The pleasure(s) of GOD – Geospatial Open Data

I know the acronym is OGD in the paper… but I wanted this to be my title, so please deal –

The ‘costs’ paper goes over what may be some underrated or undiscovered costs associated with open geospatial data. The four ‘big’ ones the authors point out are: 1) citizen participation smoke and mirrors; 2) uneven geographies; and 3) open data being a public subsidy for private companies; and 4) corporate influence. In my opinion: If the government wants to get in the business of opening data – because it’s fashionable now or we’ve decided it’s necessary for a well-to-participate civic society, it must do so with even-weighting on social good and long-term viability. We should solve this problem, as a nation, the same way we’ve done whenever some social output was necessary but not necessarily financially feasible: Crown-Corps. I’m sure we’re all fans.

Johnson and colleagues describe how open governmental data would enable faux-participation, which is what I think is meant by smoke-and-mirrors; will hopefully be able to follow-up with the cited Robinson paper. The note on North America’s public libraries reminds me of an excellent 99% invisible episode on how these critical pieces of socio-cultural infrastructure needed imaginative re-building. And they obviously do. We need places for people to think about how this world intersects with the digital one. One argument made – “that placing data in an open catalogue [was] no guarantee of its use” felt odd to me. Of course, I could guarantee that not placing data in an open catalogue would guarantee no use whatsoever. I’m not sure I understand how people not using open data when it’s made available is a cost associated with opening data.

Uneven geographies I felt was self-explanatory. Based on scale, access, and representation in data, various places may be left out, while others emphasized.

I lean on my Crown-Corp idea for dealing with issue # 3 & 4: open data ending-up becoming a pseudo-subsidy; and open data as an entry-point for corporate influence in government. I don’t think this is inherently a bad or necessary thing. Authors suggest that there is an indirect cost when opening data as companies take data to build products that they can sell back to the consumer. If some company follows these steps and provides their product for free, then there is no indirect cost – it’s purely built into the downstream direct costs to the consumer. My one-stop solution, the might Crown-Corp, could simply regulate data as a special commodity. If you are sufficiently likely to have formed part of some products training data, you are exempt from paying the product-making company. If a private tech giant is equipped to influence and standardize data formats, we can offer direct subsidies for creating platforms that are socially inclusive. Since datasets of benefit to civic society are likely to be different from those of corporate interests, again offer subsidies for helping open civic-priority data. All this starts with the establishment of a data-oriented CBC. Data journalism focused, open governmental geo-spatial data behemoth tasked with coalescing data for safe use by Canadians. Should entrepreneurial Canadians be interested in this data: simply charge them for it – this century’s oil right?

I’ve written too much already. Sorry. Last thing: Bates comments are 100% spot-on. Any open data will be used to reinforce trust in our government. If we’ve learned anything from 2016, it’s how quickly faith in once-esteemed institutions can be lifted. How can we ensure data is opened in a transparent way? Without having to rely on self-certified transparency?

I think a repeating pattern I’m struggling with in GI-Science is this belief that we as GI-Scientists are optimally placed to be considering how to deal with data and real-world representations of data, likely informed by our history as modelling geographic realities. Sometimes it feels like a stretch to me – many fields have spatial scientists, some of whom are talking about the same topics we pride ourselves on. And for when the others aren’t speaking the same language – why not? We are either critical to almost everything that is going to be happening this century, or we are in an echo-chamber.

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