Outputs from the #opendataTO ‘Open Data Lab’ session

Yesterday Toronto’s Mayor, David Miller, officially launched the city’s Open Data project (#opendatato) as part of the Toronto Innovation Showcase taking place November 2 & 3. Originally announced at the mesh conference earlier this year, it’s great to see this initiative come to fruition finally.

As part of this launch Mark Kuznicki  (a.k.a @remarkk) was asked to come in and facilitate an event called the “Open Data Lab” where interested developers and citizens could get informed about what the initial datasets contained, how to access them and to provide feedback on what else they wanted to see. Mark asked myself, and several other volunteers to join him in facilitating this session.


The Process

Inspire & Learn

After a series of presentations, intended to inspire the participants and get them thinking about innovative uses & applications for this data, we moved to the members lounge (attached to the City Council chambers) and began the ‘learn’ portion of the event. In this section the participants were divided into 6 separate groups (one for each dataset that had been released).

Taking cues from the speed-dating format, a subject matter expert (SME) associated with each dataset spent 10 minutes with each table, detailing what data they represented and answering any questions that the table might have. At the end of 10 minutes each SME moved to the next table and the process repeated itself. After a little more than an hour everyone in the room had had the opportunity to get a little face time with each of the datasets and their SME, have their questions answered and, most importantly really get the gears grinding on ideas for what was now possible.


From here we moved into the third and final stage: Ideate. The entire group was brought back together and people were invited to share their ideas and inspirations. These ideas were captured and then each was assigned to a table in the room. Participants could choose which conversation they wanted to participate in and for about 20 minutes some intense and interesting conversations took place as ideas were vetted and expanded on.

Finally, as the 20 minutes concluded everyone was brought back together and a spokesperson from each group was asked to answer three questions:

  1. What is the idea?
  2. What datasets does it require?
  3. What do you need most to make it happen?

My Thoughts

All-in-all the afternoon was an interesting process to watch unfold. There were certainly a lot of unknowns, would anyone show up (and if yes, who would they be), would they stay around for the interactive portion, would they engage and ideate or will it devolve into a conversation of everything that is “wrong” with the initiative?

OpenDataTO-8847Thankfully people did show up and it was a great mix of people, from hard-core coders, to very non-technical people who just had an interest in more access to information. The group I was with during the learn portion had a lot of great ideas and questions and really put the city’s SME’s through the ringer (in a friendly, positive way) and for the most part the SME’s had the answers.

What I took away from the event: First off, the city staff who are responsible for publishing this data are all over it and seem to be behind the idea 100%. That said, they even admit that there are parties within the city’s bureaucracy that would rather not put a lot of data out there, especially anything that allows people to analyze and form opinions on how certain departments or elected officials are performing. The apolitical nature of the content that was released was brought up several times.

OpenDataTO-8849The three big themes that emerged for me: People want more data, in real-time in a standard format. I spoke with some of the co-facilitators after the event and many of them noticed similar trends in the conversations they were a part of.

I think what was presented yesterday was a great start and everyone around the table admits and agrees that there’s still a lot of work ahead. To make this work, the city is going to need to learn to live a bit outside their comfort zone on this one (as I think they’re already starting to do), and I have no doubt that the Toronto tech community is going to help drag them out there.

The Outputs

I recorded the final output presentations where each of the ideas was presented. They’ve been embedded below:

Table 1: Application to Facilitate Citizen Fact-checking

Table 2: Enhanced 3-1-1 – “What’s available in my neighbourhood”

Table 3: GPS-aware “NextBus” for mobile Devices

Table 4: Childcare Space Splitting/Sharing Application

Table 5: Well documented API to Standardize Data Sets

Table 6: Application to Facilitate Dataset Translation

Table 7: Multi-modal Commute Evaluator

Table 8: TO Fun Finder

Table 9: Building Widget Friendly Data Access

What Exactly Do I Do?

Ah, the million dollar question. What do I do? Where do I fit?

To date, 2009 has been an interesting ride for any number of reasons, not the least of which has been everything employment related – so I thought, as the summer draws to a close and everyone starts getting back to work I thought it would be a good time to post some of my thinking on just what it is I do.

VizThink is still very much alive and kicking but as you may or may not know I’ve only been half-time there since February. We’re in the process of evolving the business model and exploring ways to fund a community while still making it open and accessible for all. It’s been a great learning experience so far and am thrilled our backers have been open to keeping things running, even if only on a skeleton crew, while we try and make it work.

