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DSAP Releases Preliminary Commentary on Sidewalk Labs' MIDP

Sep 10, 2019

DSAP releases preliminary commentary on Sidewalk Labs' Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP)

By: Michael Geist

My name is Michael Geist, and I am the Chair of Waterfront Toronto’s Digital Strategy Advisory Panel (DSAP), a group of 15 Canadian and international subject matter experts spanning a broad range of disciplines. The DSAP meets bi-monthly, and our meetings are open to the public (with limited, defined exceptions). Information about past and future meetings is available online (see bottom of the page), and recordings of our meetings can be found on Waterfront Toronto’s YouTube channel.

Today, the DSAP has released its first formal document - a Preliminary Commentary on the Sidewalk Labs Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP).

Though it serves a broad advisory role for Waterfront Toronto, since its 2018 inception, the DSAP’s primary focus has been the Quayside project. We have followed media reports, received presentations on proposed elements of the project from Sidewalk Labs, participated in Waterfront Toronto’s Civic Labs sessions and other community events, and reviewed and provided feedback on a pre-release draft of the “Digital Innovations” chapter. Now, as our most recent undertaking, we have undertaken a thorough review of all digital-related elements of the MIDP in order to develop this Preliminary Commentary.

DSAP panel members participating in a table discussion at Waterfront Toronto's Civic Lab on Digital Stewardship
DSAP panel members, Kevin Tuer and Jutta Treviranus, participating in a table discussion at Waterfront Toronto’s Civic Lab on Digital Stewardship.

The Commentary is not intended to represent the position of the DSAP as a whole; rather, it is a summary of the comments made by individual Panelists. It is also not intended as a full assessment of the MIDP; rather, it is an opportunity to highlight areas which DSAP members feel require additional information, clarity, or amendment. As such, the Commentary is not an exhaustive collection of everything Panelists found either positive or negative about the MIDP. The absence of comment on any element of the proposal does not imply either endorsement or criticism of that item.

That said, the concerns raised by this group should not be taken lightly, as they are not lightly made. The DSAP has dedicated significant time and energy to understanding this project; behind each comment is hours of thought and years of experience.

The DSAP’s Report Writing Working Group – consisting of Charles Finley, Andrew Clement, Karen Gomez, and Mark Wilson – led the development of the Commentary, and have made a series of preliminary observations:
  • Overall: In many areas, the MIDP is not sufficiently specific about critical areas of its digital innovation proposals, and it does not provide a clear path for individuals, civic society, or small/startup businesses to participate from design, implementation, operations, and sustainability perspectives.
  • Digital Innovations: Further information is required to show how digital innovations - including infrastructure and launch services - will support Waterfront Toronto’s goals for Quayside. This should include a shift from “what” is proposed to “how” the proposal will accomplish the objective, and why the proposal is superior to alternatives.
  • Data Governance / Privacy: The development of overarching data governance mechanisms should be shifted to Waterfront Toronto and its government partners, while Sidewalk Labs should focus on elaborating on how it will make its own proposals for data collection, processing and use more transparent, accountable and amenable to a robust privacy protection regime.
  • Intellectual Property / Economic Development: While welcome, the current value sharing proposals are insufficient. Moreover, additional specific commitments designed to enable the growth of the local urban innovation industry are needed.
We know that addressing these observations may represent a challenge, and potentially a significant one. Yet, we are confident that this Commentary can contribute to the ongoing evaluation of the project by Waterfront Toronto, the evolution of Sidewalk Lab’s MIDP, and the on-going policy discussions occurring at all levels of government.  We look forward to responses from the appropriate parties, and to continuing to engage with Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto as this process moves forward.

Once any amendments to the MIDP and/or additional information have been received (including any information provided by Sidewalk Labs in response to DSAP's comments), we will engage in a full review of all elements of the plan that fall within the expertise of the Panel, taking into account any relevant contextual considerations. This review, which will also be made public, will include recommendations to Waterfront Toronto management.

If you have any questions for the Panel, feel free to send them via Waterfront Toronto (info@waterfrontoronto.ca), and they will be passed on to us.