March 20, 2012 by Colin
Published on the Policy By The Numbers blog:
As an open data and open government advocate, I get drawn into conversations with developers, dataset owners and bureaucrats about the difficulty in identifying, cleaning and then publishing datasets in the open. As a historian, I know that half the challenge in good economic history is identifying the appropriate data sources.
Nine hundred and twenty six years ago, William the Conqueror ordered a thorough survey of the property and economy of his recently acquired British Islands. Teams of commissioners visited 13,000 villages, towns and estates and interviewed up to 62,000 witnesses. Their work produced the data that has become known as the Domesday Book.
This data proved critical for developing strategy in the new Norman Court. Facing civil unrest and foreign invasion, the Court needed an accurate count of the financial and human capital available while evaluating their economic, political and military options.
Although there had been previous surveys, inquests and local roll-taking elsewhere in Europe, the Domesday Book looms as a landmark in data collection and analysis in the West. It provides a snapshot of the wealth, land holdings, animal population, household possessions and feudal relationships among the gentry and nobility in William’s kingdom. Really, it’s a record of how the 1% rolled a thousand years ago.
Collecting the data was not an easy process. In fact, the standards for data collection were constantly evolving as the survey was conducted; agricultural, economic and seigneurial data sources had not been combined before; the process of reviewing and correcting data was initially quite cumbersome; and the final product was still the product of a particularly focused and determined individual.
Today, technology has made the collection of social, economic and simply transactional data far simpler, but we haven’t really begun to systematically explore how these volumes of data can help governments and communities address their fundamental public policy challenges. Much of the initiative around open data has been the result of the energetic efforts of a small number of innovators and their supporters. Open data is still largely characterized by the small scale project with localized relevance.
Which makes the Open Domesday project a wonderful link between the past and present. Thanks to academics at the University of Hull and Anna Powell-Smith, an open data volunteer, the data from the Domesday Book has been translated for the technology age. Open Domesday lets the ordinary web surfer sort through this historic data by location, name or by reference to the book itself. The results are overlaid on contemporary maps of Great Britain. The ability to easily drill through centuries of history and reveal data about a community, a family or a region like this is stunning. Data collected ages ago continues to deliver results and insight.
The lasting impact of the Domesday book is often fresh in my mind when I think about the open data initiatives being launched around the world. The capacity to liberate and share data is only just beginning to affect our relationship with the government and with our communities. With every new collaboration, whether at a local level, with the World Bank, the United Nations or through the Open Government Partnership, we can imagine open data achieving scale and an impact similar to that of the Domesday Book in its time.
February 29, 2012 by Colin
Yesterday, I had the privilege of participating in the first meeting of the Advisory Panel on Open Government, a group of industry, government, media and open policy experts interested in the application of open government, open information and open data principles by the Government of Canada. While the group is still coalescing, the general ambition is to provide some sober second thought and add critical insight to the open government plans being developed by the Government of Canada.
The Panel is chaired by Tony Clement, the President of the Treasury Board, and includes a number of Canadian and international participants with extensive experience in open government and open data issues. I’ve taken the liberty of copying David Eave’s list of participants and their related Twitter handles:
Bernard Courtois, Past President & CEO, Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC)
Robert Herjavec, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, The Herjavec Group
Alexander B. Howard, Government 2.0 Correspondent, O’Reilly Media
Thomas ‘Tom’ Jenkins, Head of the Canadian Digital Media Network and Executive Chairman and Chief Strategy Officer, OpenText Corporation
Vivek Kundra, Executive Vice President of Emerging Markets, Salesforce.com.
Herb Lainchbury, Chief Technology Officer, MD Databank Corp.
Colin McKay, Public Policy Manager (Canada), Google
Toby Mendel, Executive Director, Centre for Law and Democracy
Alex Miller, President and Founder, ESRI Canada
Marie-Lucie Morin, Executive Director for Canada, Ireland and the Caribbean, The World Bank
Dr. Rufus Pollock, Co-Founder and Director, Open Knowledge Foundation
Dr. Teresa Scassa, Vice-Dean of Research and Professor of Law, University of Ottawa
I expect to draw in the larger open government community – who are numerous, energetic and truly innovative – through discussion, invitation and maybe even some small sponsored events.
