Call to Action: Join the Toronto Open Data Community

Community members with an interest in open civic data in Toronto have a unique opportunity to engage City government, to learn about what the City is planning and to participate in a meaningful way in helping to shape the future of Toronto as a “city that thinks like the web”.

Toronto Open Data Lab, part of the Toronto Innovations Showcase
Monday, November 2nd, 2009
1:00 – 4:30pm
City Hall Council Chamber and Members Lounge

Special Guest Speaker: Peter Corbett, iStrategy Labs and

The Open Data Lab is an opportunity to explore the innovation possibilities of open civic data in Toronto. Join City subject matter and technology experts, community stakeholders and talented members of Toronto’s vibrant technology and design communities in an interactive and collaborative afternoon imagining commercial, social and civic applications of the City’s newly launched open data program.

This extended series of sessions kicks off with an aspirational talk about the Future of Open Cities from Peter Corbett, one of the open data leaders behind and the success of Washington DC’s open data program. We will also hear from City of Toronto CIO Dave Wallace about the launch of and the future direction of Toronto’s open data program, and invited guests from the community will have an opportunity to inspire us with their open data dreams.

Participants will then have the opportunity to explore the first datasets to be released to the public from Toronto’s open data program. Facilitated by ChangeCamp organizer Mark Kuznicki, this is a unique opportunity that organizers hope will generate much interest and spark some ideas for new applications that will demonstrate the kind of value that open data can create for the City government and the community at large.

If you don’t want to miss this, or if you have an Ignite-style presentation proposal on the theme My Open Data Dream App, please let me know using this form:


In April of this year, Mayor David Miller announced at the Mesh Conference [iTunes] [Podcast] that the City would open the vaults of its vast data and publish an initial number of City datasets in machine-readable open access format through a new home on the web at in fall of this year.

It was an announcement that was highly anticipated, from the challenge posed by Mozilla’s Mark Surman at the City’s Web 2.0 Summit in the fall of 2008, through the very popular session on open data hosted by Senior Advisor to the Mayor Ryan Merkeley at ChangeCampTO in January of this year, momentum had been built up towards the Mayor’s announcement.

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ConnectIT: Global Knowledge Cities

Yesterday, I participated in a panel discussion at the ConnectIT conference, entitled Global Knowledge Cities: Does Toronto make the cut?:

Among other factors, powerful global corporations, emergence of Web 2.0 technologies, and the increased ease of information displacement have changed our social landscapes. In light of this shift, how will cities, like Toronto, be using technology to gain a competitive advantage in the changing global landscape? Are they improving the quality of life for its residents? What defines a fully developed/knowledge city? Where does Toronto stand?

Diane Francis with her blackberry at Connect I.T. on TwitPicThe panel was moderated by the engaging James Norrie, Associate Dean of the Ted Rogers School of Management with fellow esteemed panelists Dave Wallace, CIO – City of Toronto, John Cannon, CIO – Toronto Transit Commission and Diane Francis, Editor-at-Large, National Post. The panel was introduced by our Twitter-obsessed Mayor David Miller (@mayormiller), who likes to tweet photos of journalists, clearly feeling empowered and tickled by the opportunity to turn the camera on the press.

It was a wide-ranging conversation, and provided a great opportunity for the City of Toronto to tell the audience of Ryerson Information Technology Management students, alumni, faculty and members of the technology community and industry about the City’s initiatives and vision for the future.

Congratulations to organizers, Matthew Merritt, Dimitry Sapon and Jaime Sorgente (@jsorgent) for a very pro-style conference. As a tech conference created by students for the wider Ryerson and Toronto community I was very impressed with their professionalism and attention to detail.

There was a lot of audience interest in the TTC’s new information initiatives, include next bus/train information, and the upcoming trip planner and Google Transit integration. Dave Wallace shared an update about the City’s 311 program, spoke about the important lessons they learned at the Web 2.0 Summit about fast, iterative web development approaches and listening to the community. He is also clearly excited to be a leader in municipal open data and is working out some of the difficult issues around privacy, standards and industry and community collaboration. He did drop a little mention about dark fibre in the city which I had hoped we could follow-up, but we ran out of time. Diane Francis opened the panel discussion with a high-level overview of Toronto’s natural advantages as a global financial capital and reviewed the current state of the imploding media industry and the radical transformation underway in this important sector of Toronto’s economy. Read her very insightful piece, It’s not about AIG, stupid…, about the massive global financial system bailout happening with AIG as a conduit.

