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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.

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.


CIPPIC has a Summer Internship Program for law students with a lecture series. Once again this years I joined Teressa Scassa in a lunch 2 hour seminar on the topic of :Data, Maps, Location and Law. Teressa spoke about volunteered geographic information (VGI) and I gave the students an overview of data and maps focusing on topics such as data sources, data uses, different kinds of maps, how maps tell stories, and standards, technology, policy and legal interoperability.

Links in notes pages:

Global Map:

  • ISCGM:
  • Data Use Agreement:
  • GCRC & Global Map:

Forest Maps:

  • 1st – Forests
  • 2nd – Limits of the Forest
  • 3rd – Forest Regions
  • 4th – Vegetation Regions
  • 5th – Vegetation Cover
  • 6th – Forested Ecozones

Communication Infrastructure Maps:

  • 1st – Telephone Eastern
  • 2nd – Telegraphs – Ontario and Quebec [circa 1915]
  • 3rd – Television & Radio
  • 4th – Communications, 1967 – Eastern Canada
  • 5th – Telecommunications Systems, 1984

I heart librarians!
Canadian Library Association Annual Conference presentation in Ottawa, June 1, 2012.

Cities and data producers are quickly embracing Open Data, albeit unevenly. The Data Liberation Initiative (DLI) has been a pioneer in broadening access to data for nearly two decades. This session will examine the relevance of Data Liberation in terms of Open Data and explore how librarians can step up to the plate to make Open Data/Open Government as successful as DLI.

– Wendy Watkins, Data Librarian, Carleton University (
– Ernie Boyko, Adjunct Data Librarian, Carleton University (
– Tracey P. Lauriault, Post Doctoral Fellow, Carleton University (
– Margaret Haines, University Librarian, Carleton University (

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


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.

Yesterday I had the good fortune to speak on a panel about Open Government with City of Ottawa CIO, Guy Michaud and City Official Mark Faul in the Council Chambers as part of Open Government Workshop – ‘Today’s Open Government ~ A New Approach to Public Service’.  It was organized by Jury Konga and Robert Giggey.  MISA stands for Municipal Information System Association, it is like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for the IT crowd.

Mark discussed among many other things that Open Government needs to be responsible, and data requires context or a story, particularly data associated with planning or reports.  Guy discussed how it was difficult to convince council at times and that the legal staff at the City are advisers and he as CIO can choose what to do with that advice.  In addition, he mentioned that data and information will make its way out into the public realm and it is better for the City to proactively officially share it .

I talked about how open government is in many ways more difficult than open data, since it requires a deeper cultural and organizational change.  It means changing how we deliberate and that it will take time for city officials as well as citizens to learn how to intelligently work together to meet mutually beneficial objectives.  I provided examples of the work of research, community and government collaboration in Nunavut, the roots of open data coming from research librarians & MADGIC  and the geomatics sector, the work of non profit organizations and their need for open government to better serve their client base which is often marginalized people and the great work of the Community Data Consortium.  In addition I discussed the Resolution endorsed by the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Governments on Open Government, ways to do public participation consultations and provided some useful examples of good open government apps.  Finally, I discussed the fantastic work done in Québec to change the procurement practices around the acquisition of open source technologies and the move toward developing a Québécois coding workforce in lieu of reliance on large US IT companies to provide government services. The links I referred to in my talk are below:

Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre (GCRC):

Information Commissioner:

Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD):


Salon du Logitiel Libre, Québec City

Meaningful Public Consultations:

Open Government App Examples:

Traffic Study held back by a City Official (My case study):

Social & public policy examples using government data:

Reading Material:


The FCM and MISA collaborate to develop open government and open data indicators as a civic engagement indicator for Canadian Cities as part of the Quality of Life Reporting system.

The document below is a scanned copy of a report that I requested from the City of Ottawa.  I was advised that I could go to the City and read it at the counter.  The copy you see embedded below was sent to me by a friend who received it from a friend who scanned the paper copy they received by mail from the City.  Also below are the responses I received from the City in relation to my request for the document.

Recall the City of Ottawa had passed in Council and Open Government Policy and has an Open Data Policy.  I had made an official request for this document via the Open Data Channel, and also directly with the official involved with the study.  The nice Open Data official that followed up received the same response I did.  Hmmmm.  It seems that the City needs some criteria that is a bit more objective in these instances as it seems that “the document is outdated” and a “community group and the Councilor disagree” does not seem grounds enough to refuse access.  I have therefore chosen to post the document on slideshare and embed it here so that the community groups that want this document can access it and also to demonstrate how harmless it really is to share this type of public information.  I will also be making an access to information request for the minutes and reports to see how that all goes next week.  Enjoy.