October 16, 2009 by Colin
Lately, I’ve been zoning in on books that discuss location – whether through wayfinding, past experience in urban and wild settings, the development of innate navigational skills, or novel treatements of life in particular locations. Here’s a sampling from my recent bookshelf:
Where am I? – Colin Ellard
” … Two things seem to be universal in wayfaring cultures like the Inuit and the Australian Aborigines. One of them is that they’ve honed this exquisite eye for detail that we don’t have. The other thing that these cultures do is use narrative and story. The best example of all is these song lines in Aborigines – what they’re doing is they are making an explicit connection between their creation, the creation of everything, and the shape and size of the landscape. They’re using song lines as a kind of navigational aid, but at the same time there’s this spiritual connection to place …” (Globe and Mail)
Retrofitting Suburbia – Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson
” … But we found, over and over in interviews, people being really sad when their mall had died. “I had my prom in that mall,” they’d say. They attribute the mall with a lot of bonding, a lot of time growing up—they really loved their malls. When it died, the first reaction was: Let’s find a developer to fix our mall. Most people didn’t want a downtown-type structure, they just wanted their mall back. It takes a paradigm shift, like the example of Belmar (see pictures at right).
Belmar was built five miles outside of Denver, and originally had no desire to be urban at all. But by the time the mall died, the surrounding suburban community of Lakewood, Colo., had become the fourth-largest municipality in the state. They had put in a library and a city hall, but it was set up like a strip mall. They eventually found a developer for the property who said “I won’t redevelop the mall, but I’ll give you a town center.” It took a while, but they bought in, completel …” (Popular Mechanics)
Stripmalling – Jon Paul Fiorentinohttp://canuckflack.com/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=3243&message=1
” … Jonny lives and works in a strip mall in Suburban Winnipeg. For some people, this would be exciting and fulfilling enough …”
Personal Space: the behavioral basis of design – Robert Sommer
Before “getting up in your grill,” there was “personal space.” This is the original work, which drawn from initial insight found at a psychiatric hospital in Saskatchewan.
Hollywood in the Neighborhood – Kathryn H. Fuller-Seeley, ed
How Hollywood and the new breed of popular entertainment – movies – arrived in the heartland, and the effect this had on the community.
September 4, 2009 by Colin
One observation about storage units: they can appear anywhere. Alongside rail yards, behind motels, cleverly disguised as yet another building in a suburban office park, wedged in the strangest shaped lots.
This Sunday’s NYT Magazine discusses the link between self-storage units and the culture of consumption.
” … The truth is, there is no typical storage customer. As facilities crowded into the landscape, storage units became incubators for small businesses and artisans; warehouses for pharmaceutical reps, eBay merchants or landscapers. One unit at Statewide, the Doparts told me, functions as a kind of regional distribution center for Little Debbie cakes. I met a few homeless renters, who sometimes choose to pay to put a roof over their possessions instead of their own heads (living in units is not allowed); I met working-class renters using units as closets and safe-deposit boxes while serially couch-surfing or living in multifamily homes. I heard of a martial-arts instructor in Hawaii who trained clients in his unit, and a group of husbands in New England who watch sports in one on weekends. More than one operator told me they have a unit where, every morning, the renter goes in dressed as a man and comes out as a woman …”
in the NYT Magazine, The Self-Storage Self
July 25, 2009 by Colin
” … It used to interest me to see the brutal cynicism with which Christian sentiment is exploited. The touts from the Christmas card firms used to come around with their catalogues as early as June. A phrase from one of their invoices sticks in my memory. It was: ’2 doz. Infant Jesus with rabbits.” … ”
” … [Being a bookseller] is a human trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman …”
- “Bookshop Memories,” 1936, George Orwell
Ah, the comfort and security that used to accompany topical expertise and local presence. And then someone had to go and invent punchcards, databases, and recommendation engines.
May 12, 2009 by Colin
” … A fast-food cheeseburger is like a drunken assignation with a stranger met at a wedding reception: momentarily delectable but often leading to shame, nausea, and possibly even health issues …”
- The Boston Phoenix discusses a flat patty available at a mini-mall food court near Harvard Square.
