Dr. Bob Ryerson on GoGeomatics Canada’s Past, Present, and Bright Future
It is hard to believe that six years has gone by and over 1000 articles have been provided by GoGeomatics, but that is the case. I am honoured to have been one of the first to write for GoGeomatics. And am even more honoured to be asked to write at its rebirth! (Editors note – Bob’s first GG article can be found here)
The “re-birth” (if I can call it that) of GoGeomatics embodies one of the truisms of our time and our field – one must continually evolve and re-think what the past has taught us if we are to be successful in the future. In geomatics much has changed – and more will change in the future. It has been said that those who do not learn from history tend to repeat the errors of the past. But it is also said that those who slavishly study and follow history also tend to repeat the errors of the past. So in this article I want to be mindful of the past, but also think about what the future is likely to bring.
Looking back at the rise of GoGeomatics, let’s start with two facts.
- Starting from nothing a few years ago GoGeomatics has involved thousands of people in its activities – whether regular meetings at the popular “socials,” reading (or writing) the articles, or scanning advertisements for jobs;
- When I was the elected leader of the Remote Sensing Division of the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing in the early-mid 1980s that Division alone had over 3000 members. Today, with many more people employed in the field, the entire society struggles to reach that many paying members across all divisions. Most other scientific and technical societies face the same problems of declining memberships, decreasing revenues, and fewer paid staff.
Why has GoGeomatics been successful when many long established groups haven’t? Quite simply, it meets a multi-faceted and geospatially widely dispersed community’s needs and does so at low or no cost to the participants.
What are the needs that are (and have been) addressed? Or more simply, what does GoGeomatics provide?
- People want to belong and GoGeomatics provides that sense of belonging to something and does so at a low cost;
- Networking is even more important today than in the past – GoGeomatics provides both face-to-face networking at socials and other events as well as networking through social media;
- Many people in the field (especially those starting out) cannot afford the time and cost to attend a national symposium – but they can attend a local presentation on a topic of interest – and network at the same time;
- Information. GoGeomatics provides information on technical issues, jobs, and a range of opportunities in its regular postings and “socials;”
- The opportunity to contribute. While GoGeomatics has a commercial side, it provides opportunities for people to volunteer and contribute to the field. While such volunteerism helps GoGeomatics, it also helps give the volunteer a sense of both belonging and contributing – and helps build resumes;
- Mentoring. The “Socials” and easy access to GoGeomatics authors opens doors for mentoring opportunities for both mentors and those receiving the mentoring;
- And the list could go on…
As we look back over the last six years it is interesting that GoGeomatics Canada seems to capture the demographic that established organizations have failed to reach – the younger and more technically oriented members of our field. One reason for this is that the traditional organizations have tended to focus on companies and government organizations that have as their main focus some aspect of geomatics. Today geomatics is not only dispersed across the country, there are more people employed “doing” geomatics outside of these traditional geomatics companies and organizations than inside them. GoGeomatics reaches these “others.” Furthermore, with its system of local chapters, GoGeomatics is within easy reach of a significant percentage of the population of Canada. (Here is an interesting Geomatics problem: how many Canadian’s are within a 90 minute drive of GoGeomatics events?)
Today some of the traditional societies have started to take notice. There are now events co-hosted by GoGeomatics and the Canadian Remote Sensing Society (CRSS) and the Canadian Institute of Geomatics GIG). A few years ago the CRSS and CIG were flat-out competing; today they are cooperating – sharing some administrative arrangements and working together internationally. (Some have even suggested that they should become one – but I digress!) While GoGeomatics may not be able to take credit for that cooperation, it can take credit for demonstrating the new model for organizing people in our field. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that the GoGeomatics model would work in any number of technical fields not well served by traditional professional and technical societies or associations.We have considered the past and today, what of the future? In a few words: GoGeomatics has been and should continue to be important. As noted above, it meets current needs and appears to be set up to be flexible enough to meet the evolving needs the future. It will continue to provide opportunities for a wide range of volunteers to contribute – to the benefit of both the volunteers and to the field as a whole.
Are there pot-holes in the road ahead for GoGeomatics? Of course – there will be challenges, there always are for leaders. Changes in both geomatics and the technology used to reach out to the community will bring as yet unknown challenges. Perversely, success also brings challenges – notably the temptation to be complacent. GoGeomatics cannot be complacent or it will be simply remembered as yet another fading signpost along the geomatics highway from the past to the future. (And there have been many of those!) A final challenge is what I call veracity or accuracy. To date there have been few if any issues with GoGeomatics articles I have read, but as more material is published and as more people write for GoGeomatics we must be ever mindful of the need to separate opinion from fact and verify the accuracy of what is reported as fact.
Bottom line? Since one of the key and continuing attributes of GoGeomatics is the ability to listen, the future should be bright.