Dr. Rozita Dara, University of Guelpl, (L) presenting awards to MBA student Justin LeBlanc (R) for his team’s poster and presentation “The Deadliest Animals in North America.” People across the province experienced first hand a thrilling demonstration of what can happen when governments invite the participation of citizens through open data. They were part of the National Open Data Visualization Challenge that was hosted by UNB’s Faculty of Business Administration and the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network as part of the 2016 Gov Maker Conference held in Fredericton last November.

Teams from across Canada were invited to use their creativity and imagination to use data from municipal and provincial governments and other organizations to offer insights on improving services. The challenge was to analyze the data to find a story, recommendation or new idea, and to share these graphically both in a poster and through a public presentation.

The data participants worked with came from across the Province of New Brunswick and included multivariate environment and population data, qualitative information, and even geographic information from survey data.

One team of UNB students worked with data relating to the use of mental health resources in the Province of New Brunswick and discovered a story about how mental health resources were not being adequately used by the segment of the population that probably needs them most.

Another interesting story came from two students in UNB Fredericton’s MBA program, Philippe Leger and Justin LeBlanc, who used data on animal collisions on New Brunswick highways. Collisions with deer and moose are the deadliest in North America and in New Brunswick. Through maps and charts they showed the impact moose fencing had on collisions. New Brunswick Highway 7 running between Saint John and Fredericton averaged between five and 12 collisions per year between 2003 and 2008, but dropped to near zero after moose fencing was installed in 2009.

Their poster and presentation, “The Deadliest Animals in North America”, won awards for the Best Infographic Poster and Best Presentation. “For us, the biggest challenge was to find the story,” said Leger. “Once we realized we could use historical data and maps and show the real world impact that the fencing had on collisions, I knew we had something.”

Judges of the competition included members of government at the municipal level (including the mayors of Edmundston, Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John) and at the provincial level, as well as members of the business community.

One of the biggest outcomes of the competition was the demonstration of how an engaged citizenry can use open data to see patterns and stories, that can in turn be used to make solid decisions to improve society and business. “Using open data in this way takes emotions out of the decision-making process,” commented Nick Scott, the Executive Director of the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network.

Ed McGinley, CEO of Techimpact, attended the competition and was delighted by the stories and ideas the competitors unveiled through their analyses. “More people should be taking the opportunity to use open data,” he observed. “It helps governments and businesses find efficiencies and opportunities to deliver services, and to ensure services are delivered more efficiently.”

Bethany Deshpande, Community Engagement Coordinator with the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network said another outcome of the competition was that a few industry leaders at the conference were keen to hire people to start doing similar analyses for them, and even requested interviews with some of the participants in the Challenge.

For more information, contact Liz Lemon-Mitchell

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