May 2, 2009 by Colin
Twenty-six years ago, there were some fairly clear-cut fashion choices to be made by the average high school student. Preppie, rocker, punk, townie, slob, nerd, idiosyncratic yet creative soul, mod, skinhead, loner, doper, music obsessive, new romantic, dealer, kid from the backwoods of Northern Ontario, artist and normal tormented teenager. You could find some Euro douches. There were even a few vegans, but our classmates tended to suspect they were actually witches.
In many ways, we were actually living Pretty in Pink – the Molly Ringwald/Jon Cryer Fred Perry paean to awkward relationships and extreme economic differences. Among the mods, we went to tremendous lengths to dress like our fathers did – in 1968. Among our cultural touchstones were a number of English brand names including Fred Perry, the venerable English tennis supplier, sportswear manufacturer Lonsdale, and several smaller designers.
This from mod/ska stalwarts the Specials’ own anniversary site:
” …First, they looked fucking great. If you weren’t there, Britain was transformed into a mail order version of The Wailin Wailers album cover almost overnight, though it probably didn’t know it at the time. Before the birth of the woeful sports casual, the working class dressed up for the weekend and the easily attainable and striking evocation of mid 60′s Jamaica was too irresistible for those who found punk’s sartorial alienation just that bit too alienating ..”
How did a bunch of teenagers from Ottawa pick up on the music varieties, cultural signals and fashion markers that helped to define the second wave of mod? Bootlegged concert tapes (still have some in my basement), copies of British magazines like The Face, gigs by local mod, ska, Northern Soul and 60s R&B bands, the rare video of old Ready, Steady, Go! or Top of the Pops appearances, and an s*load of British and Canadian ‘zines.
In June, Fred Perry will be releasing three new styles in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the arrival of two tone band The Specials (if you’re under the age of 30, you probably know them from their collaboration with Lilly Allen). That’s the bespoke logo over there – the longstanding crown of laurel leaves, but rendered in both white and black, as well as a underlying two tone patter.
Fred Perry has set up a site to take advance orders for the shirts – and its design mimics the clear sans serif text, open layout and tonal clarity of late 70s and early 80s two tone records. It even looks like it was ripped from a zine!
For more on the two tone design that characterized releases from the Specials and the Beat, Marco on the Bass has tracked down some interviews with two who brought together the look: Jerry Dammers and David Storey.
April 5, 2009 by Colin
My day job involves a very interesting balance between two distinct functions: research and public education.
To many working in the public sector, there is a very clear line dividing these two roles.
In research, the organization attempts to examine an issue of some importance, identify options that may want to be explored by the organization, conduct research largely in secret (there’s a reason why the Treasury Board had to mandate that government-funded public opini0n research be released to the public) and then set out some possible policy approaches to addressing the issue.
Public education? Many consider this function to be the loose-lipped and overly indiscreet part of the organization. The bar hopper. The close talker. The desperate car salesman of the public service.
Luckily for me, a small organization finds it more efficient – and more productive – to try and tap outside resources in most circumstances. You’ve conducted a multi-national survey on the policy implications of X? Great. One more thing I don’t have to commission. Your area of academic specialization is remarkably similar to a subject we have become deeply interested in? Fantastic! Can we invite you up for a day of consultations and maybe a public discussion?
The research conducted by our organization can be opportunistic. We have an institutionalized willingness to hear out and even incorporate outside opinion into our research process, especially when there are dozens of specialists honing in on very defined areas of expertise in privacy and data protection.
Many of these specialists also invest a lot of time and effort in communicating their work – whether through meetings of their professional associations, by publishing their academic or legal research, speaking to public meetings or through loud (or quiet) activism.
What does this mean? Sometimes, my roles as researcher and educator meet – even amplify each other. Amplification doesn’t necessarily mean the goals of our work meet, but there are enough synergies and benefits to be shared.
This leads me to our latest research project (http://dpi.priv.gc.ca) – a collection of essays discussing deep packet inspection (DPI). As we were beginning to research DPI as a privacy issue last summer, we recognized that there are many, many sides to the issue and to the application of the technology – each with its own proponent and each with its own school of thought and support.
Instead of preparing a summary of the issue, or commissioning contrasting research papers, we decided to take two separate tacks:
- build a collection of varying points of view on DPI, solicited from experts from as many fields as possible; and
- providing those with a professional or private interest in the issue with an opportunity to comment and provide additional resources on DPI and its implications.
