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Article written by: Kit Chokly & Tracey P. Lauriault

The phrase “flatten the curve” has recently come into the vernacular to encourage slowing the spread of COVID-19. The concept comes from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) report (p.18), where the curve renders the daily number of COVID-19 infections on the Y-axis and the day these are counted on X-axis of a line chart. A flatter curve visually depicts when the illness is under control, while a higher peak curve emerges when the health case system becomes overwhelmed and instances of the virus are high. Together we work to “flatten the curve” by following the recommendations of our Chief Medical Officers of Health.

This is not the only visual metaphor used to refer to COVID-19, however; the “second wave” has also been used to describe the spread of COVID-19. This term refers to another peak in the line chart that may appear as restrictions are lifted and cases spike as a result. By visualizing health data, we can see the spread of COVID-19 and set public health goals through the peaks and valleys of a line chart.

In addition to demonstrating a growing public awareness of the pandemic, the popularity of these phrases shows the importance of data visualization in understanding—and thus managing and communicating—the virus. Following this prevalence, many official sources now share live data to track and communicate COVID-19 data. John Hopkins University, for example, rendered COVID-19 datasets into the first global and US dashboards. Health Canada provides an interactive map of Canada featuring case counts and rates. Some city public health departments such as Ottawa Public Health have also launched dashboards to communicate the current status of local COVID-19 cases.

These dashboards get complex information across quickly and include many types of indicators. For instance, as seen below, the City of Ottawa dashboard includes key indicators such as the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalization levels, and other case data. These are depicted in a cumulative curve of confirmed cases, their rate across time, bar charts of cases reported by age, and a pie chart that shows cases by gender. Visualizing these data in a dashboard makes it easy to see patterns and trends.

A screenshot of the city of Ottawa’s COVID-19 dashboard, which effectively condenses complex data on COVID-19 cases and outcomes into bite-sized visualizations (Ottawa Public Health, 2020).

A screenshot of the city of Ottawa’s COVID-19 dashboard, which effectively condenses complex data on COVID-19 cases and outcomes into bite-sized visualizations (Ottawa Public Health, 2020).

While the city and all the other public health agencies across Canada should be lauded for their dashboards, these, like all other demographic reporting systems, suffer from a lack of a nuanced and intersectional approach to collecting and reporting data. For example, this dashboard alongside those just mentioned do not report how COVID-19 affects people of low socio-economic status. They do not include how living in a densely populated area may also influence health outcomes. There is also little to no data on how COVID-19 may disproportionately affect racialized groups such as Indigenous, Black, and other people of colour. And most importantly, they do not demonstrate how all of these variables intersect. As Jamie Bartlett and Nathaniel Tkacz (2017) explain,

“Like all visualisations of data, dashboards necessarily distort the information that they are attempting to present neutrally by defining how a variable is to be understood and by excluding any data which isn’t compatible with this definition” (p. 15).

As Maggie Walter and Chris Andersen (2013) discuss in their book Indigenous Statistics, data dashboards—like all data and technological systems—are more than neutral numerics as they play,

“a powerful role in constituting reality through their underpinning methodologies by virtue of the social, cultural, and racial terrain in which they are conceived, collected, analyzed, and interpreted” (p. 9).

They also emphasize that there is a distinction to be made between groups of people being “statistical creations based on aggregated individual-level data, rather than ‘real world’ concrete groups” (Walter & Andersen, 2013, p.9).

It is not uncommon that dashboards miss these subtleties. We are only just coming to terms with the idea that data are not neutral objects, and that data dashboards are cultural artifacts. As such, they reflect the limitations of the normative values of the institutions that create them, of our health data collection systems, and of this very form of communication.

Overcoming these limitations means that we can improve the information environment of decision makers to target limited resources when and where they are needed most, while not reinforcing nor perpetuating inequality. Making things visible makes them actionable. Doing so also prevents the deep systemic societal problems that have led to such poor health outcomes for some during the pandemic. Below, we consider some ideas on how to re-think data and data dashboards by framing their creation with an intersectional design approach.

What is intersectionality?

Intersectionality is a term conceptualized by Black feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. The concept has earlier roots in Black feminism and builds on the work and struggles of Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Louise Thompson Patterson, and Audre Lorde (to name only a few). Intersectionality refers to the notion that different forms of oppression interact with and multiply each other, demonstrating their inseparability. Health scientists Chandra Ford and Collins Airhihenbuwa (2010) write:

“Intersectionality posits that social categories (e.g., race, gender) and the forms of social stratification that maintain them (e.g., racism, sexism) are interlocking, not discrete” (p. 1396).

