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Below is and excerpt from a blogpost on the Programmable City website.  I work there now, and post quite a bit of open data, big data, data infrastructure posts there.  Most do not include any CanCon so I do not always put them here.  The Open Government Partnership is big for the Federal Government in Canada, and the OGP Independant Reporting Mechanism report by the Independant Reviewer Dr. Mary Francoli, was not particularly kind to our Action Plan, and rightly so.  The OGP is however not that big a deal on the ground or with civil society in Canada.  It is however really important elsewhere, in Ireland for example, the EU and the OGP are leveraged as a way to bring and promote progressive practices, regulation, laws, and so on.  In developing countries, it is a way for civil society organizations to have a voice and meet officials they would otherwise not get to interact with at home, and again have a transnational organization promote change.

I will try and post here more often!  Took me time to adjust to my new home.  Rest assured though, that I have not forgotten you nor do I not pay attention to the data shenanigans ongoing in Canada!


I attended the European Regional Meeting of the Open Government Partnership at the Dublin Castle Conference Centre in May of this year.  The meeting was a place for performance and evaluation wonks to show their wares, especially at the following sessions: Open Government Standards and Indicators for Measuring Progress, The EU’s Role in Promoting Transparency and Accountability and Engagement with the OGP, and Open Contracting: Towards a New Global Norm.  I did not attend the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) sessions, but having read the IRM report for Canada, I know that it too is an emerging performance evaluation indicator space, which is affirmed by a cursory examination of the IRMs two major databases.  The most promising, yet the most disappointing session was the Economic Impact of Open Data session.  This is unfortunate as there are now a number of models by which the values of sharing, disseminating and curating data have been measured.  It would have been great to have heard either a critical analysis or a review of the newly released Ordinance Survey of Ireland report, Assessment of the Economic Value of the Geospatial Information Industry in Ireland, the many economic impact models listed here in the World Bank Toolkit, or the often cited McKinsey Global Institute Open data: Unlocking innovation and performance with liquid information report.  Oh Well!

While there I was struck by the number of times maps were displayed.  The mapping of public policy issues related to openness seems to have become a normalized communication method to show how countries fare according to a number of indicators that aim to measure how transparent, prone to corruption, engagemed civil society is, or how open in terms of data, open in terms of information, and open in terms of government nation states are.

What the maps show is how jurisdictionally bound up policy, law and regulatory matters concerning data are.  The maps reveal how techno-political processes are sociospatial practices and how these sociospatial matters are delineated by territorial boundaries.  What is less obvious, are the narratives about how the particularities of the spatial relations within these territories shape how the same policies, laws and regulation are differentially enacted.

Below are 10 world maps which depict a wide range of indicators and sub-indicators, indices, scorecards, and standards.  Some simply show if a country is a member of an institution or is a signatory to an international agreement.  Most are interactive except for one, they all provide links to reports and methodologies, some more extensive than others.  Some of the maps are a call to action; others are created to solicit input from the crowd, while most are created to demonstrate how countries fare against each other according to their schemes.  One map is a discovery map to a large number of indicators found in an indicator portal while another shows the breadth of civil society participation.  These maps are created in a variety of customized systems while three rely on third party platforms such as Google Maps or Open Street Maps.  They are published by a variety of organizations such as transnational institutions, well resourced think tanks or civil society organizations.

We do not know the impact these maps have on the minds of the decision makers for whom they are aimed, but I do know that these are often shown as backdrops to discussions at international meetings such as the OGP to make a point about who is and is not in an open and transparent club.  They are therefore political tools, used to do discursive work.  They do not simply represent the open data landscape, but actively help (re)produce it.  As such, they demand further scrutiny as to the data assemblage surrounding them (amalgams of systems of thought, forms of knowledge, finance, political economies, governmentalities and legalities, materialities and infrastructures, practices, organisations and institutions, subjectivities and communities, places, and marketplaces), the instrumental rationality underpinning them, and the power/knowledge exercised through them.

This is work that we are presently conducting on the Programmable City project, which will  complement a critical study concerning city data, indicators, benchmarking and dashboards, and we’ll return to them in future blog posts.

