  3. Analyze data standards and protocols to support data management, interoperability and cross-jurisdictional reporting (11 GeoConnections).
  4. Publish case-studies, resources, an archives of official reporting, and a glossary and
  5. Rapidly conduct expert analysis, peer review, knowledge mobilization and provide evidence-based recommendations to improve data reporting.

The rationale for this research is as follows:

  1. Official COVID-19 public health data are inconsistently reported, impeding comparability, and the ability to assess impact and target actions. Also, predictions missed seniors’ homes, precarious labour, and Indigenous communities and social determinants (12 Global News, NCCDH), resulting in an increase in cases and deaths. Currently job classifications and Indigenous, Black, and Racialized people classifications (13 CTV News) remain absent. This research will create a corpus of F/P/T and Indigenous Communities’ official reports, compare results, identify gaps.
  2. Framework data are standard information infrastructures upon which other analysis can consistently be done (14 Toronto Star). When this is lacking analysis is impeded, for example there is no national reporting by health region since no national framework dataset exists (15 Lauriault), and mitigating the digital divide is thwarted with a lack of broadband maps (16 Potter & Lauriault et al.). Other missing national datasets include senior care facilities, homeless shelters, precarious labour, and Indigenous Communities (17 Gaetz et al.). Needed framework datasets will be identified and if necessary coordinate their building (18 SPCOStatCan LODE), advocacy for the opening of public datasets such as corporate registries may be carried out (19 Fed. Registry,  Open Corporate, Open Contracting), and experts from public health , social planning, and Indigenous Communities will help identify localized frameworks.
  3. Consistent COVID-19 reporting requires an interoperable infrastructure which builds upon standards developed through consensus processes (20 CIHI, PHAC). Current uneven reporting may be attributed to a lack of standards adoption and formalization in terms of data flows. This research will develop a repository of standards and protocols and share these with decision-makers to improve interoperability (i.e. Data Standards for the Identification and Monitoring of Systemic Racism (21 ON Govt) and FNIGC OCAP Principles (22 FNIGC)).
  4. Rapidly mobilizing knowledge is important to improve reporting and manage data, and to build a crisis data reporting infrastructure for the future. This project will compile, and archive information, rapidly assess and peer review results with experts and report results on DataLibre.ca and other websites, will produce infographics and policy briefs, deliver online webinars, and help administrators and Indigenous Communities improve their data and technology policies.

A CDS framework recognizes that data have social and material shaping qualities and that they are never politically neutral while also being inseparable from the people and institutions who create them including practices, techniques, and infrastructures. This involves a team of data, technology, legal, social and health, and Indigenous experts to rapidly assess official COVID-19 data assemblages and to act as technological citizens by applying knowledge in real time and mobilize results to mitigate the data shortfalls witnessed during this crisis and support decision makers to respond with a data humanitarian and rights-based approach for now and to better respond in the future.

Expected Impact:

The target audience for this rapid response data and technology reporting is F/P/T public officials and Indigenous Community Leaders who manage public health, socio-economic, statistical and official record data flows; and civil society actors and the public involved in open data, open government and open contracting, transparency and accountability. This includes C-class executives, chief technology, information data, and digital officers.

The outcome of this research is to standardize and improve humanitarian crisis data management and data reporting in the short term to ensure consistent reporting, and in the long term establish standardized data workflows and operationalize data infrastructures for this pandemic in preparation for the next.

The timing to compile, inventory and build an open access archives of official data reporting is now as the fractures in the system have become apparent in real-time and have had negative consequences. It is important to monitor the response as it evolves so as to be able to improve it while our collective institutional memory is fresh and to have the evidence available as a reminder for if and when we forget, but also to build more robust systems.

The results of this research will be continuously reported and made openly accessible as it becomes available and will lead to the formation of a new research team.

Canada has signed on to the G8 Open Data Charter. The official UK G8 Presidency site includes the Charter and its associated technical Annex.  This Charter falls under one of this year’s G8 agenda items, which is to promote greater transparency. The main points of the charter are:

  1. Principle 1: Open Data by Default
  2. Principle 2: Quality and Quantity
  3. Principle 3: Usable by All
  4. Principle 4: Releasing Data for Improved Governance
  5. Principle 5: Releasing Data for Innovation

The G8 countries have committed to the following 3 actions:

  • Action 1: G8 National Action Plans
  • Action 2: Release of high value data (List is pasted below)
  • Action 3: Metadata mapping

These are all good things.  The devil will be in the details and implementation in Canada will depend on collaboration and interoperability between provinces, territories, cities and municipalities and the federal governments.  It will be interesting to see how crown corporations such as Canada Post, Canada Housing and Mortgage and Corporation (CMHC), CBC/Radio Canada and others fare.  At the moment, it there is uncertain if these are to follow the same rules.

