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A tale of two days in Stratford-upon-Avon

This evening I find myself in Dublin, Ireland looking at my glass of Kilkennys and reflecting on the past two days and the W3G and AGI Geocommunity events in Stratford upon Avon.

Is this glass half full or half empty, is the UK GI industry on the way up, or doomed to go the way of the CD-ROM encyclopedias ?

Depending on your attendance of the conferences in Stratford your answer to this question would be different. Attendees of the  W3G unconference on Tuesday would have experienced considerable energy, lively debate and optimism around the use of open data, free and open software and the potential of “neogeography” ( yes I know is just a label, but you all know what it means) There is huge potential to extend the use of geospatial information  in the UK efficiently and cheaply using the web platforms of today, and for people to create businesses around this new ecosystem.

This optimism survived all the way until about 11am today at the AGI Geocommunity conference and included the excellent upbeat presentation by Andy Hudson-Smith one of the few real innovators in the UK GI industry at the moment. ESRI UK’s presentation really turned optimism into despair once again introducing the tired old whinge that GIS should be a strategic necessity and central to how government works, but it is largely ignored by the powers that be…

Rather than learn the lessons of the last five years and concentrate on creating simple technological solutions that mean real user requirements quickly and cheaply, ESRI put the blame squarely on the GIS industry for not communicating the benefits of GIS and concentrating too much on complex technology.

Maybe somebody should buy Richard Waite, ESRI UK’s MD, a mirror ?

Talk about a contrast, the difference between the two days was extraordinary, and why  two separate days?

Last year the geomob stream brought much of the energy and frankly new people to the AGI event, this year most of the neogeo’s went home before the AGI conference started. This was a mistake, the future of the GI industry, if it is to have a future, is with the poeple who attended the w3g conference, the sooner the AGI realise this fundamental shift in the industry the better.

BTW when was the last time you attended a conference where you were told to Tweet responsibly and to be careful walking using your mobile device ? seriously..

Written and submitted from the Grand Canal Hotel, Dublin (53.338N, 6.237W)

18 replies on “A tale of two days in Stratford-upon-Avon”

I think those commenting negatively on Richard Waite’s keynote speech need to consider the following points:

1) Yes, for a long time now the industry has been communicating the benefits of GIS by a number of routes and this has not been without success. That said we’ve also focussed quite inwardly at times on issues that have created friction and division and have made work in the ‘outside world’ much harder. In an earlier period of economic stability and growth that didn’t really matter quite as much as it does today when after a major downturn, the problems we all face are extremely significant and much bigger. I believe it is the current circumstances and challenges that led to Richard’s call to action.

2) We must also realise our political masters change frequently even in a long-lived government, Ordnance Survey ministers, for example, have changed frequently over the last decade. Establishing the highest level recognition for the benefits of GI/GIS is a constant, never ending exercise. Just because we in the geocommunity know the benefits doesn’t mean those outside do, or even stick around when they do. The current state of the nation’s finances mean that more than ever geospatial data and technology has a role to play in delivering ‘more for less’ and supporting economic growth. The fact that we can and should all help with articulating that message and that was one of Richard’s fundamental points.

2) Whilst many in the audience, as time-served members of the geocommunity, may have been conversant with the logic of Richard’s clarion call – not everyone in the room was. I know, for example, we had some important figures from government who were at the conference for the first time. They were not from a geospatial background, yet have a role to play in fostering the better use and innovation of GI/GIS. Afterwards they felt Richard’s points were very convincingly made.

3) Richard made his point about solutions being more important than technology when effectively communicating the benefits of GI/GIS. Again as industry insiders we can all say that’s a given, but saying it is easier than sticking to it in practice, especially if we work in the industry and HAVE to know our products well. Cool tech and functions can sometimes be solutions looking for a problem and if we work closely with tech it is easy to forget that a non-specialist user may not care about functionality; switch off and certainly not grasp the positive likely outcomes that could be achieved. I think Richard wanted us to watch out for that trap we can fall into.

Later on I saw some tweeted criticism of the mapping examples used by Prof. Nigel Shadbolt – the ‘we’ve seen it all before’ type comments. Remember this, Nigel Shadbolt is not focussing on doing the rounds of geospatial conferences, he is communicating to the wider world including government. In being focussed on data transparency at the top of government thank goodness he values location! Plus would you honestly expect him not to be using the classic (and thus in some eyes predictable) examples of the effective use of geographic information? No, I thought not…

In the current climate I think that the geocommunity should be pleased that influential and senior figures are keen to drive forward the benefits of GI/GIS. Even more so that they see us all having a role to play in getting the message out about the benefits of what we work with.

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