These scholars and social justice leaders emphasize that rather than adding these co-occurring categories together in public health research, it is essential that the interactions between categories are also considered (Ford & Airhihenbuwa, 2010). As an example of intersectional public health, Ford and Airhihenbuwa (2010) describe the importance of considering race alongside gender and sexuality when approaching HIV risk behaviours because of the way “racism operates via gendered and sexualized proscriptions” (p. 1394).

How does intersectionality relate to the Tracing COVID-19 Data project?

Epidemiologist Greta Bauer (2014) describes how datasets about public health and marginalized populations tend to only examine a singular axis of oppression, even though intersectional data reporting can help reduce health inequalities.

One of the aims of the Tracing COVID-19 Data project is to identify these asymmetries in COVID-19 data reports, as well as rapidly and effectively mobilizing this knowledge and communicating our findings with decision makers. As demonstrated by the growing use of dashboards in reporting COVID-19 data, data visualization can be a useful communication tool. We thus ask:

How can we communicate COVID-19 data in a way that improves health outcomes for all? How can we use data visualization techniques to communicate intersectional issues effectively?

We aim to provide answers to questions such as these for those responsible for official COVID-19 reporting. Our hope is that our recommendations will lead to an intersectional approach to communicating COVID-19 impacts and health outcomes.

How have people tried to visualize intersectionality already?

Visual metaphors are useful to describe intersectionality. Crenshaw (1989) herself uses the metaphor of the traffic intersection, writing:

“Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in the intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination (p. 149).”

In another metaphor, provided by Black feminist scholar Patricia Hill Collins (1990) is the “matrix of domination”. Here, she uses a multi-level matrix to describe how oppression—and privilege—must be understood through an interlocking structural model (Hill Collins, 1990).

More recently, communications scholars Jenna Abetz and Julia Moore (2019) describe how visual metaphors for intersectionality often focus on centralizing difference and are often conceptualized as linear. They suggest the use of fractals—repeating and irregular geometric patterns—as a metaphor for the scalability and recursion of oppression (Abetz & Moore, 2019).

An example of a von Koch curve fractal from Abetz and Moore’s (2019) article, which they use as a metaphor to explore the scalability and recursion of oppression.

An example of a von Koch curve fractal from Abetz and Moore’s (2019) article, which they use as a metaphor to explore the scalability and recursion of oppression.

The issue with metaphors

While these visual metaphors are extremely useful to conceptualize intersectionality, Bauer (2014) points to the issue with their use in quantitative research. She writes:

“Interestingly, quantitative applications of intersectionality can be obfuscated by the predominance of mathematical-like language in intersectionality theory, though its use there is conceptual rather than strictly mathematical” (Bauer, 2014, p. 12).

While illustrations of traffic intersections, graphic matrices, and fractal patterns can be used to explain intersectionality, they do not easily map onto the visualization of quantitative data in a data dashboard and can actually obscure the meanings of these data. They may, however, be useful instruments to help model which data should be collected and rendered visually.

Feminist Data Visualization

To address this issue, data scientists Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein (2016) suggest applying feminist theory to data visualization. Rather than resign ourselves to the limitations of current dashboards, feminist data visualzation offers the possibility of “challeng[ing] the validity of a variety of binaristic and hierarchical configurations” (D’Ignazio & Klein, 2016, p. 1). This includes non-intersectional data analysis.

D’Ignazio and Klein (2016) thus suggest that data visualization begins with the way data are collected and organized—even before they are visualized.

This means starting with the evidence collected and finding the best way to get the stories they tell across. This could mean enlisting the help of metaphors; however, it is important to find the stories from the data first and then use metaphor to communicate them as effectively as possible.

To find and interpret these data stories, D’Ignazio and Klein (2016) offer six starting principles:

  1. Rethink binaries
  2. Embrace pluralism
  3. Examine Power and Aspire to Empowerment
  4. Consider Context
  5. Legitimize Embodiment and Affect
  6. Make Labor Visible

Finding and using intersectional data

Despite the lack of intersectional data in current COVID-19 dashboards, a number of organizations are already making efforts to find and use intersectional data. The Data Standards for the Identification and Monitoring of Systemic Racism, produced by the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate, not only takes an intersectional approach to the collection of data and data characteristics, but uses it to identify and monitor systemic racism. These ideals align with the Research, Evaluation, Data Collection, and Ethics (REDE) Protocol for Black Populations in Canada Protocol (or the REDE4BlackLives Protocol for short), which also suggests that these data should be part of ongoing conversations in pre-existing communities.

