Inside the Open City Workshop

It’s been quite a journey for me these past few months. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing and dedicated colleagues organizing the November 21 Open Data Workshop and building the Open Data Catalogue.  Shortly after that workshop and release of the data catalogue, fellow blogger Ashley and I had the good fortune of attending and being inspired by CityCamp in Chicago. Since then I’ve been working with even more of my colleagues on the next steps, including the upcoming March 6th Open City Workshop.

OpenCityLogoThe majority of participants in last year’s Open Data Workshop were from Edmonton’s technology community. And like the bulletin board systems that predated today’s internet, these early adopters helped explore this new ground. But in order for these concepts to thrive, the value they represent needs to find a home in the minds of a broader collection of individuals and leaders in the community, academia, private sector and the public service. Even more importantly, we need representatives from all of these groups together: talking, collaborating and sharing insights and ideas.

Open Data Workshop participants brainstorm ideas about the principles of open data.

Open Data Workshop participants brainstorm ideas about the principles of open data.

Government 2.0 isn’t about brandishing technology like a panacea, nor does it constitute simply pushing government services onto the web. With any successful technology, it will evolve with time until it becomes effectively invisible until, for example, we try to lock our car door with the keys still inside.

So what does that have to do with government?  Let’s take an icy intersection as an example. How many drivers (or their ABS systems) on a given winter day discover the dangers of a particular strip of black ice for themselves? What if you instructed your vehicle’s ABS computer to share the where and when of the incident with a common, open system, one that belongs to the public? Cars coming by later could then warn their drivers, or maybe display a caution symbol on in-car navigation systems. Just as importantly, as this information comes in, it becomes possible to very quickly and accurately pinpoint trouble spots as they form.

The first steps towards this would (were I to wager a guess) involve some imperfect data, perhaps drawn from traffic volume and accident rates, and the initial applications of it will probably only be available as web or mobile applications on phones belonging to tech-savvy early adopters, it would be some time before this might appear as a “no-tech-skill required” feature in vehicles and navigation systems.

But Government 2.0 is more than just improving traffic safety and other services. Sure, these sorts of solutions and innovations would emerge, and principles of “openness” help to remove a lot of the barriers, but I like to think of it as the enabler of this sort of idea and vision. The example above is just my own idea, I haven’t yet vetted it, so maybe it’s not even a good idea. But it’s safe to say I’m not alone in this, there are many more ideas both good and bad out there in the community. Sharing our ideas with others and getting their feedback allows us to discern the great from the good, discover if others have the same sorts of ideas, and then perhaps move from concept to reality.

In sum, the way I look at it, what an Open City really does is enables the community and its members to: 1) bring their ideas together and share them, 2) to develop and build on those ideas, drawing out the best and most visionary of them, and 3) take part in making those ideas a reality. Government then, is the platform that enables this to happen, it always has been, but now we have new approaches and new tools to bring us closer to that reality. These are not easy problems, and there are no perfect solutions to any of them, but we’re taking steps.  Open Data, for example, speaks primarily to #3, enabling those with technological inclinations to bring new ideas to life. With time, some of those technical barriers will fall, but I believe there are other possibilities to enable more of the population to work together towards initiatives like open data and open gov.

Despite the number of laptops present at the planning sessions, the Open City workshop will be an inclusive conversation that doesnt just focus on technology.

Despite the number of laptops present at the planning sessions for the Open City workshop the event on March 6th will be an inclusive conversation that doesn't focus on technology alone.

This Open City Workshop (which I think you’ll find is a bit different from what you might expect from a government run event) is just one way we’re working towards sharing and developing ideas together, and maybe more possibilities will emerge from it. I know I have more ideas to share, I hope you do too.

So what does an Open City mean to you? Come to the Art Gallery of Alberta on March 6 (or participate online) and let us all know!

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About the Author
Devin Serink
Devin Serink works in the Information Technology branch at the City of Edmonton. Devin Serink is best described like this: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, ... Little known fact: he once miraculously escaped from a completely sealed box containing a cat and a flask of poison. The status of the cat is still unknown.
  1. […] The City of Edmonton is hosting a workshop tomorrow at the Art Gallery of Alberta called Building Community through Open Information (on ShareEdmonton). It’s a follow-up to the open data workshop that happened last year and the conversations that have taken place since, but is focused on connecting stakeholders, increasing a shared understanding of Government 2.0, and planning the way forward. Devin wrote some great thoughts on the workshop here. […]

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