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ChangeCamp Proposal – Old and New School Mapping in Vancouver

I submitted this to the VanChangeCamp’s call for proposals last week (it’s also available in the ChangeCamp wiki):

Who is the intended audience?

  • Government leaders
  • Non-profits
  • General public

Brief description of the session:

I will moderate a session involving groups involved with mapping at the municipal, non-profit and citizen levels, to talk about what their interests in mapping are, how technology fits into it, and what visions they have for the benefits to advocacy groups, the public and civil servants by making mapping data and the ability to collaborate on maps more broadly available. I hope to invite (but have not yet invited) those knowledgeable about the YouMapVancouver Initiative or other groups interested in mapping or semantic data.

The goal of the session is to:

Help the audience understand who’s interested in maps, who the stakeholders are in this area, to think about the possibilities for their low- or high-level contributions, and to celebrate the successes and cool stuff people have already done in this space.

It answers one of the two guiding questions1 of ChangeCamp by:

It answers the first question by focusing specifically on one kind of data the city already has: mapping and location data, which it has already made available. It answers the second question by highlighting the work of non-profits who are already working on behalf of citizens.

1: One, “How can we help government become more open and responsive?” and two, “How do we as citizens organize to get better outcomes ourselves?”

Collaborative Mapping == Participatory Knowledge Making?

For those few of you who perhaps only read my blog, you may be wondering how I’ve come to the position of proposing this topic at ChangeCamp.

As I mentioned at the end of my post about co-design, and as evident from my work with TransitCamps and from my honours thesis, I am quite interested in the possibility of participatory design and decision-making processes. Part of the design process is research, data and knowledge gathering, as well as interpretation of what things are like now, how they came to be that way, and then, through the design, a vision of what a place might look like or work for the future.

It is the first part of that equation – the research and data and knowledge gathering – that I am interested in exploring, through the lens of an open source process involving collaboration, crowd-sourcing, and multiple levels of types of participation. At this point, my main inspiration is the concept of “Citizen Science” out of a research project at Berkeley and the accompanying Common Sense project, which, in a nutshell, give people devices to plug into their cellphones to take air quality readings from wherever they are traveling throughout the day. The data is then combined and aggregated with everyone else participating in the project.

I am most astounded by this project with its mashup of these exciting trends:

  • the popularity and near ubiquity of mobile phone access;
  • engaging with community members in learning about their daily lives in ways that are engaging, interesting, and social;
  • visualizing the data collected in ways that provide benefit to everybody.

I see collaborative mapping, especially the sort not completely unlike the YouMap Vancouver project, to be but a hop and skip from this. My particular interest is how to explain these sorts of contributions as not just the sort of thing keeners do, and I like the idea that there are lots of precedents in that sense. Watching Twitter take off like hotcakes right now (and the ongoing negotiations between Facebook (as a tool) and its users), I’m observing that these apps go through these incredible cycles of grappling with McLuhan’s Laws of Media in such a short time, from months to weeks to days and even hours. People come to grasp the enhancements, retrievals, reversals and obsolescences all at different speeds and to different depths, which eventually shape the usage they settle on as being the best fit for their personality and work preferences. (I still have friends holding out on Twitter without ever having been on it – the proposed enhancement is obviously not something they perceive as needing fixing.)

The very out there, even-further-afield tracing of the trajectory of these trends can also be found in Benjamin Bratton’s talk from eTech, which Roland sent me a few months back. I get lost about a page and a half through though.

Next up: diving into the Common Sense website’s Resources page to see what else people are up to!

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