Sean Boots

Technology, public services, and people. But mostly people.

Speaking at Civic Tech Toronto

Back in March I gave a presentation at one of Civic Tech Toronto’s weekly hacknights. It was really nice to be able to tune in from Whitehorse and talk about some of my past civic tech projects.

You can watch the video recording here, or see my slide presentation here.

Civic Tech Toronto is a really inspiring and welcoming space. I’d attended in person a number of times during visits to Toronto before the pandemic, and joined in remotely when they began virtual and hybrid sessions. The Civic Tech Toronto volunteer team does a wonderful job facilitating these and helping folks feel at home both in-person and online.

Here’s the civic tech projects that I talked about during the presentation:

And, of course, the running joke is that all of my civic tech projects have the exact same structure:

  • Take something that should have been a spreadsheet (for example: unformatted or hard-to-find, but public, government data)

  • Make it into a spreadsheet (or more generally, structured data that computer software can read, sometimes using data analysis tools like R and sometimes literally copying text out of a PDF by hand)

  • Turn that spreadsheet into a website (usually using Hugo and static site hosting from GitHub or Netlify)

  • Add a tiny bit of flavour (but not enough to get fired!)

“Flavour” being, some kind of very low-key colour commentary about how public service institutions could be better.

I’m really lucky that I’ve had supportive and encouraging managers and leadership folks throughout my public service career – in a lot of organizations, this sort of work-adjacent colour commentary wouldn’t necessarily be welcomed! But the goal has always been, finding ways to help us all improve as public servants and public service organizations, and better help people along the way.

You can see the software source code and data underpinning these projects by looking at the GitHub repository links for each of them.

Ottawa Civic Tech is coming back!

On a related note! I’m so excited to see that Ottawa Civic Tech is making a comeback. On Wednesday, June 26, it’s having a revival event – you can see the details on their Meetup page here.

Ottawa Civic Tech was a foundational part of my time in Ottawa, and a community where I met so many close friends. It was the home for all the projects above, a place where I could learn from and trade ideas with other folks interested in technology and public good.

It took a hiatus throughout most of the pandemic, and it’s really fantastic to see it coming back (with many of the original organizing folks behind it!). If you’re in Ottawa you should check it out – sending tons of good vibes to the whole crew!