Of course, “half-time” means I’m looking for contract work to help top things up every month and contract work means being able to clearly explain what you do to people. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to define just what it is I do and, more importantly, what it is I want to do but this is easier said than done. Anyone who knows my background knows it’s pretty varied – I’ve started a few companies, built communities and done a whole pile of freelance consulting (discovery, needs analysis, design & specification mainly) for companies big and small. Needless to say, I haven’t found a silo yet that really defines me.  I’m an entrepreneur at heart and understand the inner workings of companies (both services and product-based) but my passion lies in the shorter term projects where I can have a meaningful impact in specific ways (compared to building a company out over years).

Asking Myself “What Do I Do?”

I spent much of the early part of the year taking inventory of what it is I’ve done, what I liked doing (and what I hated doing) and have been trying to figure out what to make of it. As I said, I like to mix things up and change is always good – working on a variety of projects on different topics is what really interests me. I get fired up learning about new processes, businesses and topics and being able to apply my acquired experiences and skills to help solve people’s problems.

As I’ve sat back and processed my experiences, interests and skills the same themes come up consistently: Ideas, Visuals & Facilitation.


I often describe myself as the “what if?” guy. I’m always looking at things, wondering if they can be improved – when I get the chance to someone who knows the inner workings of something will invariably ask “What if … ?” or “Have you thought about … ?” – I like to prod around, dig into how something works and try to find more efficient or useful ways for that ‘thing’ to function. It can be a device, a site, an application or a business model, it doesn’t make a difference to me. I love being a sounding board and kicking around ideas with people so ping me if you want to grab a coffee/drink sometime – I can’t promise they’re all good ideas, but it should be a interesting, if not useful, conversation.


The Integrated Content LifecycleI’m not an artist, at least not in the fine arts sense of the word. I love photography and take thousands of pictures a year. I doodle, sketch and chart stuff out constantly. Visuals are at the root of just about everything I do – whether it’s as simple as tabling data in a visually appealing way, flow-charting a process or as complex as designing a PowerPoint presentation or detailed information graphic. I’ve done this as long as I can remember, but only in the past few years has the term Visual Thinking really emerged as a widely recognized descriptor for this practice.


VizThinkToronto6-0744.jpgA couple of years ago I would never have described anything I do as “facilitation” but the truth is I’ve been doing it since I started my first company. The consulting process, especially in the early discovery and needs analysis phases,  is all about successful facilitation. In the early years it was mostly ad hoc and improvised, “unconscious facilitation” if you will, but over the past year or so I’ve been working to brush up my formal facilitation skills, through courses and practice,  and have designed and run numerous sessions since VizThink Toronto 1 in early 2007.

So What Does This All Mean?

When push comes to shove, what do I tell people I do? What’s my title on a business card? What silo do I fit in? (ugh)

This is an impossibly hard question, and from talking to many people I know, I’m not the only one struggling with these days – there’s a lot of us who just don’t fit in the normal hierarchy of the business world. We can be inserted in seemingly random places but function perfectly well in any of them – we’re like swiss army knives, lots of functions – we do a few things really really well and have the skill or at least general knowledge of a lot of other areas. In an emergency we can help fill those roles, and in other cases we can simply serve as the body of the knife, holding together all of the other components that go into your projects. It’s a hard thing to explain, so I’ve tried to condense my pitch to a few key areas…

The Elevator Pitch

Here’s my first stab at my elevator pitch:

I help organizations discover, refine and share their stories enabling them to communicate with their audience in the most effective way possible in order to achieve their goals.”

My “Silos”

So where to position me? I’ve begun referring to myself as a “Facilitator and Information Designer”. Both very broad silos, and deliberately so.

Here’s just some of the ways these skills can be applied:

Facilitator Information Designer
  • Ideation/Brainstorming Sessions
  • Needs Analysis
  • Discovery
  • Strategic Planning
  • Business Model Development
  • Innovation Facilitation
  • Decision Making
  • Story Development
  • Team Building
  • Dispute Resolution
  • Presentation Design
  • Story / Presentation Development
  • Information Architecture
  • Data Visualization
  • Process Illustration
  • Info-graphic Design
  • Document Design

I’m Looking for Contracts

If you have, or hear of, any opportunities that you think I could help with please get in touch – I’d love to chat about what you’re thinking and give you my honest opinion if it’s something I can help with.