“This is related to a McKellar Park / Highland Park / Westboro Area Traffic Management Study that is still on-going.  The specific reference is to notes of a meeting of the Public Working Group for the study.  These notes were not intended as an information source for the general public.  There is no final report available for this study.  Here’s a link to basic website information that is available, which unfortunately is somewhat out-of-date:

This study has essentially been on-hold since 2009, at the request of the Ward Councillor, pending further input from the McKellar Park Community Association.

Of note, there is a construction project taking place later this fall on Highway 417. The Ministry of Transportation is closing the eastbound ramp on Carling for an 8 week period.  All eastbound traffic will be directed to get off the 417 at Maitland and directed to use Carling Avenue. As a result temporary measures are planned on 4 streets off Sherbourne in the McKellar Park Community to deal with any extra traffic that may not abide by the detour (i.e. using Carling).  This current plan during the construction phase on the 417 has no relation to the traffic study in McKellar which has been ongoing for a number of years.”

In a seperate email from the same official on the topic:

The biggest concerns with this information package is it’s substantially out-of-date.  Significant parts of the information were later updated, and in some cases corrected, as part of an on-going study process.  Having such materials widely circulated within the community at this point would not be particularly helpful for providing them with up-to-date information.  For example, we have an updated version that we shared with the same Public Working Group in 2008, but we are also not comfortable having this widely distributed within the community as some of the Community Association representatives on this committee and the former Ward Councillor were in disagreement with some of the information and the staff conclusions reached.  There are also notes of several notes of on-going meetings with various parties and technical analyses of numerous alternative suggests that were brought forward by community groups for consideration.

We are trying to respect the needs and expectations of all groups, as best we can, but this has proven to be a real challenge for this study.  Until we are able to reach consensus within the public working group for the study, and the Ward Councillor, it would not be appropriate for the City to distribute, or encourage the distribution of, draft materials that may be seen by some as unfair or inappropriate.

What I can offer, as I have done for others recently, is make this information available to you at our office, if you like.  I can also make myself available to answer questions about the study process.  This is not about trying to hide anything secret, but rather our attempt to ensure everyone is treated fairly and respectfully. (emphasis added by me!).

Would it not just be easier to post all the minutes, reports and updates on the dedicated webpage?  In addition there could be a comments section.

Surely, citizens can read the material and make up their own minds, we are grown ups afterall, and  this neighbourhood is off the charts in terms of PHDs, Masters, Medical, Dental, engineers and Legal degrees.  Demographics should not be criteria for who can and cannot access a document, I merely share that piece of information to illustrate the underestimation of a citizen’s ability to decipher reports. 

World Bank Is Opening Its Treasure Chest of Data

Robert B. Zoellick, the World Bank president “argues that the most valuable currency of the World Bank isn’t its money — it is its information”.

The broader release of such data will enable more “scientific” policy-making, cut down on corruption in Kenya and engage more people in government by empowering them with knowledge they can use to challenge political leaders, he says.

“As opposed to some imperious bureaucracy in Washington, we’re making things open and accessible to people,” he says. “That makes for better performance, it makes for a more open system, it makes for people having a different attitude about the World Bank.” (Robert B. Zoellick, the World Bank president).

Some WB Initiatives to look at:

The National Science Foundation describe Data as:

numbers, images, video or audio streams, software and software versioning information, algorithms, equations, animations, or models/simulations.

Data, according to the Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology, are also

facts, ideas, or discrete pieces of information, especially when in the form originally collected and unanalyzed.

The art of photograffeur JR could then be data originally collected and assembled in such a way that the viewer can analyze their meaning.  His data are large photographs of regular people in caricatured poses that are displayed on trains, buses, rooftops, elevations of favela homes, the Palestinian/Israeli wall, sunken roads, staircase and surface all over – pervasive art.  His photos include basic metadata, such as the name, age, address of of subjects.  The stories associated / the analysis / the abstract of these data are found in the streets and neighbourhoods where context is, these are posted, told by the subjects and the dwellers.

These are data in action which shape and are shaped by the faces and place from whence they come.  These are embedded in the social scape and in the imaginary of the cultural sphere, one of the many locals of social change.n  “It is not about changing the world, but the changing the way we look at it” JR.

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