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First Five with Wilfreda Edward-Dolcy

A series where we get to know people within ODC’s network

We put out an open call a couple months ago for a new co-chair for our Implementation Working Group. We’re so pleased to introduce Wilfreda Edward-Dolcy, from the Government of Canada as our new co-chair and get to know her better through a mini Q&A:

1. Where are you on your open data journey?

I’ve been a public servant for about a decade now, working initially in geospatial analysis and then moving to broader data management. About a year ago, I had one of the most energizing conversations of my career. I learned that the Government of Canada has a team dedicated to mainstreaming the ideas of transparency, accountability, integrity, and participation in government. The most visible evidence of this work was making government data and information openly available to those it was most intended to benefit — the public. Working on data-sharing agreements at the time, I was instantly intrigued because here was an opportunity for the value I place on transparency and my professional ambitions to finally align. With little convincing, I swapped my departmental mindset for that of a central agency. I leaned into how my technical skills and policy implementation experience could be leveraged to become part of the policy-making process that makes government data more open, useful, and re-usable.

So, I’m at the beginning of my open data journey, but what a year it’s been. I’m part of an organization that’s among the world’s leaders in an initiative that arguably underpins democratic freedom. I’ve connected with small business owners, students, researchers, and academics to better understand their open data needs and how our work can be adjusted to meet those needs. I’ve collaborated with data stewards across the Government of Canada to gain insight into the challenges they face in releasing data. I’ve met colleagues worldwide who are faced with similar challenges and have helped me learn and navigate this space. I’ve joined the blossoming Canadian open data community through the Canadian Open Data Society and attended dozens of events to help promote and support open data initiatives across the country. And now, with this new opportunity as the Government co-chair of the Open Data Charter Implementation Working Group, I’m part of a global community, committed to fostering the ODC principles.

2. Do you have a favourite IWG memory or session?

Although I’ve attended a few IWG sessions, I’m still relatively new to this community and look forward to creating my favorite memories. That said, this week’s IWG Meetup & Data Projects Fair is a strong contender for my favorite session. In a one-hour Jamboard activity, we heard about more than ten different projects from our global members, spanning various open data areas.

Re-watch the session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGXkLlpFFFg

The session began with presentations about government initiatives. I kicked things off with a description of our Open Data Impact work at the Open Government Team in Canada. In sharing our efforts to measure and assess the impact and value of Open data to Canadian society, it was enlightening to learn that the New Zealand Government is engaged in similar work. Daniela Garcia from the Government of Argentina followed with a presentation on their initiatives to help foster data openness by developing guidelines to standardize public information in open formats and providing technical assistance to ministries and decentralize bodies. Paul Stone from New Zealand’s Kāinga Ora — Homes and Communities then spoke about their “Collective Impact Intelligence Hub”, which brings together open and shared data sources to create a data-commons supporting the public housing sector. He highlighted specific short-term and long-term goals. In the short-term, this work will demonstrate the capacity to bring data together to solve housing affordability and availability problems. The project aims to create a centralized data repository in the long-term, where multiple organizations could contribute and co-govern; data would be uploaded based on demand and citizen needs. Paul’s project was a poignant reminder that while open data is the basis of much of our work, citizen trust is the key to its success.

Finally, Fredy Martinez from the Government of Bogotá rounded things out with a colourful presentation on the District Plan for Open Data. The plan covers a framework with guidelines and strategies on how to use open data, but it targets data literacy among general citizens rather than data scientists. Bogotá’s plan also features an open data service platform where various types of data can be accessed, including geographic data through a mapping portal, gender and equity data, and health data, which was a significant tool during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Transparency and accountability remain the focal point for Bogotá’s framework, as the government continues to provide data to its citizens that embrace the ODC principles of accessibility and usability.

Many participants were eager to share their projects, and the discussion kept moving to data projects from specific sectors. Julio Lopez Pena from Ecuador spoke about two from his organization Datalat. The first involves collaboration with three distinct ministries to increase transparency and combat corruption by opening data on the environment, public health, and agriculture. This information was made available by linking different information systems to the centralized national portal. The second is a pilot project with Ecuador’s third largest city, Cuenca, to promote open data at the city level by strengthening citizen engagement. Julio’s projects are fine examples of opportunities for the IWG community to provide recommendations and suggestions on how best to engage at the local level.

Next, Jimena Sànchez, an open government advisor to USAID, presented on a datathon for integrity and fighting corruption in Peru. Her organization partners with young data scientists to detect potential conflicts of interest and release open data on public procurement. Through this event, teams were able to open more than 1000 datasets, which will be used to generate a data repository. Our final sectoral presentation was by one of the newer ODC adopters, Chris Hagerbaumer from OpenAQ — an environmental technology non-profit organization based in the USA. Chris spoke passionately about the creation of an open air-quality (AQ) platform intended to centralize all government data on air quality worldwide.

