Category Archives: technology

Open Data Advice for Librarian Coders

For the purposes of this post we will ignore how remarkably badass sounding the word librarian becomes when “coder” is added to the end of it.

I recently had a librarian who had just picked up some coding skills email me and ask how they could get into Open Data (if, by the way, you were interested in someone with those skills, I’d be happy to connect you to them). Here is an edited version of my response:

I actually think that librarians are exactly what the open data space needs. It is interesting to think about the consulting services and organizational problems that exist in a world of almost infinite data – and particularly in a world with large amounts of open data.

Open Data portals are are getting more and more data sets – but I’m not sure anyone has meaningfully figured out how you organize that data in meaningful way? Or at least make them searchable in a way that is meaningful to a cross section of people as opposed to a narrow highly specialized specific type of user (e.g. an academic or domain expert)? Nor has anyone – as far as I can tell – cracked the problem (or developed the human hacks necessary) around acquiring and organizing meta data (e.g. actually getting it, and then making it understandable to a range of audiences without losing its nuance).

Certainly when I facilitated consultations on open data in a range of cities across Canada the issue of searchability and finding data came up over and over again. It was a very strong theme.

These are serious problems. And they are probably going to get much much worse as more data becomes available.

Open Data Day Google+ Hang Out

With just about a month to go until Open Data Day things are going well. There are quite a few cities that have been added to the open data day wiki.

This year we thought we would try something new. On January 21st we are going to host a  Get Ready For Open Data Day 2014! Google hangout.

The goal of the hangout is to help people thinking about organizing an event in their city get a sense of what others doing, ask questions about what has worked in the past, and just learn more about what is possible on the day. 

We’ll be hosting a 30-60 minute event on Tuesday, January 21 (at 11:00 am EST/ 8:00 PST/ 16:00 GMT /17:00 CEST) with myself, Heather Leson and Beatrice Martini focused on:

  1. What is Open Day Day – History
  2. Planning tips
  3. Open Q&A

There is likely a limit to how many people we can host on the hangout so please let us know if you’d like to participate.

And if you are interested in connecting with others – especially those who have run open data day events before – please consider joining the mailing list!

Open Data Day 2014 is Coming Feb 22 – Time to Join the Fun!

So, with much help from various community members (who reminded me that we need to get this rolling – looking at you Heather Leson), I pleased to say we are starting to gear up for Open Data Day 2014 on February 22nd, 2014.

From its humble beginnings of a conversation between a few friends who were interested in promoting and playing with open data, last year Open Data Day had locally organized events take place in over 100 cities around the world. Check out this video of open data day in Kathmandu last year.

Why makes Open Data Day work? Mostly you. It is a global excuse for people in communities like yours to come together and organize an event that meets their needs. Whether that is a hackathon, a showcase and fair, lectures, workshops for local NGOs and businesses, training on data, or meetings with local politicians – people are free to organize around whatever they think their community needs. You can read more about how Open Data Day works on our website.

Want to join in on the fun? I thought you’d never ask. Listed below are some different ways you can help make Open Data Day 2014 a success in your community!

A) How can I let EVERYONE know about open data day

I love the enthusiasm. Here’s a tweet you can send:

#OpenData Day is community powered in a timezone near you. #ODD2014

Yes, our hashtag is #ODD2014. Cause we are odd. And cause we love open data.

B) I’d like to participate!

Great! If you are interested in participating in check out the Open Data Day wiki. We’ve just unlocked the pages so cities haven’t been added yet but feel free to add your city to the list, and put down your name as interested in participating. You can even check to see who organized the event last year to see if they are interested in doing it again.

C) Forget about participating, I want to coordinate an Open Data Day event in my city.

