By now, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the Open City Initiative, in particular one of its programs, Open Data. But just in case you were hibernating under a geological formation to escape winter — perfectly understandable — the Open Data program makes data freely available, easy to access, and most importantly, simple for the public to reuse in machine-readable formats. Proudly, The City of Edmonton’s Open City Initiative is number one (out of 34 Canadian cities) as ranked by Public Sector Digest in January 2016.
So what is happening with all of this easily accessible, free information? One needs to look no further than the The City’s Open Science program for a satisfying answer.
Open Science is a collaborative partnership among researchers, professors and academic communities with the goal of:
- promoting innovative solutions to municipal challenges
- developing a strong support system that will encourage the research community to tackle challenging City operational issues
- engaging researchers in developing practical solutions to current issues in our city
- increasing public engagement in planning and policy development based on data-driven decision-making.
An exemplar of Open Science in action was the Open Science Poster Reception, which was held at City Hall on April 4, 2016.
The event, featuring students from the Urban and Regional Planning program at the U of A, presented research on Geographic Information Systems (GIS). They were overseen by their professor, Dr. Manish Shrigaokar. “Every year I teach this class on geospatial analytics, and the students work on data that is available for the public to use. What we do is look for patterns in the data, not just from an academic perspective, but from a policy implication perspective that can be used to figure out some questions that are of interest to the City of Edmonton.” For their final project, the students then put together their research to be presented and consequently judged by all the guests.
Attendees numbered over 100. They included City planners, strategists, analysts and policy developers and the general public, as well as the Mayor, several Councillors and the City’s Chief Financial Officer. They all voted on the following nine projects:
- Geospatial Light Pollution Patterns in Edmonton: Does Household Income Matter?
- A Partial Evaluation of Solar Potential for the City of Edmonton Based Upon Radiance Incident on High Rise Buildings
- Century Park: The Impact of Park & Ride on a Community
- Connecting Housing Demand and Supply: Area Suitability Classification of Home Locations for New Buyers in Edmonton
- Developing an Accessibility Index to Inform Housing First Policy: A Critical Evaluation of Social Services in Edmonton
- Edmonton Suitability Analysis on Neighborhood Features and Crimes in Parks
- Living Roofs: Evaluating the Potential of Unused Roof-Space in Edmonton
- Uncovering Useful Trends for Policy Derivation Through Tracking the Flow of People on Edmonton’s Transit System
- Street Light Pollution Patterns in Edmonton: Is the Upper Class Privileged?
Along with the impressive turnout, working on practical problems to the benefit of the very community they live in made this a very meaningful and worthwhile endeavour for the students. Human geography student, Eden McDonald-Yale explained, “My partner and I were interested in researching homelessness because we’re both pretty concerned about it, especially in Edmonton. Both of us volunteer with different homeless centres so we could bring those aspects of our lives into this project. And what we learned here, I brought into what I’m doing at the Bissell Centre.”
On the other side of this collaborative effort, walking around checking out the projects, was Koosha Golmohammadi, Data Scientist with Open City and Innovation Branch. “After supporting the students by reaching out to different business groups at the City, it is amazing to see the various innovative ideas that they came up with for their communities using Open Data and analytics.”
“I feel this event really showcased what Open Science is all about — tapping into resources outside the City for innovation to help solve municipal issues,” said Koosha. “We’re very pleased with all of the positive feedback we’ve received and are excited to continue this trend.”
How is Open Science continuing this trend? “Well, currently, we have several ongoing projects about data mining that we’re working on with the Computer Science Department at the U of A,” answered Koosha. The four projects the students are working on are:
- Feature Matching Based Residential Area Recommendation System (a phone app that will use Open Data to help newcomers to the city find the residential area that suits their needs and lifestyle)
- Segregation of the Population in an Area on the Basis of Education Using Tableau (a website which will help visualize and analyze Open Data information)
- Possible Connectivity and Relationships Between Requests and Complaints (an application that will use the 311 and Bylaw Infraction data sets to help with the investigations of unresolved complaints and, possibly, find connections to the causes of the complaints)
- Edmonton Schools, Playgrounds & Libraries: Living Areas Website (a website that will be used to help people have a better understanding of Edmonton’s public schools, libraries and playgrounds in an area).
Like the projects before them, Koosha is excited about the possible benefits of their research that will improve City operations and ultimately the citizen experience. “This ongoing, collaborative partnership between the academic community and the City will continue to be mutually beneficial. They get the chance to work with real raw data under our guidance, and as a result, we get research that can improve policy development, planning and decision making.” Smile spreading further, “It’s truly a win-win!”
In addition to checking out the above-linked websites on Open Science, if you are interested in learning more or contributing any thoughts or ideas that you may have, feel free to email Koosha at email@example.com. He’s a very “open”-minded individual.