CivicTechTO & Urban+Digital hackathon for Open Data Day
On Saturday March 5, 2016, technologists and community workers globally met in their respective cities to tackle a problem related to communities for Open Data Day.
Open Data Day is a gathering of citizens in cities around the world to write applications, liberate data, create visualizations and publish analyses using open public data to show support for and encourage the adoption of open data policies by the world’s local, regional and national governments.
Rexdale Lab’s founder, Salomeh Ahmadi always believed in cross-sector collaboration, long-term impacts and big solutions. How can what we are already doing, benefit a greater number and have further reach?
When Gabe, co-founder of CivicTechTO invited her to participate, she wanted to create a project question she thought could benefit the Toronto area, and she knew Data Day would be the platform to meet like-minded people. She met with hackers and coders who share an interest in making Toronto more responsive, prosperous, sustainable and equitable, through tech and design. The concept of collaborating across sectors, while enthusiastic, is still not a mainstream approach. In order to address complex and intersectional issues, such as socio-economic challenges, through strategic foresight – collaboration enables diverse thinkers from different backgrounds, to contribute skills without getting mired in office politics, personal motives or drawn-out deliberations. While our efforts to innovate still remain marginal to the scale of today’s challenges – we need more effective strategies and tools – the hackathon is one format, thank you CivicTechTO.
CivicTech Toronto enabled various groups from all over Toronto to collaborate on specific civic tech challenges, presented by organizations and community groups. We also heard about the importance of open data and open government from special guests, including MPP for Etobicoke Centre Evan Baker, representing Deputy Premier Deb Matthews, as well as Councillor for Ward 27, Kristyn Wong Tam. You can watch their videos here.
Does Civic Engagement and Technology Matter?
From political campaigns to sourcing voting demographics, mapping traffic, visualizing the global poverty line, to race and income data such as Justice Map, or the concentration of the working poor in Toronto, interactive sites such as Fix My City Canada where you input information and they send it to the city on your behalf, or IdeaSpaceTO where you apply your ideas to help shape the future of Toronto, among hundreds of other initiatives – civic tech pollination is growing. Most importantly, how we capture data is determined by what types of questions we ask and who does the asking just as much as the data that is collected – an example of why the Canadian Census is so important to drive policy change around socio-economic issues.
Data miners who can collect, scrape and organize numbers or stats into useful information and visuals, will also require meaningful input from direct stakeholders, end users and experts in that field – an iterative and collaborative, best practices approach that is the anti-thesis of what bureaucratic dinosaurs endorse. One that occurs when they propose policy far away from those most directly impacted. Data is mobilization when magic happens.
Visual and interactive tools can be more practical than faulty graphs and percentages because most of the ‘well-educated’ types would share that statistics can be manipulated and can lie. Presentation, probability and cause and effect must be taken into account – yet how do we discern the useful from the not? We should all want to access quality and usable data, turn it into valuable information and share this with relevant stakeholders so decisions are efficient and effective for those with whom we wish to carry out social good initiatives. Global problems are more complex and intersectional than ever – what tools can we test to address a few?
Is it enough to map local poverty if those who endure it can’t use the information towards civic engagement and further, better their own situation? Mobile and online tools enable participation more democratically than ever, however just because it’s open doesn’t mean they will come. This is where “knowledge brokers” and bridge builders come in.
Rexdale Lab’s Challenge description
Rexdale Lab wants to set up more Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs), so that property developers invest in local training and jobs as well as resources, when developers are carrying out major construction projects. Rex Lab wants your help to identify and map planning major construction projects across Toronto, to identify opportunities to create jobs and provide economic value for the neighbourhoods that need it most.
The amazing individuals who joined:
Nithya Vijayakumar super mapper, Pearl Sequeira find her on Twitter, Soma Sakar, Asher Zafar economist and public policy nerd find him on Twitter, and Bernard Rudney from Powered by Data, Chloe Marie-Brown, Toronto Youth Cabinet, and Hibaq Gelle, Studio Y member.
Objective: To identify and map community-related economic development initiatives in the City of Toronto. In order to:
- To visualize the number, type and scale of initiatives happening in different parts of the City.
- To enable communities to have more input into the development of Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs).
Description: Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs) are a way to ensure communities get economic benefit from major construction projects, for example by having the property developer agree to hiring workers from within the neighbourhood. In order for communities to establish more CBAs, community groups need to know where and when major construction projects are happening. This project will identify data sources, and then find ways to map/visualize those projects.
What will it enable?
By making it easy to identify potential major construction projects in advance, community groups — like Rexdale Lab — will be able to advocate for and engage in the creation of more CBAs, to provide equitable economic opportunities that promote economic inclusion for all residents.
This is achieved through: social procurement, sustainable communities, and commitment from those involved, to advocate for social enterprise, training, local job creation and provide economic benefits for their communities.
What skills are likely required?
- Identifying data sources
- Collecting, scraping, parsing, cleaning data
- Visualizing or mapping data
- Analyzing in what ways can this data inform decisions.
What data or other resources are required? Are all of these available?
- City of Toronto Call and Processes
- Ontario Tenders
- Build Toronto RFP
- Neighborhood Improvement Area Map
Outcomes and Solutions
By creating a visual of major development projects at $15 million+ that are the blue dots – the bubbles vary in size according to the cost, and the green dots are CBAs or CBA like initiatives that enabled investment in community or addressed a socio-economic need, such as jobs and training. The orange quadrants are the “Neighborhood Investment Areas” (formerly Neighborhood Improvement Areas) that could benefit the most from closing the economic inequality gap. Our aim is to turn more of the blue dots into green dots through legally binding community benefit agreements with stakeholder advocacy – when such projects are identified.
- Notifications for changes in a development’s lifecycle (i.e., application, approval, RFP issued)
- Add development application data with criteria applied (scale, community need)
- Add data from outstanding tenders
If you missed the event read about the event via Twitter, on my Storify here.
If you’re interested in joining, everyone’s welcome to attend CivicTechTO’s hack nights, weekly Tuesdays, more info, http://civictech.ca
For more information contact Salomeh, Rexdale.Lab@gmail.com