Whoa! Very exciting! Here’s a short checklist of what to do:

  • If you didn’t organize one last year, check to see if anyone in your city did. It would be good to connect with them first.
  • Read the Open Data Day website. Basically, pick up on our vibe: we want Open Data Day to work for everyone, from novices who know little about data to experts like Kaggle participants and uber geeks like Bruce Schneier. These events have always been welcoming and encouraging – it is part of the design challenge.
  • Okay, now add your city to the list, let people know where it will be taking place (or that you are working on securing space), let them know a rough agenda, what to expect, and how they can contribute.
  • Add yourself to the 2014 Open Data Day map. (Hint: Wikipedia lists Lat/Long in the information side bar for each cities wiki page: “Coordinates: 43°42′N 79°24′W”)
  • Join the Open Data Day mailing list. Organizers tend to share best practices and tips here. It’s not serious, really just a help and support group.
  • Check out resources like this and this about how to organize a successful event.
  • Start spreading the news!

D) I want to help more! How can Open Data Day work more smoothly everywhere?

Okay, for the truly hardcore you right, we need help. Open Data day has grown. This means we’ve outgrown a whole bunch of our infrastructure… like our webpage! Everyone involved in this is a volunteer so… we have some extra heavy lifting we need help with. This includes:

a. Website template update: The current Open Data Day template was generously donated by Mark Dunkley (thank you!!!). We’d love to have it scale a little better and refresh the content. You can see the code on github here. Email me if you are interested. Skills required: css, design

b. Translation: Can you help translate the ODD site into your language? You can submit the requests on github or send a document to heather.leson at okfn dot org with the content. She’ll do the github stuff if that’s beyond you.

c. Map: Leaflet and layers helpers wanted! We’d like a map geek to help correct geolocation and keep the 2014 map fresh with accurate geo for all the locations. Github repo is here and the event list is here.

What’s next?

I’m really looking forward to this year… I’ve lots more thoughts I’ll be sharing shortly.

Plus, I can’t wait to hear from you!

Mozillians: Announcing Community Metrics DashboardCon – January 21, 2014

Please read background below for more info. Here’s the skinny.


A one day mini-conference, held (tentatively) in Vancouver on January 14th  San Francisco on January 21st and 22nd, 2014 (remote participating possible) for Mozillians about community metrics and dashboards.

Update: Apologies for the change of date and location, this event has sparked a lot of interest and so we had to change it so we could manage the number of people.


It turns out that in the past 2-3 years a number of people across Mozilla have been tinkering with dashboards and metrics in order to assess community contributions, effectiveness, bottlenecks, performance, etc… For some people this is their job (looking at you Mike Hoye) for others this is something they arrived at by necessity (looking at you SUMO group) and for others it was just a fun hobby or experiment.

Certainly I (and I believe co-collaborators Liz Henry and Mike Hoye) think metrics in general and dashboards in particular can be powerful tools, not just to understand what is going in the Mozilla Community, but as a way to empower contributors and reduce the friction to participating at Mozilla.

And yet as a community of practice, I’m not sure those interested in converting community metrics into some form of measurable output have ever gathered together. We’ve not exchanged best practices, aligned around a common nomenclature or discussed the impact these dashboards could have on the community, management and other aspects of Mozilla.

Such an exercise, we think, could be productive.


Who should come? Great question. Pretty much anyone who is playing around with metrics around community, participation, or something parallel at Mozilla. If you are interested in participating please contact sign up here.

Who is behind this? I’ve outlined more in the background below, but this event is being hosted by myself, Mike Hoye (engineering community manager) and Liz Henry (bugmaster)


As you’ve probably gathered the goals are to:

  • Get a better understanding of what community metrics and dashboards exist across Mozilla
  • Learn about how such dashboards and metrics are being used to engage, manage or organize communities and/or influence operations
  • Exchange best around both the development of and use/application of dashboards and metrics
  • Stretch goal – begin to define some common definitions for metrics that exists across mozilla to enable portability of metrics across dashboards.

Hope this sounds compelling. Please feel free to email or ping me if you have questions.



