Are Geospatial Professionals in the Netherlands Ready for a Celebration?

November 26, 2009

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On December 2-3, the biannual Geo-Informatie Nederland (GIN) Congres will take place in Utrecht, the Netherlands; it's theme: Broadening Geo. This is the 25th edition of this event. A lot has changed since the first time geo-professionals got together. Is it time to celebrate?

The GIN society (and its predecessors) has always valued the opportunity to meet with members and non-members alike. After all, knowledge sharing is part of its purpose. The first formal meeting, which had a clear photogrammetric focus, was on October 13, 1961 in Delft, the "then" gravitational center of geospatial technology in the Netherlands. The Topografische Dienst (Topographic Survey), ITC and KLM Aerocarto were all there.

Throughout the years, many new events have debuted, initiated by many others, but about the same number have ceased. I vaguely remember an AM/FM meeting in the south of the Netherlands and an "Internet in Business" event, when we weren't even sure what the Internet would bring us. If there are too many conferences being organized, I am convinced the "conference market" will correct itself.The situation is much clearer now. Although there remain some lesser attended events, the only other 1,000+ person event is the annual GIS Conference organized by ESRI Nederland.

The way we meet for professional enrichment has certainly undergone a lot of change. It is now possible to "feel present" at a conference by attending an Internet-based event like a webinar. That is really great for those unable to travel or only interested in part of a conference. For those participating, it helps to look back at "what exactly did she say again?" I really enjoy a bit of TED coming to the geo world.

The board of our society was satisfied with the previous GIN Congres in 2007. However, we listened to the comments from the over 2,000 attendees and exhibitors of that event and set out the following changes. First, the duration of the event went from a three-day to a two-day event. We changed the location from Amsterdam to Utrecht, located more centrally in the Netherlands. We also made the attendance free for participants, both members and non-members alike.

In addition, and unbeknown to most attendees, we changed the business model of the event. VNU Exhibitions was tasked with organizing the exhibition and support of the conference itself, partly at its own financial risk. Why? Says John van der Valk, managing director of Exhibitions and Cross Media at VNU Exhibitions Europe: "VNU Exhibitions was happy to take up this challenge. With our (worldwide) expertise, we have a core competence in organizing events like the GeoInfoXchange. We look forward to an even greater support of participating organizations during the next edition."

The exhibition component of the Congres is now dubbed the GeoInfoXchange. GeoBusiness Nederland, the almost 100-company strong association of geo-companies, has become a strong partner in supporting both the Congres and the exhibition.

GIN Congres 2009 and GeoInfoXchange
We are already passed the 2,000 mark for registrations at the upcoming Congres. Its theme: Broadening the Attention for Geo. In my opinion the program committee has done a good job: keynote speakers at (former) minister level, the highest civil servant from central government responsible for Geo and Google to discuss its latest initiatives. The program also brings you Nulaz, Open Source GIS, GIS and (micro) agriculture, mobile mapping by Geomaat and much more.

Says Frederique Coumans, editor in chief of Vi MATRIX, the leading GIS journal in the Netherlands: "GeoInfoXchange. Nicely put. The power of geo-information is in exchanging, communicating, and broadening insight. I doubt, however, if the event will be interesting for people outside the traditional target group. Someone who is not 'into geo' is not likely to attend a conference for one or two presentations, at an otherwise not so relevant conference, with no known exhibitors to him/her. Nonetheless, the speakers from the new corner of geo-information applications can be very refreshing."

As a consequence of the changes, fewer members are now actively involved in the organization of the Congres and the exhibition, but they still manage the content of the event. Our LinkedIn group, Geo-Informatie Nederland, has helped a little, but we expect more from our part of the crowd in the future. The professional support of VNU has really helped here.

The theme of the conference has also echoed across the exhibition floor. Branded the GeoInfoXchange, it brings visitors from 70 organizations with a wide variety of products and services.

In addition to the usual exhibitors, which cover CAD and GIS, asset management, surveying companies, data management, 3D technology and engineering firms, you might discover a few surprises: the Netherlands Space Office; GeoFort, an educational living lab experience with a world full of maps and navigation; and the foundation for the promotion of geo to the labor market or the Hollandse Cirkel, the foundation for the geodetic heritage of the Netherlands.

Point of view
Face-to-face meetings in the hallways of an event, planned or unplanned, will always play an important role in our sector. It is in these meetings that we learn most of the information that we believe to be worth sharing with others.

If you believe all of the above to be shameless self-promotion, let me cordially invite you to our GIN Congres, but you'll need to practice your Dutch. For those not able to attend, I will be using Twitter during the Congres via @jwvaneck (in English) as a tweetreporter. Our live video coverage is not yet online.

By the way, there will also be a general assembly of our society. We hope to get a positive vote on our strategic plan for the future. Is it time to celebrate? Yes, geo has come a long way since that first meeting in Delft 25 years ago, but I prefer to wait for the big celebration until the Congres is over. Allthough already a higher attendance then ever before, there is still lots to improve!

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