1.       The Transparency International Corruption by Country / Territory Map

Users land on a blank blue world map of countries delineated by a thick white line, from which they select a country of interest.  Once selected a series of indicators and indices such as the ‘Corruption measurement tools’, ‘Measuring transparency’ and ‘Other governance and development indicators’ appear.  These are measured according rankings to a given n, scored as a percentage and whether or not the country is a signatory to a convention and if it is enforced.  The numbers are derived from national statistics and surveys.  The indicators are:

  • Corruption Perceptions Index (2013), Transparency International
  • Control of Corruption (2010), World Bank dimension of Worldwide Governance Indicators
  • The Bribe Payer’s Index (2011), Transparency International
  • Global Corruption Barometer (2013), Transparency International
  • OECD Anti-Bribery Convention (2011)
  • Financial Secrecy Index (2011), Tax Justice Network
  • Open Budget Index (2010), International Budget Partnership
  • Global Competitiveness Index (2012-2013), World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index
  • Judicial Independence (2011-2012), World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index
  • Human Development Index (2011), United Nations
  • Rule of Law (2010), World Bank dimension of Worldwide Governance Indicators
  • Press Freedom Index (2011-2012) Reporters Without Borders
  • Voice & Accountability (2010), World Bank dimension of Worldwide Governance Indicators

By clicking on the question mark beside the indicators, a pop up window with some basic metadata appears. The window describes what is being measured and points to its source.

The page includes links to related reports, and a comments section where numerous and colourful opinions are provided!


View the rest at Programmable City.

A member of the list, Ted Strauss, was perplexed about  a Canada Post data point frequently reported in the media!  It has oftern been repeated that “2/3rd of Canadians already don’t receive home delivery” which seemingly justifies the cancellation of mail delivery to the doors of Canadians.  In a sense this is manufacturing concent for the cancellation! Another member of the list, Jean-Noe Landry pointed us to the following ‘unbiased’ report  by the Conference Board of Canada: The Future of Postal Service in Canada. On page 3 of that report, Ted found the following table:


Here is what it reveals:
  • 40% get mail to their door.
  • 20% get mail in the lobby of their building.
  • 5% get mail at the end of their driveway.
  • That’s a subtotal of 65% that most sane people would define as “to their door”.
  • 29% get mail at a group mailbox in the neighbourhood.
  • 5% get mail at the post office.
Accroding to this data, two thirds of Canadians actually DO get mail delivered to their domicile, even if said mail is not directly touching their front door.

Ted was good enough to also share several examples where this two thirds figure has been cited.  While a complicated issue, the focus on this one number is helpful.

“Over the next five years, the one third of Canadian households that receive their mail at their door will be converted to community mailbox delivery. This change will provide significant savings to Canada Post and will have no impact on the two thirds of Canadian households that already receive their mail and parcels through community mailboxes, grouped or lobby mailboxes or rural mailboxes.”

Canadians are being deceived, and once again the devil is in the details of the data!

UPDATE: Another member of the list, Karl Dubost went further.  Karl elicited a to do list of follow up questions that I parphrase as follows:

  1. These data were collected by Genesis Public Opinion Research Inc.
  2. What is the sample size?
  3. What regions did they sample from?
  4. Did they sample secondary households (i.e., cottages and so on)
  5. What are the stats by different areas across Canada with the labeling and the density of the area?

You can follow the discussion on the list, by all means join, or look into the stream of the discussion archived here.


Here we go again!

The Conference Board of Canada, well, they just don’t seem to get this unbiased reporting thing straight. For instance, a member of their board, Deepak Chopra who is the President and Chief Executive Officer Canada Post Corporation, well, need I say more? How does one produce an independent unbiased think tank report, when… This is not the Conference board of Canada’s first little oopsy, on this front, recall the The Conference Board of Canada’s Deceptive, Plagiarized Digital Economy Report, as meticulously deconstructed by Michael Geist.

The report was downloaded and reposted in slideshare for posterity’s sake. Should you wish your own copy, by all means go to the Conference Board of Canada’s website and download: The Future of the Postal Service in Canada. We all want informed decision making, but really?

I also screen captured the list of the Conference Board’s board members and composed the following png. I captured these images from the following link, today, 16 Dec. 2013, I recommend you do the same before this too disappears from the record!


Thank you friends on the list for pointing me to these!

Voici le rapport en Francais, qui est disponible ici du Conference Board of Canada.

This GeoConnections webinar discussed the results of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Funded Partnership Development Grant entitled Mapping the Legal and Policy Boundaries of Digital Cartography led by Dr. R. Fraser Taylor of the Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre (GCRC), Carleton University, and Dr. Teresa Scassa of the Faculty of Law, Centre of Law, Technology and Culture (CLTS) at the University of Ottawa, including the Canadian Internet Public Policy Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) and GeoConnections.