The list of high value data that should be released somewhat overlap with information collected by the Open Knowledge Foundation Open Data Census.  Note the postal code data requested under geospatial, this is a big ask for Canada especially in light of the Geocoder copryright lawsuit instigated by Canada Post. Digital Copyright Canada has also done some good work on the postal code file.

It will be very interesting to see if greater access to data will mean an increase in evidenced based policy making and greater participatory democracy. The government will need to be more receptive to citizen input, and so far, if the census and issues around science are any indication, this does not look promising.  Releasing data is one thing, acting on the evidence and having the mechanisms in place and willingness to hear from citizens is another.

Data Category (alphabetical order) Example datasets
Companies Company/business register
Crime and Justice Crime statistics, safety
Earth observation Meteorological/weather, agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting
Education List of schools; performance of schools, digital skills
Energy and Environment Pollution levels, energy consumption
Finance and contracts Transaction spend, contracts let, call for tender, future tenders, local budget, national budget (planned and spent)
Geospatial Topography, postcodes, national maps, local maps
Global Development Aid, food security, extractives, land
Government Accountability and Democracy Government contact points, election results, legislation and statutes, salaries (pay scales), hospitality/gifts
Health Prescription data, performance data
Science and Research Genome data, research and educational activity, experiment results
Statistics National Statistics, Census, infrastructure, wealth, skills
Social mobility and welfare Housing, health insurance and unemployment benefits
Transport and Infrastructure Public transport timetables, access points broadband penetration

Data, Infrastructures and Geographical Imaginations

I just successfully defended my PhD dissertation in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University.  It provided me with tremendous insight into the historical evolution of data classification systems, how these influence society, construct spaces and in turn are shaped by and shape our geographical imaginations.  By examining classifications it is almost inevitable that one must also look into data infrastructures which normalize so many of our practices (e.g., GoogleMaps, geospatial data infrastructures).

I look forward to being away from this material for a little while, but I will most definitely come back to it, as I think it has some important implications for open data.  Currently Canada’s geographical imaginations, from a data perspective, are primarily governmental, however, with the advent of open data, shared infrastructures, interoperability, open specifications, open source and demands for greater government transparency, I believe, we will see the co-construction of a new imagined/modeled Canada.

In the grand scheme of things, Open data and open government are pretty new movements, but if the momentum continues, and if we become better deliberators and increasingly numerate, I think we will begin to see a real citizen/government evidence based decision making culture.  And I really look forward to that.

Until then, below is my abstract and the defence presentation if you care to read/look at it.  I am not entirely sure what is next, but I do have the good fortune  of being a post doctoral fellow at the Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre (GCRC) working on the SSHRC Partnership Project entitled : Mapping the Legal and Policy Boundaries of Digital Cartography with Centre for Law Technology and Society, Natural Resources Canada and the great folks at the Canadian Internet Public Policy Internet Clinic (CIPPIC).  I will also be doing some work on the preservation of scientific data, even if we do have have a functional national archive.

ABSTRACT:

The central argument of this dissertation is that Canadian reality is conditioned by government data and their related infrastructures.  Specifically, that Canadian geographical imaginations are strongly influenced by the Atlas of Canada and the Census of Canada.  Both are long standing government institutions that inform government decision-making, and are normally considered to be objective and politically neutral.  It is argued that they may also not be entirely politically neutral even though they may not be influenced by partisan politics, because social, technical and scientific institutions nuance objectivity.  These institutions or infrastructures recede into the background of government operations, and although invisible, they shape how Canadian geography and society are imagined.  Such geographical imaginations, it is argued, are important because they have real material and social effects.  In particular, this dissertation empirically examines how the Atlas of Canada and the Census of Canada, as knowledge formation objects and as government representations, affect social and material reality and also normalize subjects.  It is also demonstrated that the Ian Hacking dynamic Looping Effect framework of ‘Making Up People’ is not only useful to the human sciences, but is also an effective methodology that geographers can adapt and apply to the study of ‘Making Up Spaces’ and geographical imaginations.  His framework was adapted to the study of the six editions of the Atlas of Canada and the Census of Canada between 1871 and 2011.  Furthermore, it is shown that the framework also helps structure the critical examination of discourse, in this case, Foucauldian gouvernementalité and the biopower of socio-techno-political systems such as a national atlas and census, which are inextricably embedded in a social, technical and scientific milieu.  As objects they both reflect the dominant value system of their society and through daily actions, support the dominance of this value system.  While it is people who produce these objects, the infrastructures that operate in the background have technological momentum that also influence actions.  Based on the work of Bruno Latour, the Atlas and the Canadian census are proven to be inscriptions that are immutable and mobile, and as such, become actors in other settings.  Therefore, the Atlas of Canada and the Census of Canada shape and are shaped by geographical imaginations.

Data and public policy – OECD Social Justice Report

I entered into the discourse on open data to facilitate the production of these types of reports.

Social Justice in the OECD – How Do the Member States Compare?  Sustainable Governance Indicators 2011

I am really interested in public policy issues such as social justice, health inequality and the environment and hope that open data and open government policies will lead to being able to access these types of data, especially at the neighbourhood scales. I hope that apps will open the door to access, but that eventually we will work toward comprehensive access to data for this type analysis and develop new ways to dialogue between citizen and government using data for evidence-based decision-making.

Currently in Canada, it is incredibly difficult to put one of these reports together. The way data are aggregated differ and because one has to try and pry data from multiple federal agencies, multiple agencies in each province and territory and from a number of municipal agencies. Because of staff changes in government offices, contacts are lost and numerous cold calls have to be remade and data renegotiated.

Page 14 of this report shows the model used to create the indices in this OECD report. At a glance there are 29 variables, each consisting between one to 5 data sets suggesting that potentially these data may need to be accessed from more than 50 different public officials at different levels of government, divisions, departments, etc. Then there is the negotiating of use, licenses, costs, aggregation, accuracy, timeliness and formats since no two agencies even within one government department follow the same rule book and in fact, access is often determined by the mood of the public official or what they think the rules are. Doing a time series is even more complex as data are not collected at the same intervals. A follow up report to track trends requires almost the same amount of work since the data gathering process often has to start nearly from scratch. This is a highly inefficient and cost prohibitive process.

To make matters worse, in Canada, we have lost our think tanks and national social policy research organizations who used to do this kind of work as their funding was cut, and of course we have lost the census.

I hope we can think of open data and open government to include apps to get the bus, find a skating rink or remember to take out the garbage, but more importantly, to inform public policy on transit, public health, and the environment. Also, with open data we need the resources to produce information products such as this report. Many things can be crowdsourced, a census and this type of analysis cannot and there is a role for government and non profit organizations to translate the data into meaningful information and then for us to use that knowledge to improve, track and critique or develop new programs to address what the data tell us.

Apps rely on one or two datasets, these reports rely on hundreds. I want the hundreds which requires a broader open data policy in Canada at all levels of government and I would go further to suggest that open data needs to move beyond the institutional boundaries of IT and CIO divisions and into thematic areas, as that is where data for these indicators are produced and owned.

I met Alex at the Cybera Summit at the Banff Centre in October and that is where I was  introduced to the WEHUB. There are many interesting ways to do open data, science and to use the cloud to do so.  I invited Alex to prepare the following guest post about how WEHUB  does it.
********************************

Water and Environmental Hub…aggregating water data from across North America and making it available through an API

by:

Alex Joseph, Executive Director – Water and Environmental Hub 

As anyone searching for water data from multiple sources knows…there isn’t really a Google for water data. 

A search for water data often results in a web page with a phone number to call someone, or an anonymous info request form. The water datasets that are available are often embedded as graphs in .pdf files obscuring the raw data or available in real time but embedded in html code on web pages. In the best cases, raw water data is available in large .zip files where you get the whole dataset or the opposite, you are faced with downloading hundreds of individual observation stations and then try and sew together hundreds of spreadsheet files, hoping that the columns all line up!

It gets even more time consuming and expensive when one tries to find water data that crosses political boundaries. Imagine the effort required to find data on the “Lake Winnipeg Watershed”? A search involves multiple provinces, states, 3 levels of government, multiple departments within those governments etc. etc. with a high probability that each of those datasets is in a different format.

Besides the challenges with access to water data, the few water datasets that are accessible on the web are unlikely to be provided through an API. Thus, those generous web developers that attended the World Bank sponsored Water Hackathons last week likely found that very little water data is available through an API allowing them to build dynamic water apps….

…but this is changing.