This is not unlike the work of:

The cover of the First Nations Data Governance Strategy, produced by the FNIGC as a response to direction received from First Nations leadership.

The cover of the First Nations Data Governance Strategy, produced by the FNIGC as a response to direction received from First Nations leadership.

A graphic from the Global Indigenous Data Alliance (2019) encouraging the use of CARE principles to encourage Indigenous data sovereignty alongside Wilkinson et al’s (2016) FAIR open data principles.

A graphic from the Global Indigenous Data Alliance (2019) encouraging the use of CARE principles to encourage Indigenous data sovereignty alongside Wilkinson et al’s (2016) FAIR open data principles.

The Tracing COVID-19 Data project is working to bring together some of these datasets as they pertain to COVID-19. For example, with the help of Aidan Battley, we are looking into social models of disability and data such as the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) by the World Health Organization (WHO). These models and data fall well into the intentions of this project, which is to encourage technological citizenship and a rights based approach to data during a crisis. Alongside collecting these data, visualization is key to reach our goals.

But how do we align these principles, protocols, standards, and practices? How might one model these in a population health data system? And how should these data be rendered visually? These are challenges worth pursuing, as lives are quite literally on the line.

What efforts might be useful to adapt for the Tracing COVID-19 Data project?

Following these principles, protocols, standards and practices, the Tracing COVID-19 Data project is critically thinking about data and data systems. We are currently collecting data from all over the country, including data on the way location, age, ability, race, Indigeneity, gender, and income may intersect with COVID-19 outcomes. From there, we aim to develop a series of rapid and archivable visualizations and blog posts to communicate our findings in ways best suited to both researchers and the communities they describe, as well as provide recommendations to decision makers on how to improve their data dashboards and other data visualizations techniques.

We are also mindful of becoming flexible and adaptable to new solutions (and issues) as they arise. The work of visualizing the intersectional impacts of COVID-19 is important, but loses its value if it becomes too brittle to be used effectively. We have already heard words of caution from racialized communities who rightfully fear becoming further stigmatized by being described through COVID-19 data. Listening to and working with the communities who are being multiply impacted by COVID-19 is critical to the success of this project. For this work to truly be intersectional, it is essential that we are all on board to listen and work together.

Slides from a presentation given on this topic (Sept 22, 2020)

References, Links, & Resources

Abetz, J., & Moore, J. (2018). Visualizing intersectionality through a fractal metaphor. In J. Dunn & J. Manning (Eds.), Transgressing Feminist Theory And Discourse (1st ed., pp. 31–43). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781351209793-3

Bartlett, J., & Tkacz, N. (2017). Governance by Dashboard. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/80851285.pdf

Bauer, G. R. (2014). Incorporating intersectionality theory into population health research methodology: Challenges and the potential to advance health equity. Social Science & Medicine, 110, 10–17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.03.022

Centre for Disease Control. (2007). Interim Pre-pandemic Planning Guidance: Community Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Mitigation in the United States. 97. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/pdf/community_mitigation-sm.pdf

Columbia Law School. (2017, June 8). Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality, More than Two Decades Later. https://www.law.columbia.edu/news/archive/kimberle-crenshaw-intersectionality-more-two-decades-later

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989(1), 31. https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1052&context=uclf

D’Ignazio, C., & Klein, L. F. (2016). Feminist Data Visualization. 5. http://www.kanarinka.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/IEEE_Feminist_Data_Visualization.pdf

First Nations Information Governance Centre. (2020). The First Nations Information Governance Centre. https://fnigc.ca/index.php

Ford, C. L., & Airhihenbuwa, C. O. (2010). The public health critical race methodology: Praxis for antiracism research. Social Science & Medicine, 71(8), 1390–1398. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.07.030

Fundamentals of OCAP®. (2020). The First Nations Information Governance Centre. https://fnigc.ca/training/fundamentals-ocap.html

Gilyard, K. (2017). Louise Thompson Patterson: A Life of Struggle for Justice. Duke University Press. https://www.dukeupress.edu/louise-thompson-patterson