This is the result:
That’s right. It’s an online publication designed to offer an opportunity for the new spirit of collaboration and cooperation to take hold – in a constructive way. It also happens to incorporate now common social media elements.
It’s not a social media project looking for a convenient home. It’s a practical and reasoned application of innovative public education tools to a real research need.
And I hope it works.
March 18, 2009 by Colin
” … Pragmatically speaking, if we imposed a tax on the 50 billion places now hawking small plates, handcrafted artisanal cocktails with antique bitters, house-cured salumi, and featuring servers who call the customer “dude” or “bro” while texting on their cell phones, we could probably put enough dough in the state till to end obesity for generations …”
Gabrielle Hamilton, a NewYork chef, commenting on the proposal to tax non-diet soft drinks in New York City.
February 7, 2009 by Colin
“The mall is the stalwart spouse that hasn’t learned any new moves in a decade.”
(New York Times, “Our Love Affair With Malls Is On The Rocks“)
February 3, 2009 by Colin
Two comments about Paco Underhill:
- he totally OWNS the niche of explaining why we seem like disturbed toddlers and frightened rabbits when out shopping, and:
- he has WICKED media skills considering that he seems to be afflicted with a strong stutter. You should wish you could pull off a performance this polished and useful.
January 23, 2009 by Colin
The Santa Ana city zoo has a problem. It was built on land donated by a city founder, on the condition the zoo have 50 monkeys on site at all times. Problem is, sometimes monkeys slip off this mortal coil. This from the Los Angeles Times:
” … “You can’t just go to Monkeys-R-Us or EBay to get monkeys,” said Kent Yamaguchi, interim director at the city zoo. …”
” … A prominent lawyer and land baron, Prentice kept monkeys and a gibbon in his 16-room mansion nearby, giving them such unfettered reign that he had trouble holding on to housekeepers. The home site is now an Elks Lodge. …”
” … “While we were dipping down below that number, Yamaguchi said, “we knew there were two in the oven.” …”
” … As of this week, exactly 50 monkeys reside at the zoo, among them howler monkeys, spider monkeys, an emperor tamarin sporting a long, white handlebar mustache, and a Pygmy marmoset, one of the world’s smallest monkeys, weighing in at only a quarter of a pound. …”
” … And, [the family's] attorney has cautioned, the family will not accept any substitutes; “any form of lemurs or apes are not monkeys under any zoological definition.” …”
January 16, 2009 by Colin
Remember I said I was working on a couple of papers? Here’s one of them. I think you can recognize my themes, writing style and opinions – although they usually aren’t edited for publication.
“… In this comment, I argue that there is a growing role or the ordinary citizen — whether acting individually or in concert — in framing how specific public policy ssues are perceived and interpreted among a politically attuned and engaged online audience.
Online technologies are helping to build civic awareness among itizens — there is evidence that a growing number of itizens are expressing their political and policy preferences through such online tools as forums, blogs, wikis, social networking sites, e-consultations and even the comment fields of large-circulation newspapers.
Importantly for policy-makers, a small but incredibly dedicated group of online commentators and rapporteurs is influencing the public perception of public policy issues through its activities …”
Peters, Joseph, and Manon Abud. 2008.
“E-Consultation: Enabling Democracy between Elections”
With comments by Kathleen McNutt and Colin McKay.
Choices 15 (1).
January 9, 2009 by Colin
” … Many Amish have dealt with the collision of modern business technology and old world values by keeping their home and work lives completely separate. Though they still drive horses and buggies, remain off the power grid and wear simple, handmade clothing, some are using computers and power tools and talking on cellphones at their jobs.
Mr. Swaffer, of Keim, said that several Amish employees walk around the mill with Bluetooth cellphones in their ears, but the phones are owned by Keim and the workers shut them off when they leave work. “You won’t likely see someone on a horse and buggy talking on a cellphone,” he added. …”
- from a New York Times article on how the Amish are building successful businesses in partnership with non-Amish entrepreneurs.
November 17, 2008 by Colin
Spotted in the 16ieme arrondissement – a design adaptation meant to protect this car from the close parking and bad driving of fellow Parisians. That’s a mint Mini. Tied to the back bumper? Two hard plastic bumpers normally found hanging off the gunwales of small boats.