The issues presented were:

  • Traditional Knowledge (TK) and cybercartography;
  • The complexities of Intellectual Property rights and TK;
  • Challenges and possible solutions with regard to Western law and TK;
  • The role of collaborative relationships in cybercartography in the North.

(182 particiants, from all provinces and territories including Malawi, Italy, USA, New Zealand and the UK)

Ce webinaire de GéoConnexions a présenté les résultats d’une subvention de développement, en partenariat avec le Conseil de recherches en sciences humaines (CRSH) : « Mapping the Legal and Policy Boundaries of Digital Cartography », dirigée par Dr. R. Fraser Taylor du Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre (GCRC) de l’Université de Carleton, et Dr. Teresa Scassa, du Centre de recherche en droit, technologie et société, de la faculté de droit de l’Université d’Ottawa, en collaboration avec la Clinique d’intérêt public et de politique d’internet du Canada (CIPPIC) et GéoConnexions.

Vous apprendrez davantage sur les sujets suivants :

  • Le savoir traditionnel et la cybercartographie;
  • Les complexités de la propriété intellectuelle et le savoir traditionnel;
  • Les défis et les solutions possibles en matière de droit occidental et de savoir traditionnel;
  • Le rôle des collaborations en cybercartographie dans les régions nordiques.

(37 participans, Territoires du nord ouest, Colombie Britanique, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec et Terre neuve aussi Belgique, Danemark, Etats-unies et Royaumes unies)

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

Guest Blog post by Mark Weiler:

Thirty-years ago, on July 7th, 1982, the Parliament of Canada gave Royal Assent to the Access to Information Act, which became Canada’s first freedom of information legislation.

The Access to Information Act is important for Canadian society because it is through this legislation that the Parliament of Canada, the highest authority in the country, grants Canadians permission to access information held by approximately 250 departments of the federal governments, overruling lower authorities within government who might think otherwise.

With Royal Assent, a transformation began that turned most departments in the federal government into something like public libraries, or perhaps public archives. The transformation would reach a milestone on July 1st 1983 when the Access to Information Act became enforced.

However, in the thirty years since Royal Assent something of a betrayal has occurred. When given a public platform, FOI users, such as the media, often perpetuate narratives premised on the message that “the Access to Information Act is broken.” While this might get public attention and bolster a worthy goal of holding government more accountable for failures to properly implement the Access to Information Act, perpetuating this message also betrays the broader Canadian public.

Such a message is a betrayal because it gives the impression that there’s no point in using the Access to Information Act; it is a discouraging message. But to say the “Access to Information Act is broken” is a bit like pronouncing the public library “broken” because some people are having a problem accessing materials on the 7th floor while these and other FOI patrons are successfully accessing materials on every other floor in the library.

Yes, those materials on the 7th floor are important; and yes it’s a serious problem if politicians or government officials are unlawfully withholding them. But it’s misleading to give people the impression that the “public library” is shut down.

The reality is the Access to Information Act works for many people. In 2010-2011, materials were “checked out” almost 42,000 times from approximately 250 federal departments. If the Access to Information Act was broken, then this statistic should be part of a downward trend. But in the last ten years, the number of “check outs” has increased year by year.

We therefore have reason to believe that the Access to Information Act, grounded in Parliament’s decree that every Canadian “has a right to and shall, on request, be given access to any record under the control of a government institution”, is working even though it could do better in some circumstances.

To regain faith in how government department’s live up to Parliament’s decree, it is worthwhile to look at what people and organizations have been “checking out” of this new brand of public information repositories. The federal government has adopted a policy of posting “summaries of completed ATI requests” on almost 140 departmental websites, so it’s easy to get a sense of how people are benefiting from the permission granted to them by Parliament thirty years ago. Links to these departmental webpages can be found here.

Over the weekend I had the privilege of participating in the Journée de l’accessibilité de Montréal accessible co-organized by Catherine Roy of RAPLIQ (Group for an inclusive Québec) and Jean-Noé Landry of Montréal Ouvert.

