OpenCon Toronto 2015

By Haley Kragness (Photos by Lorraine Chuen and Jan Wildenhain)

What is the Canadian government’s stance towards open principles? What resources do Canadian institutions offer for researchers who want to be open? How is open data changing the landscape in Toronto and beyond?

These were just a few of the questions that arose and were discussed a few weekends ago at OpenCon Toronto 2015. Held at the Mozilla Science Lab coworking space in downtown Toronto, the event drew more than 50 students, entrepreneurs, academics, and professionals from the Greater Toronto & Hamilton Area. We brought in experts from both academia and industry to lead discussions about open projects and principles relevant to the open landscape in Canada.

Our first presenter, Arliss Collins spoke about the work that Mozilla Science Lab is doing to advance open science on the web. One of the most impressive is Collaborate: an interdisciplinary platform for connecting researchers with useful partners such as coders and designers. Collaborate offers scientists the opportunity to enhance the value of their data in myriad ways - for example, by developing ways to visualize social media for early disease detection or by creating an open genome database. The Science Lab also fosters the fast-growing Study Groups, which are an amazing open resource for researchers to learn valuable coding skills through others in their local community and in the larger Study Group community. One of the Science Lab’s ongoing projects focuses on creating an Open Guide for researchers to facilitate openness - we’re all looking forward to using this awesome resource in the future! 

Next up was science librarian John Dupuis, who joined us from York University to speak about the state of open science in Canada. While much of the past decade held bad news for openness - from the muzzling of government scientists to the cancelling of the mandatory long-form census - John highlighted some “glimmers of hope” that have shone through, such as Environment Canada’s successful open database as well as a draft Tri-Agency Statement of Principles on Digital Data Management. And with the new government comes new optimism, as reflected in Trudeau’s mandate letters to his ministers. You can check out John’s presentation for yourself here!

One of the greatest advances for open in Canada is the new Tri-Agency Open Access Policy. University of Toronto librarians Mariya Maistrovskaya and Stephanie Orfano led an information session demystifying frequently asked questions from Canadian researchers. They covered topics such as how to choose what “brand” of open access works for you, how to find the appropriate open access journal, and the importance of retaining your author rights.

Our final speaker of the day, Keith McDonald, represented Toronto’s Open Data initiative. Like many major cities, Toronto has begun to release searchable datasets that can be used to generate useful tools and visualizations. For example, the Wellbeing visualization tool allows users to investigate how each neighbourhood stacks up in various areas, such as crime rates, transportation, and housing; and users of Rocketman can plan their commute with real time transit data. The Toronto data catalogue currently has 202 datasets and is always growing - updates are sent out constantly over their Twitter account.

 OpenCon Toronto brought together people from academia and industry, from the public sector and the private sector, from undergraduate students to senior researchers, all to discuss the status of openness in Toronto and Canada. To keep the conversation going, we have compiled a mailing list for those who would like to collaborate and stay in contact with the open community in the future. If you’d like to be on that mailing list, let us know! We look forward to great conversation and collaborations in the coming months as a result of this satellite event.

OpenCon Toronto would not be possible without our sponsors. The Mozilla Science Lab generously offered their beautiful space for the day. We are especially grateful to Arliss Collins (the Science Lab representative) and our other speakers (Stephanie Orfano, Mariya Maistrovskya, John Dupuis, and Keith McDonald) for donating their time and expertise. Many thanks to our financial supporters, Frontiers and the President's Office at McMaster University. We could not have done it without you! Finally, a big thank you to all the attendees - and we hope to see you again next year!


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