We get a big grant


Over the next five years, 26 researchers and 30 partners will explore how location-based technologies and social media transform the way Canadian cities and citizens communicate with each other. The grant, Geothink, is led by Renée Sieber, McGill University. This $5.7million grant is funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnership Grant Program and generous contributions from grant partners. Executive Summary below:

Major technology firms like Google, Microsoft and Apple are competing for dominance in web and mobile mapping. These new technologies represent not only a multi-billion dollar industry but a revolution in mapping. Firms build platforms like Google Maps and Bing Maps; individuals "mash" them up on the web or in location-based applications (apps). People contribute the data; they tweet street conditions; their mobile apps deliver directions to the nearest coffee shop, whose reviews also were contributed by individuals. Governments add to the data stream by increasing accessibility of their data, like realtime transportation information. These new forms of map making, called the Geospatial Web 2.0 (Geoweb), are important for Canada, known as a world leader in map making and geographic technologies but whose leadership has since waned.

Our research untangles the hype of the Geoweb. The hype is that the Geoweb increases government efficiency and transparency because more data is online and because non-experts provide data formerly the domain of government. New apps promise to improve citizen participation in a global conversation about where they live and even rewire power relationships. Behind the hype a rapidly evolving Geoweb might rework concepts of individual privacy and collective community. A lack of funding or staff can prevent Geoweb adoption by government; status quo approaches and complex legislation can block efforts to improve government data sharing and may close channels for direct citizen input. Most governments struggle to open their data for sharing or find it difficult to measure the accuracy or authenticity of crowdsourced data. Web 2.0 can reduce respect for experts and increase a tendency for people to be "alone together", interacting exclusively online.

Our research investigates how geographic data contributed by citizens, made available by government and mapped with Geoweb tools, reshapes local government-citizen interactions. Our specific objectives are: 1) identify best practices development and usage of the Geoweb ecosystem in governments; (2) explicate paths taken by local governments to leverage the Geoweb ecosystem to communicate directly with constituents, the private sector, and other tiers of government; 3) investigate the socio-cultural, economic and legal shaping of this technological ecosystem as it relates to governance; 4) establish a sustainable partner network of regular communication in which ideas are bottom up and dynamically refined; and 5) train the next generation of leaders who will be highly technically competent and cognizant of impacts of Geoweb technologies on governance processes and citizen relationships. We emphasize cities because most data is local and cities are potential sites of creative energy and innovation.

A broad diversity of researchers and partners addresses our objectives. Our co-applicants from partner universities are from geography, communication/information studies, planning, law, sociology and engineering. A broad partnership includes lead innovator cities and agencies, nonprofits and centres, foundations, and private sector. Municipal partners are engaged in intellectual contributions to six research themes. Many provide material support, including internships for 30 students. They provide us with grounded experience building apps, creating open data portals and using citizen-contributed data. As the project evolves, we will seek out new adopters and expand our industrial connections. Our students will have the opportunity to intern with our partners. A rapid response thinktank will quickly connect with our private, public and civil society partners. In achieving our objectives, Canada will assume leadership in effective government use of the Geoweb.