Open Data Day Recap

Posted on Mar 18, 2013 in Uncategorized
Open Data Day Recap

Open Data Day Toronto featured case studies, a hackathon, workshops and 14 lightning talks. About 160 people attended, representing a huge diversity of disciplines, backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.
Based on our post-event survey:

  • 98% said they learned something new
  • 95% said the event met or exceeded their expectations
  • on average, attendees said they met 9 new people
  • 85% said the event gave them the opportunity to share their work and ideas with others
  • 85% said they’d be willing to pay $10 or more to attend the event in the future

The talks began with a presentation by Sheraz Khan, surveying Toronto web mapping projects. It was followed by case studies by Beth Wilson of Social Planning Toronto, Jamie Robinson from the United Way, and Jayme Turney from the Toronto Public Space Initiative. The web mapping presentation and case studies made clear the potential for data to offer us insights – or enable decision-making – in ways that can have clear impacts on communities.

After lunch, the group split into three tracks: a hackathon facilitated by Andrew Lovett-Barron, workshops by Richard Pietro and Karen Smith, and a series of 5-minute lightning talks moderated by Ivor Tossell.

Andrea Zeelie wrote up this summary of her experience of the day:

Last month technologists and urbanists worldwide celebrated Open Data Day, an affair dedicated to the gathering of citizens in celebration of data. I was one of the lucky 120 people to score a ticket to inaugural Open Data Day Toronto. At first, I didn’t realize that Open Data Day was a global event as something about this happening felt very Torontonian. I love that people who live, work, and play in Toronto are determined to improve this city to its fullest. Open data encourages collaboration and actually makes this possible. The full-day occasion was oriented towards sharing perspectives, projects, tools and ideas across disciplines. While the day was of particular interest to “planners, statisticians, designers, mobile app developers, journalists, epidemiologists, cartographers, hackers, librarians, policymakers, and artists,” it really appealed to anyone with a general curiosity. City data is extremely useful – but when combined with other types of data, it becomes invaluable.

To single out any of the 35 presentations is difficult as all of them included insights or resources that I found helpful. The morning was dedicated to several case studies of how data is used to benefit communities. I really enjoyed Sheraz Khan’s opener on online interactive mapping and design with a useful overview on the types of data, and the different purposes they serve. I especially liked Beth Wilson’s talk – which introduced me to the Learning Opportunities Index, a fascinating measure of external challenges affecting student success.

The afternoon included a hackathon, a few workshops, and many lightening talks. I elected to sit in on the talks, but managed to pop out for one workshop so I could learn about a new tool to analyze data. My favourite element, however, were the lightning talks: short presentations about projects, apps, ideas and tools.  I especially liked how the presentations were so varied: some pitched by people working on projects as well as people that had some bright ideas or problems they’d like to solve. It was incredible. At one point, I snuck out to circle the block to let some of my newfound knowledge percolate. It’s hard to continue to pay attention when my mind is so stimulated! I got a huge kick out Kevin Branigan’s Cold Walk Map and Metered Tickets vs Rules rendering. I’m also pleased to have learnt of Quandl – of which I’ve now searched for countless datasets. It seems I may missed out on the hackathon, an opportunity for both the tech-savvy (and the tech-scared!) to collaborate on projects.

The highlight of the day for me was actually that it even existed at all. There was an exuberance infusing the event, which made it so successful. I heard rumours that the 5-person team that makes up Urban+Digital Toronto threw the event together in a matter of weeks but you’d never know it. A well-thought-out schedule provided plenty of opportunities to learn, as well as breaks to engage and mix with other like-minded people.  Urban+Digtial nailed the engagement piece. From the morning meet n’ greet, to a conversational (as well as delicious and local) lunch, and the après event beers, there were ample occasions to approach presenters or enter into an exchange with others.

I’m just thrilled that I live in a time where online tools for communication and collaboration are constantly being improved – I can’t wait to see what’s on offer at Open Data Day 2014.

Andrea Zeelie is a health promoter and communications specialist interested in finding new and creative ways to make health promotion information more accessible.

Urban+Digital is now Code for Canada