I know that my cocollaborators – Mike Hoye and Liz Henry have their own reasons for ending up here. I, as many readers know, am deeply interested in understanding how open source communities can combine data and analytics with negotiation and management theory to better serve their members. This was the focus on my keynote at OSCON in 2012 (posted below).

For several years I tried with minimal success to create some dashboards that might provide an overview of the community’s health as well as diagnose problems that were harming growth. Despite my own limited success, it has been fascinating to see how more and more individuals across Mozilla – some developers, some managers, others just curious observers – have been scrapping data they control of can access to create dashboards to better understand what is going on in their part of the community. The fact is, there are probably at least 15 different people running community oriented dashboards across Mozilla – and almost none of us are talking to one another about it.

At the Mozilla Summit in Toronto after speaking with Mike Hoye (engineering community manager) and Liz Henry (bugmaster) I proposed that we do a low key mini conference to bring together the various Mozilla stakeholders in this space. Each of us would love to know what others at Mozilla are doing with dashboards and to understand how they are being used. We figured if we wanted to learn from others who were creating and using dashboards and community metrics data – they probably do to. So here we are!

In addition to Mozillians, I’d also love to invite an old colleague, Diederik van Liere, who looks at community metrics for the Wikimedia foundation, as his insights might also be valuable to us.

The promise and challenges of open government – Toronto Star OpEd

As some readers many know it was recently announced that I’ve been asked by Ontario Premier Wynn and Government Services Minister John Milloy to be part of the Government of Ontario’s task force on Open Government.

The task force will look at best practices around the world as well as engage a number of stakeholders and conduct a series of public consultations across Ontario to make a number of recommendations around opening up the Ontario government.

I have an opinion piece in the Toronto Star today titled The Promise and Challenges of Open Government where I try (in a few words) to outline some of the challenges the task force faces as well as some of the opportunities I hope it can capitalize on.

The promise and challenges of open government

Last week, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the launch of Ontario’s Open Government initiative, including an engagement task force (upon which I sit).

The premier’s announcement comes on the heels of a number of “open government” initiatives launched in recent years. President Barack Obama’s first act in 2009 was to sign the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. Since then numerous city, state and provincial governments across North America are finding new ways to share information. Internationally, 60 countries belong to the Open Government Partnership, a coalition of states and non-profits that seeks to improve accountability, transparency, technology and innovation and citizen participation.

Some of this is, to be blunt, mere fad. But there is a real sense among many politicians and the public that governments need to find new ways to be more responsive to a growing and more diverse set of citizen needs, while improving accountability.

Technology has a certainly been – in part – a driver, if only because it shifts expectations. Today a Google search takes about 30 milliseconds, with many users searching for mere minutes before locating what they are looking for. In contrast, access to information requests can take weeks, or months to complete. In an age of computers, government processes often seem more informed by the photocopier – clinging to complex systems for sorting, copying and sharing information – than using computer systems that make it easy to share information by design.

There is also growing recognition that government data and information can empower people both inside and outside government. In British Columbia, the province’s open data portal is widely used by students – many of whom previously used U.S. data as it was the only free source. Now the province benefits from an emerging workforce that uses local data while studying everything from the environment to demography to education. Meanwhile the largest user of B.C.’s open data portal are public servants, who are able to research and create policy while drawing on better information, all without endless meetings to ask for permission to use other departments’ data. The savings from fewer meetings alone is likely significant.

The benefits of better leveraging government data can affect us all. Take the relatively mundane but important issue of transit. Every day hundreds of thousands of Ontarians check Google Maps or locally developed applications for transit information. The accumulated minutes not spent waiting for transit has likely saved citizens millions of hours. Few probably realize however that it is because local governments “opened” transit data that it has become so accessible on our computers and phones.