Government of Canada. (2020, July 8). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Outbreak update. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection.html

Government of Ontario. (2016, June 28). Anti-Racism Directorate. https://www.ontario.ca/page/anti-racism-directorate

Government of Ontario. (2019, August 27). Data Standards for the Identification and Monitoring of Systemic Racism. https://www.ontario.ca/document/data-standards-identification-and-monitoring-systemic-racism

Government of Ontario. (2020, July 8). COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Ontario. https://covid-19.ontario.ca/

Greenwood, F., Howarth, C., Poole, D. E., Raymond, N. A., & Scarnecchia, D. P. (2017). The Signal Code: A human rights approach to information during crisis. Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. https://hhi.harvard.edu/publications/signal-code-human-rights-approach-information-during-crisis#:~:text=The%20Signal%20Code%20is%20the,have%20to%20information%20during%20disasters.

Hill Collins, P. (1990). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Unwin Hyman. http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/252.html

John Hopkins University. (2020, July 8). COVID-19 Map—Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

Lauriault, T. (2020, June 1). Tracing COVID-19 Data: Data and Technological Citizenship during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Datalibre. Retrieved 8 July 2020, from http://datalibre.ca/2020/06/01/tracing-covid-19-data-data-and-technological-citizenship-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/

Lorde, A. (1981). The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism. BlackPast. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/speeches-african-american-history/1981-audre-lorde-uses-anger-women-responding-racism/

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. (n.d.). Ida B. Wells. Retrieved 8 July 2020, from https://freedomcenter.org/content/ida-b-wells

Ottawa Public Health. (2020, July 8). Daily COVID-19 Dashboard. https://www.ottawapublichealth.ca/en/reports-research-and-statistics/daily-covid19-dashboard.aspx

Podell, L. (n.d.). The Sojourner Truth Project. The Sojourner Truth Project. Retrieved 8 July 2020, from https://www.thesojournertruthproject.com

Research Data Alliance International Indigenous Data Sovereignty Interest Group. (2019). CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance. The Global Indigenous Data Alliance. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5d3799de845604000199cd24/t/5da9f4479ecab221ce848fb2/1571419335217/CARE+Principles_One+Pagers+FINAL_Oct_17_2019.pdf

The First Nations Information Governance Centre. (2020). A First Nations Data Governance Strategy. https://fnigc.inlibro.net/cgi-bin/koha/opac-retrieve-file.pl?id=9c677f3dcf8adbf18fcda96c6244c459

The Protocol: REDE4BlackLives. (n.d.). REDE4BlackLives. Retrieved 8 July 2020, from https://rede4blacklives.com/the-protocol/

Walter, M. (2013). Indigenous statistics: A quantitative research methodology. Left Coast Press. https://www.routledge.com/Indigenous-Statistics-A-Quantitative-Research-Methodology/Walter-Andersen/p/book/9781611322934

Wilkinson, M. D., Dumontier, M., Aalbersberg, Ij. J., Appleton, G., Axton, M., Baak, A., Blomberg, N., Boiten, J.-W., da Silva Santos, L. B., Bourne, P. E., Bouwman, J., Brookes, A. J., Clark, T., Crosas, M., Dillo, I., Dumon, O., Edmunds, S., Evelo, C. T., Finkers, R., … Mons, B. (2016). The FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship. Scientific Data, 3(1), 160018. https://doi.org/10.1038/sdata.2016.18

World Health Organization. (2018, March 2). International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). https://www.who.int/classifications/icf/en/

World Health Organization. (2020). https://www.who.int

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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.

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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!

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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!

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View the rest at Programmable City.

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A member of the Civicaccess.ca 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:

p3_ConferenceBoardofCanada_FutureofthePostalService

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 Civicaccess.ca list, by all means join, or look into the stream of the discussion archived here.

 

Tags:

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, http://www.conferenceboard.ca/about-cboc/bod.aspx. I recommend you do the same before this too disappears from the record!

ConferenceBoardCanada_Board_16122013

Thank you friends on the CivicAcces.ca 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.

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

Date:

  • Wednesday June 13th, 5pm

Location:

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

Agenda:

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

Volunteers:

  • 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 Canadiana.org 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 warren.layton@gmail.com if you wish to attend and/or present a lightning talk.

See you at the meetup!

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