To said that I attended the Edmonton Open City Workshop today was an understatement. Rather, I like to think that I actively engaged in conversations about open information and data, shared ideas with my fellow citizen, and collaborated with our city government.
Rarely did I feel as energized as I had at the end of a long day sitting inside the basement of an art gallery, albeit a rather nice, brand sparkling new Alberta Art Gallery basement.
After the positive and forward-looking introduction by Councillor Don Iveson with a reference to the Massey Lecture 1967 by Martin Luther King Jr., the workshop kick-started with a really inspiring panel discussion on “Government as a Platform”. The panel consisted of Alayne Sinclair, David Eaves, Mark Kuznicki, and Nick Charney. The theme emerging from the discussion is that the open data movement in our city is about transparency, empowerment and collaboration. I especially like the notion that virtual space helps define physical space, so the question is how can we make the city our own and what can we, as citizen and active participant, contribute to this process?
The other point that struck a chord with me is the fact that we are in transition from an industrial, hierarchical model of governance to one that resemble more of a network. Government needs to act as an enabler – a transition from service provider to convener. It really is about providing opportunity for other people to innovate and to make it easier for people to self-organize to do things they care about (for more reading on that idea, I would recommend Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky).
It is also important to pay attention to the notion of control – the wisdom from the panel is that, the more you share, the more influence you have.
Then there is the question about engagement – what are we supposed to be engage to do? The panel talked about the need to start creating dialogue about options, and about services as they are being delivered. I love the analogy David said about government acting like a vending machine. Sometimes, for some services, we don’t want to be engaged, it should just work , like going to get your driving license. In that instance, David claims, that the service should function more like a vending machine.
After lunch, we had two breakout sessions to take part in the discussion. The first session I choose to be part of is about digital divide and access issue. This is an issue close to my heart as it relates to open education and open content. We debated on what kind of digital divide are there, the concerns around technology literacy, aging population, cultural and socio-economical differences as well as people who have special needs. The consensus was that we need to provide options and alternatives to people; the public library was also mentioned as a potential major player in narrowing the digital divide.
The second session I went to is about what is a city and how we can build community with open data. We touched on the idea about learning from other locales in problem solving and using open data as a PR tool to attract people to the city.
The day was wrapped up by a few exciting announcement by Chris Moore, CIO, City of Edmonton. He and his team at the City office has done a tremendous job in moving this initiative forward as well as putting together this wonderful day for us to convene and discuss various issues.
The exciting upcoming news are:
- The city is planning on (tentatively) launching a City App for iPhone on April 19.
- We are now part of the Open311.org movement, joining cities like San Francisco and D.C.
- We are now developing and calling for a national strategy for Code for Canada, model after the Code for America.