Recent Work Examples

For reference here’s a few examples of some recent work I’ve done:

Feedback Appreciated

Wow, if you’ve gotten all the way to here – thank you! Next time we meet I owe you a coffee/beer.

As you can imagine, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post – am I off the mark? Did I miss something? Do you think I’d be good at something else?

If so, please leave a comment below, tweet me via @ryancoleman or drop me an email ryan (at) ryancoleman (.) ca

Photo credits: ohadwedb @ Flickr, eleaf @ Flickr, ifindkarma @ Flickr

Follow-up: Defining and Measuring Social Success

From June 8-12, 2009 the MaRS Discovery District here in Toronto, ON ran an event called “Netchange Week” (http://netchangeweek.ca), a week-long event designed to explore how social technology can bolster social change. As part of this week I was invited to come run an afternoon workshop on social media and how to effectively define success in a way that could be measured.

Working with Chris Berry from Critical Mass we collaborated on a two-part session – the first, a talk by Chris on practical social metrics followed by a facilitated session where I broke the attendees into groups and they took what Chris had presented and applied it to some example scenarios.

If you’d like to know more, I’ve included Chris’ slide deck below and detailed the full session at http://ryancoleman.ca/netchange

As a freelance facilitator and information designer, I can help your organization discover, define and develop your story so you can share it more effectively – If your organization could benefit from better explaining what it is you do, then I can be of help. Contact me today.

[Follow-up] The Integrated Content Lifecycle

The Integrated Content Lifecycle

A quick post to update you on the Translation World session, “The Integrated Lifecycle: Creating a Foundation for Envisioning and Planning an Integrated Translation Lifecycle that I facilitated last month – A summary of the session, as well as the visual outputs, including a high-rez PDF, are now available on my site, here.

Overall I think the session went really, really well – we had a perfect mix of attendees (we had three of the four major stakeholders represented) and all had mixed levels of experience with integrated systems. I’m really happy with the final visual as well – I think we captured the important points and I know the attendees themselves gained a much deeper understanding of the process and discovered areas where integrating systems might prove valuable. Be sure to check out the full rundown of the session (including the process we used) and sneak a peak at the full-size graphic while you’re at it.

All of the outputs have been licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-commercial, Share-alike license.

As a freelance facilitator and information designer, I can help your organization discover, define and develop your story so you can share it more effectively – If your organization could benefit from better explaining what it is you do, then I can be of help, contact me today.

Upcoming: Defining and Measuring Social Success (06/12)

In a couple of weeks I’ll be facilitating a session in conjunction with the folks organizing Net Change Week at MaRS – Net Change is a week-long event designed to explore how social technology can bolster social change.I’ll be there on Friday afternoon facilitating a component of “Defining and Measuring Social Success” alongside Chris Berry of Critical Mass.

It should be an interesting session, we’re inviting representatives from non-profit/charitable organizations & grouping them with some leading social media, community, design & marketing experts from the area and doing a session on defining and measuring metrics when it comes to social media tactics and strategies – it should be really interesting to see what comes out of it.

The details are at the bottom of this post – the session is invite only but if you think you’d add value and want to participate drop me an email (Ryan@ this domain) and I’ll see what I can do!

Come on Out For Net Change Week!
Be sure to check out the Net Change site – in addition to my workshop there are a ton of other events, many of them free, happening throughout the week on a variety of topics.

This video sums up the goal of Net Change week quite nicely:

NetChange from SiG @ MaRS on Vimeo.

Session Details:

Defining and Measuring Social Success

This combination lecture and workshop will focus on social media strategies and effective ways to monitor their success for you non-profit or change-focused organization. Christopher Berry, Group Director of Marketing Science at Critical Mass will speak on practical social analytics. Following Chris’ talk the participants will be split into small workgroups where they will have the opportunity to work through example scenarios where they’ll be able to apply and explore what they’ve just learned. Each of these scenarios will give each group to work through identifying measurements and targets for three types of goals: Fundraising, Awareness and Engagement.

This three hour session will bring together a variety of participants, from key representatives of non-profits and charitable organizations to social media, community, design & marketing experts from the Toronto community. Participants will leave with a new toolset that they can take from this session and apply to their own organizations when measuring the impact of their social media strategies and tactics going forward.

See all Details