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Mediating Open Data: Providers, Portals, and Platforms.

There has been incredible growth in the presence and substance of open data initiatives worldwide. Governments at all levels of jurisdiction face increasing pressure to release public-sector data in machine-readable formats with minimal restrictions. However, the release of data, particularly government data, is not a trivial task, and requires significant mediation to be realized. The forces that create, shape, and transform the open data landscape can be defined as infomediaries--intermediaries that support the creation and sharing of digital information. Infomediaries, both human and nonhuman, negotiate the gap between open data providers and end-users, and can take the form of service providers, portals, and platforms.

The purpose of this special issue is to explore a range of infomediary roles, including government (articles by Johnson and Greene; Gill, Corbett and Sieber), libraries (Robinson and Mather), data formats (Baculi, Fast, and Rinner), and software (Sangiambut and Sieber). The cases in this special issue focus on open data mediation within Canada, one of the leading nations of the open data movement and a key contributor to geographic information systems (GIS) and geospatial data infrastructure development. The legacy of decades of work in building better systems for data sharing in Canada has led to one of the world's most pervasive, multiscale open data strategies, informing urban and regional information systems nationally and internationally.

The special issue begins with Johnson and Greene's Who Are Government Open Data Infomediaries? A Preliminary Scan and Classification of Open Data Users and Products. The authors sketch out the range of third-party infomediaries--classified as government, private sector, NGO, academic, and media--who access government open data and create value-added products. Classifying how infomediaries translate open data into actionable information enables, among other benefits, feedback to government open data providers looking to justify, improve, and expand open data initiatives.

The next paper, Exploring Open Data Perspectives from Government Providers in Western Canada, by Gill, Corbett, and Sieber, explicates the role of government personnel in open data production and provision in western Canadian jurisdictions of varying sizes--ranging from large city centers (Edmonton and Vancouver) to smaller cities (Victoria and Vernon) and regional districts (Okanagan). Through interviews of government open data personnel, paired with an assessment of supporting open data policies, the authors share an in-depth understanding of how the size of municipalities affects how open data initiatives develop.

The third paper in this issue, Open Data Community Maturity: Libraries as Civic Infomediaries, by Robinson and Maher, extends the scope of infomediaries to libraries as long-standing practitioners of information science. Libraries have played the role of data curators long before the introduction of digital information, and, as such, are ideally suited to serve as civic infomediaries capable of meaningfully connecting the nonexpert public with open data to create a more robust open data ecosystem.

Shifting towards the transformative potential of open data infomediaries, the fourth and fifth papers extend the conversation to nonhuman actors and explicitly address the role of data formats and software platforms in the access and use of open data. Baculi, Fast, and Rinner investigate The Geospatial Contents of Municipal and Regional Open Data Catalogs in Canada, a survey of the geospatial content of government open data and the platforms that enable their use. The focus on the availability and growth of geospatial and GIS-ready datasets in municipal open data catalogs, with a prevalence reported around the well-known 80 percent mark, highlights that data format and delivery method impact the potential uses of open data.

Lastly, Sangiambut and Sieber conclude this special issue with The Civic Open Data and Crowdsourcing App Ecosystem: Actors, Materials, and Interventions. They extend the conversation to the role human and nonhuman infomediaries play in the valuation and transformation of open data, with a focus on the complex network of mutual interdependencies between open data infomediaries and the civic-data app ecosystem. The authors caution that the inclusion of infomediaries in an era of crowdsourcing, open data, and Web 2.0 can reduce the role of government to a mere platform for service delivery.

The emerging and diverse roles of infomediaries explored in this issue support the making of open data. This work set the foundation for necessary and immediate next steps to tackle more complex questions related to the critical evaluation of the value of open data and its limitations: The capacity to facilitate the interaction between and among governments and citizens; the perceived enhancements to transparency, accountability, and access; and the mechanisms that support or prevent input to open government.

This special issue is the culmination of interconnected research projects within the Canadian "Geothink" research partnership, a network of researchers funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). The partnership examines the influence of the geospatial Web on reshaping government-citizen interactions. During the course of this project, research on the geospatial Web has expanded into open data as one of its core areas of interest--a reflection of the societal trend towards open data. The research activities from Geothink are informed by close collaborations with professionals from federal, provincial, and municipal governments across Canada, private-sector firms, and nonprofit organizations. These collaborations have given Geothink researchers an in-depth and behind-the-scenes understanding of what it takes to make data "open."

Dr. Victoria Fast is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Calgary. As an urban GIS specialist, she applies GIS and data science, Web mapping, and participatory methods to engage government, citizens, and NGOs on issues related to building smart--accessible, livable, resilient, and sustainable--cities.

Corresponding Address:

Department of Geography

University of Calgary

2500 University Dr. NW

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Dr. Claus Rinner is a professor and chair of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Ryerson University. His research expertise within geographic information science covers geovisualization, participatory GIS, and spatial decision support. More recently, he became interested in open geospatial data, as exemplified in this special issue, and in 3-D-printed geographies.


This special issue emerged from research collaborations within a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Partnership Grant 895-2012-1023, the "Geothink" project, and was also partially funded by a SSHRC Doctoral Scholarship. It was truly inspiring to work together to create this collection, and we thank the individual articles' authors, reviewers, and the journal editors for their dedication, patience, and wisdom.
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Author:Fast, Victoria; Rinner, Claus
Publication:URISA Journal
Date:Dec 1, 2017
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