Finally, there are a number of new ways to think about how to “talk” to Ontarians. It is possible that traditional public consultations could be improved. But there is also an opportunity to think more broadly about how the government interacts with citizens. Projects like Wikipedia demonstrate how many small contributions can create powerful resources and public assets. Could such a model apply to government?

All of these opportunities are exciting – and the province is right to explore them. But important policy questions remain. For example: how do we safeguard the data government collects to minimize political interference? The country lost a critical resource when the federal government destroyed the reliability of the long form census by making it voluntary. If crowdsourcing and other new forms of public engagement can be adopted for government, how do we manage privacy concerns and preserve equality of opportunity? And how will such changes affect public representation? Canada’s political system has been marked by increasing centralization of power over the past several decades – will new technologies and approaches further this trend? Or could they be shaped to arrest it? These are not simple questions.

It is also easy to dismiss these efforts. This will neither be the first nor the last time people talk about open government. Indeed, there is a wonderfully cynical episode of Yes, Minister from 1980 titled “Open Government.” More recently, various revelations about surveillance and national governments’ desire to snoop in on our every email and phone call reveals much about what is both opaque and to be feared about our governments. Such cynicism is both healthy and necessary. It is also a reason why we should demand more.

Open government is not something we will ever fully achieve. But I do hope that it can serve as an objective and a constantly critical lens for thinking about what we should demand. I can’t speak for the other panelists of the task force, but that will be how I approach my work.

David Eaves is a public policy entrepreneur, open government activist and negotiation expert. He is a member of the Ontario government’s new Engagement Task Force.

Government Procurement Reform – It matters

Earlier this week I posted a slidecast on my talk to Canada’s Access to Information Commissioners about how, as they do their work, they need to look deeper into the government “stack.”

My core argument was how decisions about what information gets made accessible is no longer best managed at the end of a policy development or program delivery process but rather should be embedded in it. This means monkeying around and ensuring there is capacity to export government information and data from the tools (e.g. software) government uses every day. Logically, this means monkeying around in procurement policy (see slide below) since that is where the specs for the tools public servants use get set. Trying to bake “access” into processes after the software has been chosen is, well, often an expensive nightmare.

Gov stack

Privately, one participant from a police force, came up to me afterward and said that I was simply guiding people to another problem – procurement. He is right. I am. Almost everyone I talk to in government feels like procurement is broken. I’ve said as much myself in the past. Clay Johnson is someone who has thought about this more than others, here he is below at the Code for America Summit with a great slide (and talk) about how the current government procurement regime rewards all the wrong behaviours and often, all the wrong players.

Clay Risk profile

So yes, I’m pushing the RTI and open data community to think about procurement on purpose. Procurement is borked. Badly. Not just from a wasting tax dollars money perspective, or even just from a service delivery perspective, but also because it doesn’t serve the goals of transparency well. Quite the opposite. More importantly, it isn’t going to get fixed until more people start pointing out that it is broken and start contributing to solving this major bottle neck of a problem.

I highly, highly recommend reading Clay Johnson’s and Harper Reed’s opinion piece in today’s New York Times about procurement titled Why the Government Never Gets Tech Right.

All of this becomes more important if the White House’s (and other governments’ at all levels) have any hope of executing on their digital strategies (image below).  There is going to be a giant effort to digitize much of what governments do and a huge number of opportunities for finding efficiencies and improving services is going to come from this. However, if all of this depends on multi-million (or worse 10 or 100 million) dollar systems and websites we are, to put it frankly, screwed. The future of government isn’t to be (continue to be?) taken over by some massive SAP implementation that is so rigid and controlled it gives governments almost no opportunity to innovate. And this is the future our procurement policies steer us toward. A future with only a tiny handful of possible vendors, a high risk of project failure and highly rigid and frail systems that are expensive to adapt.

Worse there is no easy path here. I don’t see anyone doing procurement right. So we are going to have to dive into a thorny, tough problem. However, the more governments that try to tackle it in radical ways, the faster we can learn some new and interesting lessons.

Open Data WH

Access to Information, Technology and Open Data – Keynote for the Commissioners

On October 11th I was invited by Elizabeth Denham, the Access to Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia to give a keynote at the Privacy and Access 20/20 Conference in Vancouver to an audience that included the various provincial and federal Information Commissioners.

Below is my keynote, I’ve tried to sync the slides up as well as possible. For those who want to skip to juicier parts:

  • 7:08 – thoughts about the technology dependence of RTI legislation
  • 12:16 –  the problematic approach to RTI implementation that results from these unsaid assumptions
  • 28:25 – the need and opportunity to bring open data and RTI advocates together

Some acronyms used:

StreetMix for testing bike lanes – Burrard St. Bridge Example

I’m MCing the Code for America Summit at the moment, so short on time to write a post, but I’m just LOVING StreetMix so much I had to give it a shout out. If you are a councillor, urban planner or community activist, StreetMix is a site you HAVE to check out.

What does it do? I basically allows you to create or edit and street you want. It is so simple to use it takes about 1 minute to master. At that point, you can build, copy and redesign any street in the world.

Here, for example I’ve recreated the Burrard St. Bridge in Vancouver as it exists today, with bike lanes and below, as it existed before the addition bike lane.

Burrard Bridge new

Burrard Bridge old

Mission Driven Orgs: Don’t Alienate Alumni, Leverage Them (I’m looking at you, Mozilla)

While written for Mozilla, this piece really applies to any mission-driven organization. In addition, if you are media, please don’t claim this is written by Mozilla. I’m a contributor, and Mozilla is at its best when it encourages debate and discussion. This post says nothing about Mozilla official policy and I’m sure there Mozillians who will agree and disagree with me.

The Opportunity

Mozilla is an amazing organization. With a smaller staff, and aided by a community of supporters, it not only competes with the Goliaths of Silicon Valley but uses its leverage whenever possible to fight for users’ rights. This makes it simultaneously a world leading engineering firm and, for most who work there, a mission driven organization.

That was on full display this weekend at the Mozilla Summit, taking place concurrently in Brussels, Toronto and Santa Clara. Sadly, so was something else. A number of former Mozillians, many of whom have been critical to the organization and community were not participating. They either weren’t invited, or did not feel welcome. At times, it’s not hard to see why:


Again this is not an official Mozilla response. And that is part of the problem. There has never been much of an official or coordinated approach to dealing with former staff and community members. And it is a terrible, terrible lost opportunity – one that hinders Mozilla from advancing its mission in multiple ways.

The main reason is this: The values we Mozillians care about may be codified in the Mozilla Manifesto, but they don’t reside there. Nor do they reside in a browser, or even in an organization. They reside in us. Mozilla is about creating power by foster a community of people who believe in and advocate for an open web.

Critically, the more of us there are, the stronger we are. The more likely we will influence others. The more likely we will achieve our mission.

And power is precisely what many of our alumni have in spades. Given Mozilla’s success, its brand, and its global presence, Mozilla’s contributors (both staff and volunteers) are sought-after – from startups to the most influential companies on the web. This means there are Mozillians influencing decisions – often at the most senior levels – at companies that Mozilla wants to influence. Even if these Mozillians only injected 5% of what Mozilla stands for into their day-to-day lives, the web would still be a better place.

So it begs the question: What should Mozilla’s alumni strategy be? Presently, from what I have seen, Mozilla has no such strategy. Often, by accident or neglect, alumni are left feeling guilty about their choice. We let them – and sometimes prompt them to – cut their connections not just with Mozilla but (more importantly) with the personal connection they felt to the mission. This at a moment when they could be some of the most important contributors to our mission. To say nothing about continuing to contribute their expertise to coding, marketing or any number of other skills they may have.

