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Canada’s Geospatial Sector Adapts to Online and In-Person Events

Event Overview and Shift to the Online Medium 

Over the last few years, events within the geospatial community have undergone drastic changes. Events that were once in-person have gone online and now continue to pivot to a hybrid model and some events are even returning to in-person only. While it took some adjusting, taking Canada’s National Geospatial Conference — GeoIgnite — and shifting it online for the years 2020-2022, GoGeomatics has found immense success in developing this new online rhythm.

The last few major events of 2022 within the geospatial community that GoGeomatics has produced have been the GeoIgnite’s  WinterGeo conference, SUMSF and the LidarComex Expo.

GeoIgnite has thrived online by expanding its audience by embracing the medium, SUMSFORUM and LIDARCOMEX were conceived and produced during the height of COVID as online-only — and succeeded based on the lessons learned from GeoIgnite.

Now with COVID receding and in-person events coming back GoGeomatics see an opportunity for a mix of both online and in-person events.

The primary catalyst for the pivot to online and hybrid for some events has been the turbulent nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while it took some work, many within the global geospatial community are pleased to see the reaction to online integration.

“COVID broke down the stigma to the online meetings, events, training and summits, that’s pretty much gone now… So in terms of an online engagement proposition, if you do it well, it’s less risk, easier to run and the marketing demands are about the same,” says Jon Murphy, founder and managing director of GoGeomatics.

Other aspects surrounding the shift to the online model is time-management, and more importantly, how it has become way less of an endeavour for those looking to attend these events and engage in panels. In essence, the hurdles of booking flights and hotels have been removed from the equation and members of the geospatial community can now engage with these events on their terms and their timeline.

The byproduct of this is longer form content, which further allows organizations the opportunity to take deep dives into topics that would normally be under the pressure of a timeslot if handled during an in-person event.

With this new format finding its footing, many are still making the connections they would have made in-person.

“GoGeomatics has thrived under this new online form once we successfully road tested a number of online engagements, the GoGeomatics community originally started online almost 20 years ago as a job board and then naturally grew into in-person networking through our GoGeomatics Meetup groups from coast to coast. So what we have now are the online tools catching up to our in-person events like the networking groups and the in-person conference launched in 2019.  The vast geography of Canada means many can’t get to many events due to costs and travel restraints… Having both online and in- person offer options” says Murphy.

Jonathan Murphy Opens GeoIgnite 2019

While these online forums have provided a perfect online ecosystem to host panels and events, an even larger strength behind them is emerging, and that is how they are reintegrating the geospatial community back into in-person events that COVID has postponed for so many years.

“The in-person Meetup groups are coming back, there are going to be socials this summer and this is where numerous sponsors in this industry and schools get together… so it’s really fitting for these online events to be free for the community, it really gets back to our roots,” says Murphy. The Ottawa Meetup group is the first to start hosting meetings  June 22.

However, how does this online momentum work for those in the geospatial community who can’t make it to the social events that are a byproduct of online interactions?

Melaine Dejardins, Director of the NWT Centre for Geomatics, was able to provide some insight on how the online medium is doing wonders for her team in terms of engagement and networking, even if they can’t make it to physical gatherings as a result.

Melanie Desjardins, Director, NWT Centre for Geomatics at Government of Northwest Territories

“It becomes far more accessible for people who just didn’t have the budget to attend these things in-person, it puts the onus really on them to engage and have an opportunity,” says Dejardins.

This scope of engagement is further broadened by the online mode, as it encourages more widespread attention for those scattered across the Canadian geospatial community.

“Bringing these events in virtually, definitely broadens the scope of who will participate… having these events virtually has the benefit of really reaching further and casting a wider net,” Dejardins adds.

WinterGeo’s online format was able to provide Dejardins and her team the opportunity to engage on a wider scale and attend something that they would not have had the means to do so if it remained strictly an in-person event.

“I certainly haven’t attended in the past and neither had my team… my team doesn’t really travel a lot, so I think having these virtual forums definitely enables them to explore way more of what’s going on in this sector,” says Dejardins.

Geoff Zeiss – Geospatial Community Thought Leader

Geoff Zeiss, founder of Between the Poles, and co-founder of SUMSF with Jonathan Murphy has been active in the Canadian and global geospatial community for years, and with this unique insight, he was able to cross-examine the difference between past in-person events and the current digital format and weigh the benefits.

“Some of these events just would not have happened if they were in-person. We had speakers from Singapore, Montana and other places, they just wouldn’t have gotten on a plane to Ottawa. There’s a benefit now where you can attend conferences and you don’t have to get on an airplane to do it, especially from the point of view of speakers and building an audience,” says Zeiss.

With this in mind, Zeiss believes that as time goes on, there will still be room for both in-person and virtual events in the geospatial community, further adding to the network of ideas and content generation that continues to allow this industry to thrive.

Zeiss further punctuates this fact by saying,

“I don’t think that purely virtual will go away, there’s just such an obvious benefit to it.”

Murphy as well sees the limitless potential for the new online model and hopes that other organizations that want to work parallel to GoGeomatics will harness the model that has been proven to work.

“The willingness to engage online and integrate online learning has changed, and we’re getting better at meeting that audiences needs, we will move forward with a new mix of online and in person events” says Murphy.

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