The Water and Environmental Hub (WEHUB) project is an open cloud-based web platform that aggregates, federates, and connects water data and information with users looking to search, discover, download, analyze, model and interpret water and environmental-based information. By combining water expertise with an open web development approach and an entrepreneurial foundation, the project hopes to spur economic diversification and benefit both public users and the private sector by improving the access to water data and tools for academia, government, industry, NGOs and the general public.

The WEHUB also enables organizations and users to develop customized applications on top of the WEHUB platform using our (RESTful) API, so that the data can be easily shared, integrated, leveraged, and customized.

The web platform is structured as a three-tiered system with a Client, Server and Database.  Each tier in the system is divided into components that address the catalogue, spatial and non-spatial data, and the social network requirements.  The catalogue acts as the index for the data and allows for easy search, download and upload of the data. The spatial data is shown on the client – as a map – making it easy for the user to visualize the data.  The social network allows for commenting, flagging and sharing of data. The WEHUB employs a Representational State Transfer (REST) software architecture. Open standards (e.g. OGC standards such as WMS, WFS, SOS, WaterML, GroundwaterML) are used whenever practical, efficient and economical to meet the needs of users.

In terms of geographical scope, the project began with Alberta and Western Canadian water data and information, a region to which the partners have relevant expertise and networks. As development successes are achieved, the project has extended across North America, with scalability a key design thrust.

Data are the oxygen of science

Watching this is a great New Years morning activity, and for Sep Kamvar I fell that data and statistics are the new black!  This is worth the 1 hour of your time!  dam, most online TV shows are 42 minutes and you learn way less…I should know :(

Merci Karl!

BBC Four Joy of Stats – Dec. 7

The Joy Of Stats… Coming soon to BBC Four (Tuesday December 7th):
This documentary takes viewers on a rollercoaster ride through the wonderful world of statistics to explore the remarkable power they have to change our understanding of the world, presented by superstar boffin Professor Hans Rosling, whose eye-opening, mind-expanding and funny online lectures have made him an international internet legend.

Open Data also means – Data Preservation

For those of you willing to explore the issues of digital geospatial and cartograpic data preservation a new book has just been released online.  A big challenge to open data is data preservation.  Chapter 2, The Preservation and Archiving of Geospatial Digital Data: Challenges and Opportunities for Cartographers, was co-authored, by Tracey P. Lauriault, Peter L. Pulsifer and D.R. Fraser Taylor covers alot of ground, including a review of geodata portals.  You can read the book online for free!

OpenData & Public Research

Researchers use OpenData to inform their work, and are also producers of data and software that can be re-shared with the public.  In Canada, much university research is supported by public funds and an argument can be made that the results of that research should be accessible to the public.  The research at the Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre will be featured as will community based social policy research in Ottawa.  In Canada some data are accessible, but mostly data are not, and if they are, cost recovery policies and regressive licensing impede their use.  The talk will feature examples where data are open and where opportunities for evidence based decision making are restricted.

OpenAccess Week Speaking Engagements

1. Event: Open Access Week 2010, Carleton University, October 21, Noon to 1PM.

2. Event: Open Access Week, Université d’Ottawa, Apps4Ottawa Showcase, October 21, 5-7PM.

  • Title: OpenData & Public Research
  • Abstract: Researchers use OpenData to inform their work, and are also producers of data and software that can be re-shared to the public.  In Canada, much of university research is supported by public funds and an argument can be made that the results of that research should be accessible to the public.  The research at the Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre will be featured as will community based social policy research in Ottawa.  In Canada some data are accessible, but mostly data are not, and if they are, cost recovery policies and regressive licensing impede their use.  The talk will feature examples where data are open and where opportunities for evidence based decision making are restricted.

3. Event: Statistical Society of Ottawa 8th annual seminar – Our Statistics Community on Monday the 25th of October.

  • Title: The Real Census informs Neighbourhood Research in Canada
  • Abstract: Ms. Tracey P. Lauriault will discuss neighbourhood scale research using Census data.  She will introduce the The Cybercartographic Pilot Atlas of the Risk of Homelessness created at the Geomatics and Cartographic Research and will feature community based research used to inform public policy as part of the Canadian Social Data Strategy (CSDS).  She will feature maps and data about social issues in Canadian cities & metropolitan areas (e.g. Calgary, Toronto, Halton, Sault Ste. Marie, Ottawa, Montreal, & others) and will focus on the importance of local analysis and what the loss of the Long-Form Census could mean to evidence based decision making to communities in Canada’s.

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