Gone But Not Forgotten

Hello, you've landed on DATA eh? - Open Data Toronto's original blog space for data discussions. This is not an active blog at the moment but legacy posts are still here. Have a read ... you can still provide comments.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

DATA eh? Interviews Reham Gorgis, Open Data Coordinator, City of Toronto

By the DATA eh? Team 
DATA eh?: Hi Reham, we're presenting another in our series of interviews with the DATA eh? team and, guess what, you're next!

RG: Ah, OK.

DATA eh?: Tell us what you do as part of the team.

RG: I help coordinate all the requests for data that come to us through various channels like twitter and the Open Data mail box (opendata@toronto.ca). I sort these into ones needing answers that I can provide or ones I can’t answer and have to send to division staff. Beyond that, I also initiate contact with the client divisions – introduce City staff to the initiative and set up initial appointments so we can get to know their area and what data they have and host.

DATA eh?: You're actually one of our best known people because you make these first contacts for us.

picture of Reham smiling

RG: (laughing) Well, sometimes I have the feeling my call isn't getting answered because they see my name come up on the phone! Seriously though, I like the connecting aspect and convincing someone who is new to Open Data that they should: "get there stuff out". That's very satisfying. And I also actually get to publish the Open Data live to the website at toronto.ca/open. That's also satisfying - to be a part of the start and see it through to the publishing at the finish!

DATA eh?: Walk us through the start of the process - specifically what happens after first contact.

RG: Well, after our initial meet-ups with the Data stewards - and we call them "stewards" as opposed to "owners" because we make the point that the data is not something that City staff own but rather manage -  I provide an assessment of what can or can’t be published immediately. We work together with the client divisions to figure out what things need to happen to get things to a release state.

DATA eh? Is it ever straight forward?

RG: When we first launched, it was easier, since the data we were going after we called "low hanging fruit" - data already in raw format and more-or-less ready form. As we moved into year 2 and beyond, we faced more complicated stuff - way more nuanced. And that means it just takes longer for all kinds of reasons. We all have to do our "due diligence" on every release. In fact, after our first contact, subsequent meetings take place to go through a vetting process where data sets are reviewed in detail for everything from accuracy to making sure privacy is protected.  We also take a look at the “vintage” of the data.

DATA eh?: Vintage?

RG: Yes. I like to use that word because it suggests quality and viability and being the best of its kind - things like that - all around the state of the data. If it's not the most accurate or the latest vintage, we make it really clear when we publish "use at your own risk" or "hasn't been tested in the field". We want to ensure that whoever is using these datasets are not misled. I'd like to say that what we publish the most up to date data the City contains; however, I also realize, like in life, nothing is perfect ... neither is data.

DATA eh?: You also engage with the outside world?

RG: I feel I act like a bridge between inside and outside. For example, in December last year, I attended RandomHacks of Kindness. I like to go to these events, and I make a point of doing so, because it's important to know what the users of Toronto Open Data are doing and wanting to do. The December RHOK in particular showed how much can be done with the intention of working in groups focused on a task. Great things happen by just providing data to use. The potentials are great!!

DATA eh?: Give us some examples.

RG:  Sure. There was a group who experimented with Tree data. They wanted to relay how much of a difference neighbourhood trees make for energy conservation and air quality. So, they used the City's Open Data records for size, location and species - the data provides the type of tree for over 530,000 street trees - to create a website and mobile application mapping every tree in the City. This is great for walkers like the Safari Walking Group - a group for people who are low vision or visually impaired. They walk all over Toronto and this app can now help make a better experience as they walk.This also shows how Open Data supports accessibility!
DATA eh?: You came back quite energized.

RG: Yes, there were so many things happening! Speaking of accessibility, another team worked on building what is the beginning of a mobile "service catalogue" of accessible services. And there is work happening on something codenamed: "Landtrackr". It's all about connecting developers contractors and communities. The idea is to track existing and proposed developments in communities and to allow community members to tell stories about how the developments impact their lives. Phenomenal !!!

DATA eh?: We'll put you down as a believer.

RG: Well, yes, when all this comes to fruition it really shows both Open Government and transparency in action. And there are all these other good benefits from better knowledge of your environment and your community.

DATA eh?: Thanks Reham.

DATA eh? # 17

No comments: