Last week I responded to an open call by Alberta's Expert Monitoring Panel to present my take on the following questions:
1. What should a world class environmental monitoring system look like? 2. What type of organization should manage and operate the proposed environmental monitoring evaluation and reporting system? 3. What kind of information should the environmental monitoring system produce? 4. How should the environmental monitoring system be funded? 5. Do you have any further suggestions or advice to help the Panel as they develop recommendations for a world-class environmental monitoring system?
As I didn't feel that I could adequately address each question, my presentation and argument focuses on components of Q1 and Q2. This blog post will focus on the Open Data aspects of Q2. My full presentation can be found here: Presentation to Alberta Environment Expert Panel on AAQM.
Slide #5 outlines the 3 Laws of Open Data as proposed by David Eaves, Slide #6 outlines the process of turing open data into a community good. Open Data is important in this context as it has the potential to engage a broader base of citizens in a conversation that is normally limited and closed. While engagement is possible it does not happen quickly or easily. If there was a formal process for turning open data into community engagement, it might like this:
Step One: Create An Open Data Catalogue
This open data catalogue should be indexed such that it can be found and formatted such that the data is readable by a computer. The data should also be supported by a generous licensing agreement that demonstrates trust in the community. Keep in mind that the data should be good and complete, but not perfect. If there are issues, the community that you build will find them and tell you.
Step Two: Engage a Community of Developers
There are a number of things that need to happen here: (1) create and Application Programming Interface (API) as an invitation for developers to access and use the data; (2) advertise that the data exists, and where it is; (3) link the core data with other support data, for instance a description of what the substances are, any location information and other meta data; (4) finally create an event or competition as a means of engaging developers. Something like and Apps for Air contest, coupled with a hack-a-thon.
Step Three: Get the Apps Out There
There are groups of smart phone and web users who love new toys. Ensure that these folks know that some cool Air Quality Applications are being developed, and invite these early adopters (and researchers) to use the apps and to provide feedback on them. Perhaps they can even vote on the winning application. In this instance, it is important to engage the early adopters through the smart use of social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter. Create a FB page, start using a Twitter hashtag, ask key members of the community for advise and help in getting the word out. Engage and don't be afriad.
Step Four: Wider Acceptance
As the apps start making their way onto the web and possible mobile devises, more people will use them and, hopefully, two things will happen over time. Citizens will realize that they have access to cool and useful tools, and the government will slowly become more comfortable with greater openness and transparency.
I was asked by the expert panel about brand protection. I believe that the best strategy to protect one's own brand is to engage with a community of people who support your goals and activities. That engagement is the best brand protection available. It is unfortunate that, to date, the Government of Alberta is too busy yelling things that we don't believe. More listening, engagement, and trust is required.