Oct 06, 2014

Lessons from Canada’s Dance Sector on Crowd-Sourcing a Community Map and Identity

Having been born with two left feet, I’m not much of a dancer.

So it’s not surprising that despite all the hype around Fox Television’s hit show, So You Think You Can Dance, I have barely given it a passing glance throughout its 11 seasons. My trigger-happy finger on the remote is more likely to speed through channels, blow by the show, and settle on some nerdy documentary.

But recently I came across the 2013 Canada Dance Mapping Study – an interactive, searchable map of dance in Canada – produced by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Dance Council, which gave me cause for pause to look at dance a little more closely.

In doing so, I discovered a thing or two the Canadian Geomatics Community can learn about mapping from the dance community.

Let me explain:

If you’re reading this, chances are that you love maps. And, if you’re like me, you probably agree that putting something – anything – on a map makes it infinitely more interesting than plain old statistics.

Maps tell stories. And the dance map paints a rich tapestry of Canada’s dance community: who dances, where they dance, and why. It highlights the geographic hotspots where the 2,400 dance-related organizations and 8000 individuals that practise African dance, ballet, ballroom, folk, highland, hip hop, jazz, powwow, square dance, and many other dance forms, are clustered across the country.  

The accompanying, “Dancing Across the Land: A Report on the Dance Mapping Inventory”, digs deeper to segment individuals who dance professionally, socially, for recreation, sport, competition, tradition, or spirituality. It includes dancers, choreographers, dance teachers and students, presenters, support staff, volunteers, and audiences.

Beyond the professional dance sector, the study includes points of connection between dance and other fields, like education, justice, health care, and sports. In essence, it paints a picture of Canada’s national dance “ecosystem”.

This profile of the sector was created through the roll-up of results from an anonymous, 10-minute on-line survey – Yes I dance – administered by EKOS Research Associates.

So what does this have to do with the Canadian Geomatics Community?

Well, if you’ve been following the development of the Pan-Canadian Geomatics Strategy, you’ll know that defining the scope of the Geomatics Sector – and settling on an “easily understood, distinctive profile and identity” – has been as elusive as finding a Malagasy (traditional Madagascar dance) troupe in Canada. (There’s only one, in case you’re wondering).

But what if – taking a cue from the Canada Dance Mapping Study – the Sector crowd-sourced its own identity through a Geomatics Community Mapping Study?

Under the banner of a general question like: Do You Do Geo?, an on-line survey would open the door to anyone and everyone in Canada who self-identifies as a producer or user of geospatial data and information – in industry, academia, associations, nonprofits, government – and at any stage of the geospatial value chain, from sensor research to business intelligence.

Broadening the survey to include people and organizations who use geo in any field (like forestry, construction, crime-fighting or marketing) – and in any occupation (like teaching, researching, surveying, policy-making) – would show the extent to which geospatial has become an enabler in many other sectors and broader society. (I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about the possible survey data analytics!)

The best part would be the ability to map the survey results. This would help create and communicate in a simple and compelling way, the distinct, recognizable sector identity and profile that the Canadian Geomatics Community Round Table is looking for…

Then maybe – just maybe – we could add the new genre of “Geomatics Happy Dance” to the Canada Dance Map.

What do you think it would it take to do a Geomatics Community Mapping Study? Let me know in the comments.

Wendy is Senior Policy Advisor with the Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation, Natural Resources Canada. Views presented in this blog post are her own.


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