I was there to bring a provocation about the creative city, the importance of social technology and place, the future of community and the responsibility and opportunity for students and graduates to get involved in co-creating our future city. I was pleased that both the Mayor and Dave Wallace recognized ChangeCamp as an important forum for exploring future community collaboration, and that John Cannon also recognized the impact of TransitCamp in helping inform the future direction of and it’s customer information initiatives.

I am excited by the growing momentum we have in Toronto right now towards open, participatory, creative and effective government that recognizes how technology can enable a transformation in our city. 2009 is looking very promising!

Below the jump are my full prepared remarks for the panel discussion. Enjoy.

Continue reading “ConnectIT: Global Knowledge Cities”

The Impact of ChangeCamp

Cross-posted from

As one of the instigators of ChangeCamp at MaRS in Toronto on January 24th, I have spent much of the past 10 days trying to process all the content, ideas, outcomes and possibilities that it generated. It’s been a little overwhelming. Clearly we tapped a rich vein of attention.

Wordle (Merkley, transcribed) by Suzanne Long

So what did we do together? Let’s do a quick rundown of the numbers:

That’s a lot of heat from our ChangeCamp fire! But how much light was there? How much change was made? What was the quality of the products of our co-creation?

Continue reading “The Impact of ChangeCamp” Why StatCan is (or could be) Google

David Eaves is somebody you need to know and love as I do. He’s been doing some great work on public sector renewal, negotiation and how government can learn from open source software.

His recent post Why StatCan is (or could be) Google is fascinating and well worth a read. David’s thesis is that StatCan needs to give away the data for free while at the same time attracting a whole new generation of creative Gen Y geeks to build its relevance in the future.

First, distinguish and separate what you do: “Creating and organizing information about Canada” from what makes you valuable: making this information universally available to citizens.

Second, make yourself the centre of a data gathering, sharing and analyzing eco-system: There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people out there who could do amazing things with StatCan’s data.

Eaves poses an amazing challenge to an institution that is, like many public service agencies, under pressure to act more like business, looking at new business models and additional revenue opportunities. This orientation isn’t bad in itself, but often public institutions learn all the wrong lessons from the private sector.  At the same time, their public good mandates are often well-suited to their being linchpins in the coming network economy. Look to Umair Haque’s work on “Edge Economy” for clues on what the emerging economy looks like.

Publicly funded content creation can create huge downstream innovation and public good possibilities in a world of long-tail and so-called “crowd-sourced” economics. But the management of many publicly funded institutions have been moving in the wrong direction – trying to capture, limit and monetize content instead of making it freely available to the public. Eaves’ piece on StatCan is an important shot across the bow of why this approach is counterproductive to its stated goals.

President-elect Obama is still a community organizer

Well Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin don’t get the last laugh. It turns out that the community organizer could kick the 9/11 hero’s ass and take down a helicopter-armed rogue moose-hunter for good measure. When Rudy and Palin scoffed at Obama’s background as a community organizer, I instinctively bristled.

Tuesday night showed what community organizing can do. Not only did Obama take the electoral college in a landslide, but the 50-state strategy made red states like North Carolina blue while turning many others purple. He did it with huge turnout, a dominant position among emerging voter blocks like youth and ethnic voters and with techniques learned from the trenches in Chicago.

Only a community organizer could pull this off.

The stories from the field about the Obama vs McCain ground game show the difference. Obama’s field offices were reported full and buzzing with volunteers from all over the country. McCain’s campaign offices were mostly empty and dull, or closed.