This was an extremely well organized event.  A week before shop keepers were advised by way of posters and handouts that a survey in their neighbourhood was going to be conducted.  People pre-registered which allowed for the creation of teams.  At noon on June 30th we gathered in an accessible square where we received instructions, picked up water supplies and met our team members.  There were 9 teams of 3 or 4 members each, equipped with a list of addresses and the name of establishments on Saint-Hubert street in Montreal.  It is a lovely street in the north of Montreal close to the Jean-Talon market.  Most importantly, the sidewalks are covered which makes this an ideal shopping space in the winter for people in wheelchairs.  We all had a clip board, blank survey sheets, annex survey sheets to assess restaurant washrooms, and a pen.  All teams comprised a person with disabilities, either visually or mobility impaired.  My team included Pierre Lemay, Xavier, and a city Councillor.

The process was to go to shops, boutiques, hair & nail salons and restaurants to evaluate the accessibility of: entrances, doors, the interior passage ways between wares, change rooms, washrooms, interact machines, the size of price tags and the conviviality of shop keepers.  We were well received by the shop keepers and it became an educational moment for able bodied data collectors who most often had to leave a member of their team at the door as they could not enter and for shop keepers who realized that a doorbell could make a world of difference to people in wheelchairs who would otherwise not be able to make a purchase.  Getting an ice cream cone on a hot day was a challenge.

At the end of the day, the organizers arranged for all to meet at an outdoor patio to drink a free beer provided by the Montréal Ouvert crew. This was a time to verify gathered data, recommend survey adjustments, and exchange experiences.  The collected data will later be entered into a database and then mapped.

The first prototype of this project was created on Feb. 25, 2012 as part of a Hacking for Health event and this is their first map.

That team won the Hacking for Health contest and were awarded 400$, and some of those proceeds were used to purchase the 1st beer on Saturday.  I look forward to seeing the maps, hearing about how the results will be analyzed and then disseminated.  It was a great way for me to spend a Canada Day weekend with friends in Montreal and doing some citizenship.

Finally, this was a great way to match up disability activists and advocates, citizens at large, open data app developers, folks from Open Street Map, and public officials.  It was a day to hack space in an inclusive and low tek way.  The digital tek will come afterwards.  We also got a glimpse of the material effects of spaces produced from an able bodied geographical imagination.  I got closer to understanding what an inaccessible city is, and how we spatially segregate citizens with the built environment and this participatory mapping and data collection event was a great way for a group of people to collectively re-imagine the city and by doing so changing space.

Ottawa code{4}lib, June 13

Coders for Libraries, code{4}lib looks really interesting! 


  • Wednesday June 13th, 5pm


  • The Exchange Pub, 50 Rideau Street (entrance inside the Rideau Centre).  The reservation is under “Warren / code4lib” and the reserved room is downstairs.


  1. recap of the code4lib North unconference in Windsor
  2. lightning talks (about 5 minutes each).
  3. social gathering


  • Developers from the Ottawa Public Library will give a preview of the API to their BiblioCommons catalogue. The API will be
    publicly available this fall.
  • William Wueppelmann will talk about and how they host and manage their huge digital collection and efforts to achieve certification as a Trusted Digital Repository (TDR) (i.e. a digital archive).
  • Mary Beth Baker will talk about the local tech scene in Ottawa and the potential for collaboration.

Anyone who wants to demo what they’re working on or talk about something  related to libraries and technology is encouraged to take the floor. An HDTV with an HDMI input is available

Please see the code4lib North wiki page for the most up-to-date information about this meetup.

If possible, please send an RSVP to if you wish to attend and/or present a lightning talk.

See you at the meetup!

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.


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.

Creative Commons Salon: Open Research Data

The Creative Law Society and CIPPIC hosted a Creative Commons Salon on the topic of Open Data.  I was invited to represent the Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre and speak about research data.


Most university based research is publicly funded and researchers use government data in their work, the data derived from the research of others, and also produce data as part of the research process.  The Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre (GCRC) at Carleton University does this and also adheres to the principle that publicly funded research results should be created in such a way that they can be re-disseminated back to the public.  I will therefore discuss how the GCRC collaboratively collects, uses, maps and re-disseminates its data and will highlight some of the open data issues it encounters while doing so.  Also, it will be argued that even though the GCRC adheres to access principles, a lack of a national digital data archive and data preservation and management support from granting councils impedes the GCRC and others from sharing their data more broadly while open data strategies have yet to take research data into consideration.  Most notably, Canada does not have a research data archive, preservation policy nor a network of university based data repositories.

I gave a similar talk on March 21s, 2012 the same week at Ottawa University, however the focus in that case was librarians in becoming and faculty at the School of Information Studies.  That presentation is here.


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