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Additional Input: GoGeomatics Geo-Conundrum about Geomatics Associations

I was recently asked if I believe a Canadian Geomatics trade association is in some form beneficial to the geomatics community. YES, absolutely, definitely. And I sure hope someone else gets one going soon. Anyone? Anyone? (With some apologies to Ferris Bueller, last seen skipping geography class again).

Well I guess it is not that simple, is it? In today’s geomatics sector, this question is being discussed around the world in a number of languages. The AGI in the UK is thinking about sub-Chapters for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. In the UAE and other Gulf States, some are stirring about having a user/vendor organization, looking to be the leaders of Geomatics in that area. North Africans and Europeans seem to gather around certain really well known vendors for their influence. In South America, the Brazilian Geomondo leaders tend to focus on conferences, magazines and eZines like the India-based Geospatial World. GITA remains solid in and Australia and New Zealand, while here in North America, we don’t have a solid geomatics association. What we do have is a geo-news portal and a number of local Chapters in Alberta and BC. Portals such as GoGeomatics, Geospatial Connect, LinkedIn and its’ many GIS groups are all improving connectivity among geospatial adherents worldwide. This is a very good thing.

In Canada, we always face challenges due to the breadth of the nation versus the size of the population. We started GIS (thanks in large part to Roger Tomlinson, who recently passed away) and we remain passionately capable. Perhaps our GIS expertise per 100,000 of population is one of the highest in the world, in line with with our world class educational opportunities for GIS education and training. I hope so. Who knows? I wonder. Anyone? Can we speculate that the Dutch, the Australians or the New Zealanders have a higher ratio of geo-smart people to total population than we do? Maybe they do. Should we care? You bet we should.

In North America, GITA has refocused, URISA seems to be holding up, NENA is focused on 911. They all have OGC to spread the faith. SDI in many countries creates clusters of GI enthusiasts who can reach the highest levels of policy and ‘public good’ programs like we do in Canada and some provinces. Even our grade schools K-12 do GIS, in part thanks to you know who. As a nation, maybe we have overcome the ‘geographically challenged’ moniker that we used to use on the public. The wiki growth of GoGeomatics is astonishing and speaks to that strong country-wide desire to join in and participate. After all, if geo is the basis of one’s vocation or career, one should be proactive, if only for self-survival. Anyone?

Can we support a GIS ‘big tent’ organization, as Jonathan Murphy described very recently? Can GIAC go forward? GIAC has had many successes over the years. Maybe GIAC can reinvent itself.  So let’s talk about that. You may sense that I can see hope for that ‘big tent’ to be all inclusive, not just a trade association of companies, but a focal group for all geomatics interests, participation, and propagation. We need:

  • Anyone whose full or partial interest can be described as location-based or area network connected.
  • Anyone in Canada who has an interest in the supply, demand or overview of things/people/transactions sensitive to geospatial coordinates such as X/Y or X/Y/Z or even temporal X/Y/Z, etc.

In most strategic planning exercises for associations and business consultancies, I have found that the ability to succinctly answer four opening questions is an imperative. Any new geo-based organization must be able to answer the following questions:

  1. What is our core purpose?
    • Spiritual, philosophical, education, training, lobbying, winning RFPs, free conferences, tax credits, grants, jobs
  2. On whose behalf?
    • Governments, vendors, users, commentators, consultants, non-profits, future generations, public safety, homeland security, election districting, pizza delivery
  3. In what context?
    • World, federal, provincial, local, space, virtual
    • Fees, subscriptions, grants, free, sponsored, any/all
  4. In what manner?
    • Blogs, memberships, clubs, chapters, SIGs, institutes, universities
    • Conferences, workshops, seminars, ad hoc events, webinars
    • Logo, acronym, lapel pins, passwords, referrals, open, closed, secret, transparent

Yes, some of these thoughts are somewhat obscure, maybe even facetious. Can we, ourselves, answer some of these points? We expect so. So the organizers, whether from the trade side, the user side or the educational side must all align with the answers. Gaining true credibility to make themselves heard and offering memberships to gain mass momentum will require honest adherence to a four corner mission. The four answers can generate the Mission Statement, the elevator pitch and the recruitment message, all in a 140 character Twitter space. The vision could be along the lines of: “To foster ever-increasing geospatial knowledge, skill & expertise across Canada for our people, firms, governments and educational institutions”.

Such a vision seems to align with a knowledge economy going forward as it remains aligned with our historical resource economy. Agree? Anyone? YES, I think we should try once more for a national ocean to ocean organization. We need it to champion geomatics: the ‘made in Canada’ kind, the serving and consulting to the world kind, the building intellectual capacity kind, the enriching the economy/GDP kind and even the socially acceptable privacy respecting kind. We should embrace geomatics in the widest possible definition, as opposed to some narrower scopes that may have occurred in the past.

I can see one organization across the country, with affiliates among those existing associations and user groups whose focus is more narrow but whose purpose is co-aligned with geospatial knowledge such as URISA, MISA, GITA, CIG and a Canadian OGC, SDI or similar group, as long as these groups stay active. I see corporate members, public sector members, individual business providers, professional services and systems integrators, users, academics and futurists. I see public safety members, space explorers and UAV or GNSS enthusiasts. I see Oracle and IBM active again; CGI, KPMG and Accenture taking part; Bell, Rogers, Telus, and other leaders. I also see big governments leading big policies that enable small governments to improve efficiencies and effectiveness. I can only dream of Google, TomTom and Bing on the program committee.

So before you shake your head, ask “why not?”… I can see a Canada where geospatial literacy and expertise per 100,000 people is second to none, again.
I envisage collective association resources broadly sourced and being used across the country to improve geo-education, scholarships, job sharing, apprenticeships, virtual teams, events, seminars and publication portals. Can we imagine strong three way PPPs of users, vendors, stakeholders that foster ever increasing knowledge-sharing among any and all practitioners regardless of their economic orientation? Public data would be encouraged to be as open as possible, and support for new firms would flourish as economic clusters by skills or by geography would work in line with the goals of raising pan-Canadian capacity in geomatics. What a roadmap that could be!

To wrap up, I think it’s ok to suggest that GIAC, with the right support and a broad reach, with renewed emphasis on inclusion, can become the Geospatial Information Intelligence Association for Canada. Note: GIIAC, pronounced jee-ack, like before, but fully renewed and re-energised broadly, visible, energetic and articulate. Volunteers? Anyone?  Please join the discussion.

All the best,

Greg Duffy, MBA
Principal, Woodfield Consulting Inc., Oakville Ontario

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