Given the ODC IWG’s mandate, it was fitting that we should also discuss initiatives that strengthen the open data ecosystem. Poncelet Ileleji, the CEO of Jokkolabs in Banjul, The Gambia, gave a brief presentation on a data repository targeting the country’s youth. Leveraging university students for data collection, the project aims to embody ODC principles by creating a one-stop-shop for data and information for youth, managed by youth. Finally, Karl Donert, from Belgian non-profit EUROGEO, closed the presentations with three intriguing educational initiatives on open geographic data. The organization is focusing on digital literacy at the secondary school level, creating teacher toolkits that integrate open data on key topics like climate change, and a European Values Study to collect data on people’s values and creating a map of how values differ geographically.

The strength of these lightening presentations was found in identifying opportunities for collaboration, perhaps between our work in Canada and New Zealand’s on open data impact. They also raised awareness of the common challenges faced by the IWG community. For example, Karl’s point that policymakers seem unprepared to integrate open data into learning systems in their countries, and Paul’s observation that trying to tell data stories in rural locations outside of major urban centres continues to be a significant hurdle to mainstreaming open data.

Joining the IWG as the co-chair for this particular session leaves me eager to see the synergies and memories to come.

3. Share your vision: What does the world’s future look like with open data fully implemented and integrated?

In my Geo days, we used to say that we were driven by having “a map in every memo.” It sounds excessive, but it was based on the idea that we all recognized that everything has a component of place. We knew that providing a visualization of that component of place through a map could help complex ideas to be more easily understood, used, and relayed by anyone.

Open data has the same potential. In a future with open data fully implemented and integrated, government data and information are not only released by default. They are released based on public demand and packaged so that they can be easily absorbed and intentionally re-purposed — not just by highly skilled technical experts but by any member of the public above an eighth-grade level.

In this future, your friends, family, and neighbours know what open government data is and how it helps make their lives easier and more equitable. The culture of the public service would be founded on citizen engagement for improved community outcomes around some of our most complex issues, like the climate crisis, social injustice, food insecurity, public health, immigration, refugees, global displacement, and so many others — all with open data as the vehicle to facilitate change.

As a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analyst, I saw my field evolve from a purely geographic discipline to a tool for location intelligence that shows the interconnectedness of seemingly unrelated topics, like climate change and gender inequality. I look forward to seeing that evolution mirrored in open data, where niche data scientists’ technical, grassroots practices become the mainstream expectation that fuels innovation and solves real-world problems by enabling similar unexpected connections.

4. Do you have a favourite open data project or initiative or one that you encountered recently that left an impression on you?

This is a timely question. Just last week I attended the annual Go Open Data Conference, hosted by the Go Open Data (GOOD) Association and it was a packed two days, filled with inspiring open data user stories from around the world. The one that caught my eye comes from right here in my home city of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada at Carleton University. The Digital Campus Innovation combines my love for geography with my passion for open data principles, through an initiative to create 3D spatial visualizations to better understand sustainable infrastructure. Using open-source based maps and point cloud data, Carleton U’s Living Laboratory creates immersive, 3D renderings that can be seamlessly delivered to the average user via their web browser, rather than demanding specialized software expertise.

Digital Campus Innovation — Carleton University

The Carleton Digital Campus (CDC) protype was developed to increase the efficiency of facility management operations with real-time visualizations; however, in an increasingly virtual world, it also has applications to help support virtual experiences for students. With detailed 3D renderings of campus buildings, underground tunnel systems, classrooms and even the furniture within them — all streaming in a web browser, this work has tremendous potential to expand its application to a global view of our natural environment. Their findings will allow insight into the environmental impacts of infrastructure, and how to maximize data to plan, design and construct sustainable communities.

5. One last one — a fun one: What’s your favourite view in your neighborhood?

It’s not quite in my current neighbourhood, but it’s very much in the place I call home. I was born on a tiny island and fortunately, I get to return for a visit at least once a year. Somewhere between my mother’s and my late father’s hometowns, nestled behind rolling lush hills, is a fishing village called Marigot Bay. Seated on the dock with your feet pooled in the Caribbean Sea, you can witness the most beautiful sunset the island has to offer. If you’re ever in St. Lucia, make sure you stop by to take it all in.

Unfiltered Photo by Wilfreda Edward-Dolcy

Wilfreda Edward-Dolcy is an Open Data Specialist, on the Strategic Policy Team, in the Open Government Office of the Chief Information Officer for the Government of Canada. She is also the new co-chair of our Implementation Working Group. This blog is part of a series in which we get to know people within ODC’s network and the open data community.

If you would like to be a part of our Implementation Working Group, please don’t hesitate to get in touch: info@opendatacharter.org.

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