Letter from the Low Lands: Getting energized by GIScience

By Jan Willem van Eck

Sometimes it seems, at the end of the summer holidays, that the geo community in The Netherlands needs a reenergizing event in order to get going again. The "event" may be social in nature - a bit like your average New Year's reception - or something that is more content driven. But either way, this event will serve to energize students, employees, participants, customers, users and/or members alike. I recently attended two such events.

GIS gives you energy
In the third week of September, Esri in The Netherlands took that energizing quite literally and subtitled its GIS conference, "GIS gives (you) energy." The theme was reflected in a multitude of perspectives: How can we use GIS with planet, people and profit in mind? How does GIS help to capture energy from the wind? How do I use GIS to energize my organization and my plans for the future?

For my part, I introduced an application highlighting the relationship between social media, open innovation and geo-information. With the mash-up, www.mapmyconnections.com, I demonstrated a new service that puts your LinkedIn connections on a map using social media and access to open Web services. It has been a very interesting experience to share this idea with our community.
 The crowd of over 1,400 attendees certainly showed energy. It was hard to move from one place to another without making new connections or getting into some real conversations.  I see that as a good sign for an energetic and thriving geo community.

Energizing GIScience
I also attended the opening of the academic year at the International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC). ITC was founded in 1950 with the name International Training Centre for Aerial Survey by the former Prime Minister of The Netherlands, Prof. Dr. Willem Schermerhorn to provide training in map making as an aid to developing countries. This institute is now one of the world's foremost international professional education establishments in the field of geo-information science and earth observation. I ran into Prof. Goodchild and soon found myself discussing volunteered geographic information, social media and the authority over geodata, which seems to be moving away from the professional to the amateur.

Over 200 students from 38 countries listened to an introduction from Dean Tom Veldkamp, who encouraged them to become more critical about data. He then introduced Prof. Michael Goodchild, who gave the Schermerhorn lecture. Goodchild's topic was "Twenty Years of Progress: GIScience in 2010." He briefly reviewed the early days of GISscience, which was first referenced at the Spatial Data Handling conference in Zurich in 1990. But his emphasis was clearly on suggested research challenges for GISscience (pdf). His last challenge, the challenge of education, will certainly be addressed at ITC this year and in the years to come. Goodchild challenged the students to become critical spatial thinkers and to have an understanding of the fundamental concepts behind the technology.

The great international GI environment at ITC, along with the enthusiasm of the students and staff, certainly gave me "energy"!

In my opinion
Knowing what gets you energized is critical in work and in life. I was definitely energized by participating in these two meetings, where the status quo was challenged and we looked beyond the current borders of geo-information and technology. I will give a presentation on "Geo-information for the Next Generation" in early November at my alma mater, University of Applied Sciences, Utrecht, Institute of the Built Environment, which will celebrate its first centennial. What do you see as the critical elements in this area?


Published Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Written by Jan Willem van Eck



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