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Open Data Should be for Everyone

Learn QGISLearn QGIS is an open mapping initiative

 Learn QGIS : The information age is powered by data

In Canada, data drives policy decisions, business decisions and community decisions. From national conversations about social issues to local campaigns for more park benches, our decisions are guided by geographic data – and when more people have access to authoritative data, the more informed these important conversations can be.

With the government’s recent commitment to an Open Data Action Plan, there is no doubt that Canadian data publishers will continue to make high priority datasets available online. These data are touted as being accessible to all, and that’s true – but their actual use is limited to those with the technical skills to know what to do with them.

LearnQGIS.com is a new Canadian initiative to change the way open data is used. I’m asking you to check out the website, sign up to get involved, and please – this is important – visit https://www.raiseanaim.org/projects/learn-qgis to endorse the project or support it financially.

In our experience, open data publishers have done a reasonably good job of connecting with local app developers (or ‘civic hackers’), who use the data to write web applications, often in the context of weekend hackathons. These applications generally fail to gain traction – they are quickly written and quickly forgotten. There is a growing (and as of yet un-met) demand from professionals outside of the hackathon groups in a variety of industries to support their use of the data as well.

 “The world is witnessing the growth of a global movement facilitated by technology and social media and fuelled by information – one that contains enormous potential to create more accountable, efficient, responsive and effective governments and businesses, and to spur economic growth. Open data sits at the heart of this global movement.” – G8 Open Data Charter

Learn QGISMany open datasets are in geospatial formats or have a spatial component (a postal code, for example). Therefore, the transmission of GIS knowledge to those outside our industry is critical to the accessibility of open data. Journalists, non-profits, small businesses, citizen groups, researchers, and anyone else working on a professional or pet project ought to be able to download a shapefile and make a basic map. They should be able to combine data from different sources, including their own proprietary information.

“We’ve been seeing over the last couple of years a new layer of interest in Open Data and that interest is coming from people who can’t use or even understand raw data files. There is a clear need to provide ways and means for everyone to leverage raw data.” – Keith McDonald, City of Toronto Open Data Lead

Luckily, we live in the age of free and open source GIS, such as the popular QGIS platform. With a short primer on some geographic fundamentals, even non-technical users can successfully create their very own custom map. The experience, however, can be frustrating and there are many roadblocks to success. The learning curve can be steep, and the existing training options don’t adequately meet the needs of users with non-technical backgrounds. Right now we’re telling people to take a course and hope it answers their questions, or post to a forum and hope for an answer they can use. I suspect we, as a geomatics community, could help generate better outcomes – including increased name recognition for our industry – by building better relationships with geo-rookies.

These “rookies” are people who are actively working on projects that would benefit from a GIS. They’re experts in their own fields, not people looking to enter the geomatics industry themselves. What they really need is an expert guide to hold their hand while they work on a DIY GIS project, offering a little general advice about getting started, answering a couple of specific questions about the project, and helping to bail them out if they run into trouble. I like to equate it to working out with a personal trainer – sure, you could probably figure out what exercises you should be doing and how to do them properly yourself, but you’re much more likely to succeed with someone supporting you and holding you accountable.

“Technical skills are becoming increasingly important for media professionals. GIS is a growing field for journalists, and maps are an increasingly popular and important way of presenting information to readers and analyzing data dumps from governments. The program Ms. Blundell outlines would be an important resource, one that does not currently exist, to bring skills training and guidance to media professionals. There is an established and under served market for technical training and this program would go a long way toward fulfilling those needs.” – William Wolfe-Wiley, Homepage Editor, Canada.com

My vision for LearnQGIS.com is to provide this “personal trainer” experience. It’s a way to connect rookies with a geospatial guide who can advise them and help them succeed. Once an expert is on board as a volunteer guide, they are also invited to apply to be a QGIS instructor. LearnQGIS instructors receive everything they need to run a training seminar wherever they’re located in Canada, including marketing and logistical support, presentation materials, and tutorials with pre-packaged data. Revenue from the workshops is divided between the instructor, the site, and the QGIS Project.

Aside from the opportunity to become an instructor, there are many benefits to volunteering as a guide. In my practice as a GIS consultant, I’ve noticed that training my clients in open source tools has also benefitted me. They’re more willing to expand their use of the technology once they understand it. When they have the power to make simple edits they are more willing to have me do some work in the short term, knowing they won’t need to call for support if they decide to use a different shade of green for a feature. And once they understand what goes into a mapping project, they’re often more willing to pay a real expert to do the more complicated work they can’t do themselves. I’ve been playing the role of ‘guide’ for years, and it’s been a win-win. I’ve also learned that teaching others one-on-one or in a classroom is a wonderful way to expand your knowledge, and helping someone with a project can help you gain experience in a new industry.

This project already has buy-in from data publishers and leaders in the geospatial community. Potential users are enthusiastic to get started. I encourage you to get involved at www.learnqgis.com. Sign up to be a guide; apply to become an instructor. Share the link broadly – we all know someone who really should be using GIS in their work. We know our industry is important; let’s show our friends outside the sector what we can do for them.

“Access to data allows individuals and organizations to develop new insights and innovations that can improve the lives of others and help to improve the flow of information within and between countries…. We are at a tipping point, heralding a new era in which people can use open data to generate insights, ideas and services to create a better world for all.” – G8 Open Data Charter

Updated Pan-Canadian Geomatics Community Strategy

Canadian Geomatics Community Round Table - Geomatics Community Strategy

CGCRT day 2 - Geomatics Community StrategyThe Canadian Geomatics Community Round table (CGCRT) Geomatics Strategy, Action, and Implementation Planning Workshop took place on June 9 and 10 in Ottawa. The scope of the two day CGCRT event was to provide opportunity for organizations and individuals from the geomatics industry to examine issues facing the Canadian geospatial community and to help develop a Pan-Canadian Geomatics Strategy that could support, strengthen and help guide the geomatics sector for years to come.

I was fortunate enough to be part of the 100 plus  geomatics leaders (from academic institutions, professional associations, NGOs, government, and private industry,) from all across the country that came together for the event. A summary of the two day event is available here and more details about the Pan-Canadian Geomatics Strategy and the 7 dimensions that it is comprised of are available from the various documents on the CGCRT website.

Geomatics Community Strategy

Now the CGCRT finalized this Strategy based on the many discussions and consensus reached at the workshop that took place in Ottawa and working groups have been created to start moving the Strategy forward. The updated version of the Pan-Canadian Geomatics Community Strategy document that reflects the discussions and input from the June “Team Canada” Workshop that took place in Ottawa. To download the updated strategy document


GIS and Geomatics Jobs on LinkedIn

For years now LinkedIn has proven to be a powerful online career tool that people have been including in their job hunting arsenal of tools. Besides some the more obvious features that it provides (such as online portfolios, resumes available 24/7, job postings and recruiters) it has allowed people to network with others in the same industry much easier, often connecting with people well beyond their geographic regions.

The Canadian GIS & Geomatics group  for example has grown to over 2000 members in the past year, and contains a wide range of active geomatics people from Newfoundland to British Columbia who have a wide range of backgrounds, knowledge and experience (GIS, Cartography, Remote Sensing, LIDAR, Surveying etc.).

Cansel achieves Autodesk Platinum Award

Cansel achieves Autodesk Platinum Award for the highest growth for sales in Canada

Vancouver, BC, 9 May, 2013 — Cansel announced that they have received Autodesk’ coveted Platinum Award for the highest growth for new sales in Canada, during fiscal year ending on January 31st, 2013. Cansel was the only Canadian company to win Platinum Award from Autodesk for Autodesk’s fiscal year 2013. For 30 years Cansel’s in-house experts have provided tailored solutions of Autodesk technologies including training, support, customization and programming, workflow optimization and standards development. It is now the largest reseller of Autodesk solutions in Canada and ranks number 4 in North America.

”This award signifies that the Canadian marketplace continues to recognize Cansel’s unique value proposition and expertise in helping solve our customer’s business challenges. We have invested over the years to build the largest Canadian team of professional services experts, who come from industry with practical knowledge and experience,“ said Mr. Sasha Nikodijevic, Cansel. “When you combine our team of experts, coupled with Autodesk Suites, our structured implementation methodology and wide selection of hardware, we are able to optimize our customer’s workflow, from field to finish.”

About Cansel
Cansel helps organizations measure, analyze, design and build a better Canada. We are the only company of its kind, providing unique and tailored solutions for over 40 years. The markets we serve include engineering, surveying, construction, mining, architecture, utilities, forestry, and government. Partnering with the world’s leading technology manufacturer’s, (such as Canon, Trimble and Autodesk) Cansel’s national team of professionals combine software, hardware and services to improve your workflow, from field to finish. www.cansel.ca

Autodesk ® is a registered trademark of Autodesk, Inc., and/or its subsidiaries and/or affiliates in the USA and/or other countries.

Free Canadian Geospatial Data Sets

Canadian Geospatial Data - Open Government Canada Logo

The Federal Government produces and acquires data sets in many different areas including health, agriculture, the environment and natural resources. The Government of Canada launched an open data portal [data.gc.ca] earlier this year as part of Canada’s open government initiative. The portal aims to provide Canadians with a single point of access to find and download government Canadian Geospatial Data sets.

“The goal of the Open Data Portal is to create socioeconomic opportunities and promote informed participation by the public by expanding access to federal government data.”

The site provides the ability to search over 150 Canadian Geospatial Data sets that have been sorted into 18 different categories such as Imagery and Basemaps, Atmosphere and Climate, Cadastral and many more. Data is made available for both non-commercial and commercial uses.

Canadian Geospatial Data

Many of the data sets provided here are still the same data that you would get from other places such as GeoGratis, GeoBase or Natural Resources Canada but here they the Government is trying to be more efficient to its citizens by making it easier for GIS users to find Canadian data sets.

The Canadian open data portal [data.gc.ca] should be one of the sites that you go to when you are looking for Canadian geospatial data for your projects. So good luck in your search, I hope you find the data that you need.

Search for Geospatial Data Sets on the Canadian open data portal: http://open.canada.ca/en

 If anybody knows of other good sources of Canadian Geospatial Data Sets, then let me know and I will include the information for others to know more about it.

Many Canadian Provinces, Cities and municipalities have been getting involved in the Open Data Resource Initiative such as the City of Totonto, the City o Edmonton, the Province of New Brunswick and many more.

If you are looking for free open source GIS data sites then we suggest that you make a link to CanadianGIS.com GIS data sources, as we are constantly adding more resources to that page as they become available.