As a community, we need to accept that as amazing as Mozilla (or any non-profit) is, most people will not spend their entire career there nor volunteer forever. Projects end. Challenges get old. New opportunities present themselves. And yes, people burn out on mission – which no longer means they don’t believe in it – they are just burned out. So let’s not alienate these people, let’s support them. They could be a killer advantage one of our most important advantages. (I mean, even McKinsey keeps an alumni group, and that is just so they can sell to them… we can offer so much more meaning than that. And they can offer us so much more than that).

How I would do it

At this point, I think it is too late to start a group and hope people will come. I could be wrong, but I suspect many feel – to varying degrees – alienated. We (Mozilla) will probably have to do more than just reach out a hand.

I would find three of the most respected, most senior Mozillians who have moved on and I’d reach out privately and personally. I’d invite them to lunch individually. And I’d apologize for not staying more connected with them. Maybe it is their fault, maybe it is ours. I don’t care. It’s in our interests to fix this, so let’s look inside ourselves and apologize for our contribution as a way to start down the path.

I’d then ask them if them if they would be willing to help oversee an alumni group. If they would reach out to their networks and, with us, bring these Mozillians back into the fold.

There is ample opportunity for such a group. They could be hosted once a year and be shown what Mozilla is up to and what it means for the companies they work for. They could open doors to C-suite offices. They could mentor emerging leaders in our community and they could ask for our advice as they build new products that will impact how people use the web. In short, they could be contributors.

Let’s get smart about cultivating our allies – even those embedded in organizations with don’t completely agree with. Let’s start thinking about how we tap into and help keep alive the values that made them Mozillians in the first place, and find ways to help them be effective in promoting them.

The 311 Open Data Competition is now Live on Kaggle

As I shared the other week, I’ve been working on a data competition with Kaggle and SeeClickFix involving 311 data from four cities: Chicago, New Haven, Oakland and Richmond.

So first things first – the competition is now live. Indeed, there are already 19 teams and 56 submissions that have been made. Fortunately, time is on your side, there are 56 days to go.

As I mentioned in my previous post on the subject, I have real hopes that this competition can help test a hypothesis I have about the possibility of an algorithmic open commons:

There is, however, for me, a potentially bigger goal. To date, as far as I know, predictive algorithms of 311 data have only ever been attempted within a city, not across cities. At a minimum it has not been attempted in a way in which the results are public and become a public asset.

So while the specific problem  this contest addresses is relatively humble, I’d see it as a creating a larger opportunity for academics, researchers, data scientists, and curious participants to figure out if can we develop predictive algorithms that work for multiple cities. Because if we can, then these algorithms could be a shared common asset. Each algorithm would become a tool for not just one housing non-profit, or city program but a tool for all sufficiently similar non-profits or city programs.

Of course I’m also discovering there are other benefits that arise out of these competitions.

This last weekend there was a mini-sub competition/hackathon involving a subset of the data. It was amazing to watch from afar. First, I was floored by how much cooperation there was, even between competitors and especially after the competition closed. Take a look at the forums, they are probably make one of the more compelling cases that open data can help foster more people to want to learn how to manipulate and engage with data. Here are contestants sharing their approaches and ideas with one another – just like you’d want them to. I’d known that Kaggle had a interesting community and that learning played an important role in it, but “riding along” in a mini competition has caused me to look again at the competitions through a purely educational lens. It is amazing how much people both wanted to learn and share.

As in the current competition, the team at the hackathon also ran a competition around visualizing the data. And there were some great visualization of the data that came out of it, as well as another example of where people were trying to learn and share. Here are two of my favourites:


I love this visualization by Christoph Molnar because it reveals the different in request locations in each city. In some they are really dense, whereas in others they are much (more) evenly distributed. Super interesting to me.

Most pressing issues in each city

I also love the simplicity of this image created by miswift. There might have been other things I’d done, like colour coded similar problems to make them easier to compare across cities. But I still love it.

Congratulations to all the winners from this weekends event, and I hope readers will consider participating in the current competition.