Then there’s the Obama campaign’s web strategy, which will go down in history as the first mass scale and most effective use of the social web for political or any other form of organization. But it’s just the beginning, and there is so much yet to be written! shows that Obama fully intends to take his massive email and sms lists, the lessons learned from the campaign and his community organizing instincts together with a new call and program around National Service to really transform the meaning of politics, community and country. The clues are there, and I just can’t help but stare in awe and amazement.

For those of us who dreamed of the potential of marrying bottom-up social movements with a new kind of leadership style, it’s hard to process that our moment may really truly be now. All of a sudden, the work of community organizing just got a new and rather Presidential luster. For those of us who work in the field where social web and real-world issues meet, it’s going to be a very busy time indeed.

Hacking democracy, Canadian style

A broad progressive (neo-progressive?) movement is emerging on the web, rallying Canadian netizens to defeat the Harper Conservatives in the October 14th federal election.  Dozens of sites and groups have suddenly emerged in the blogosphere and on Facebook with a single unified goal – to defeat the Harper government.

I’m helping with one of these campaigns,, which is a viral media and strategic voting campaign launched from a Facebook group in less than two weeks.  The idea is to create, distribute and share viral media that will drive anti-Harper forces to take action in the form of strategic voting.  The campaign includes videos produced by community members that are hosted on Vimeo and YouTube and a strategic voting widget hosted at Widgetbox.

The strategic voting widget is a democracy hack response to the current situation that progressive Canadians face. Today, the Conservative party can achieve a majority government and push ahead a neo-conservative agenda with only 38% of the popular vote. This is due to the first-past-the-post electoral system and a splintered centre-left  composed of four parties lined up against a united right wing Conservative party. Other approaches to hack this situation include sites and groups that facilitate strategic vote swapping between progressives living in different ridings supporting different centre-left parties.

Meanwhile our friends at Fair Vote Canada are creating a home for Ophan Voters – voters whose votes do not help elect anyone in a first-past-the-post system. They hope to raise awareness of the need for electoral reform, but they are challenged in building the momentum they need when the beneficiaries of the current system control the path to reform. It appears that fundamental reform is not gaining sufficient traction, certainly not in the short term.

Why now?  I think this activity can be seen as the result of some underlying forces:

  1. The social web and the technologies of so-called Web 2.0
  2. The experience of and the Obama campaign in the U.S. election
  3. A frustrated and digitally enabled electorate, looking for change but lacking a galvanizing leader (like an Obama) to rally behind

Can regular Canadians, using the tools of the web, work around the limitations of first-past-the-post electoral system to snatch a progressive outcome from a system otherwise gamed in the favour of the incumbent Conservative party?

This emerging movement is going to try. It remains to be seen what it can do in the short three weeks remaining in this electoral cycle.

Must Read: Progressivism’s End (and renewal)

I highly recommend reading my good friend David Eaves‘ article Progressivism’s End co-written with his frequent collaborator, Taylor Owen. The analysis is very strong and it is the most effectively written articulation of what I believe to be the emerging realignment of policy and politics as influenced by web technology, the creative class and the steady transition of power from Boomers to Gen Y.



Because I love it so, a couple of excerpts. On how the Left is killing Progressivism:

Seeing their hard-fought accomplishments under threat, traditional baby boomer progressives began to prioritize the survival of New Deal policies and institutions over the idealistic outcomes they were built to promote. Thus the central paradox of progressivism was born: its older-style advocates, entrenched against innovation and reform, even in the service of progressive values, had unwittingly become the new conservatives.

Continue reading “Must Read: Progressivism’s End (and renewal)”

Mesh08 – Government 2.0

Together with Sean Howard, I co-presented a workshop at Mesh08, “Government 2.0: From Community Participation to Co-creation”. I have uploaded the presentation at Slideshare. This workshop was built around the still in progress Metronauts case study, an innovation in participatory research and engagement for Metrolinx as it develops a Regional Transportation Plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

We had a standing room only crowd at the end of Day 1, with many government folks in the crowd from all levels of government. The reviews were great, with several people coming up at the end to say it was the best session they’d see in the day, so I’m happy with how it went.

We were caught short on time for discussion, so I hope some of the participants in the workshop find this post and leave questions here in the comments. Nice to meet you all!