FOSS4G2013 Reflections by the LOC

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This FOSS4G Cookbook documents the process, tips, hint and lessons learned by the FOSS4G 2013 local organising committee. It does not attempt to recreate the FOSS4G_Cookbook but should provide some useful pointers for future LOC's



Information about the LOC and UK chapter

LOC Members

The list of responsibilities against each team member gives an indication of the main lines of responsibility only, almost everyone pitched in on much more than their allocated tasks

Steven Feldman, Chair - sponsors, finance, keynoters, program Jo Cook, Deputy Chair - web, liaison with OSGeo community, giveaways, ice-breaker Jeremy Morley, Deputy Chair - liaison with university, technical stuff for workshops, program, gala night

Abigail Page - programme book, volunteer organiser

Addy Pope - educational bursaries, ice breaker

Antony Scott - communications, web site, signage, programme book, gala night

Barend Köbben - academic program, cartography, programme

Barry Rowlingson - web design and development, online programme, workshop registration system, map gallery, gala night

Claire Gilmour - organisation, organisation and organisation, registrations

Franz-Josef Behr - academic programme

Ian Edwards - hackathon, OSGeo Live DVD's, liaison with UK Chapter

Ian Holt - workshops

Kenneth Field - Opening up the Map competition

Mark Iliffe - workshops, closing party

Matt Walker - workshops

Peter Batty - OSGeo Board representative and dispenser of calm wisdom

Rollo Home - programme coordinator, communications

Suchith Anand - academic programme and educational content

UK Chapter

IE and SA are both active within the UK Chapter. Several other participants in the UK chapter were volunteers at the event.

Lessons learnt (chairman's perspective)

1. you need more people for more time than you can possibly imagine before you start so try to get extra people involved

2. people volunteer with the best of intentions but then life/the day job intervenes so try to get double cover for every role

3. everyone will surprise you


What was the aim of the LOC for FOSS4G2013? We were trying to engage with communities that traditionally saw enterprise solutions being the preserve of proprietary software and big contracts. This includes the tie in with AGI.

Our key objectives were:

  • a gathering of the OSGeo community
  • outreach to current and potential users of open source geo

These objectives were encapsulated in our conference strap line "Geo for All"

There is a potential conflict between these objectives and developing a program for both was sometimes a challenge. Difficult to judge whether we got it right


Pricing for FOSS4G is enormously contentious.

Full conference package prices were set at $600 including local sales taxes as indicated in the call for proposals. We were criticised by some people for being too expensive and for not offering free places to project developers, workshop presenters, people from the developing world etc. Prices were set to cover the direct outgoings associated with each delegate plus a small contribution (20%) to general expenses.

One sponsor supported an academic bursary scheme which enabled a number of students to attend the conference if they could raise the cost of their travel

All of the surplus from the conference comes from the high level of sponsorship that we received (a fair proportion coming in during the last 3-4 months) it would have been difficult to anticipate this level and use sponsorship income to further reduce delegate prices early on. FOSS4G 2013 will contribute over $150,000 to OSGeo and the UK Chapter, this is currently the principal source of funding for OSGeo, perhaps the conference messaging should explain that better.

The OSGeo Board failed to provide clear guidance on pricing and profit objectives which left the conference team in the predictable firing line.


Look at internal and external communications

Internal communications


We decided to use 37Signals Basecamp for our internal communications in preference to some combination of public and private mail lists and a wiki.

It worked well providing a repository for all of our meeting minutes, to do lists, over 400 discussion threads, nearly 100 collaborative text documents and 300 files. The cost of the subscription was donated by an early supporter but most of the team found it an easy and productive way of tracking all the different threads and activities

From a chairman's perspective basecamp provided a quick way of monitoring numerous delegated activities

fortnightly web meetings

For most of the year leading up to the conference we had a fortnightly team call on a Friday afternoon from 2.00 to 3.30pm. In the last 3 months we increased the frequency of the calls to weekly.

The calls were held via webex thanks to initial support from Sustain and subsequent provision by the Met Office. webex is far from ideal as those trying to connect from linux, android and apple devices discovered! However overall it provided a better environment than a simple conference call service and we pretty much learned how to make it work.

On a typical call about half the team participated. A few people frequently found it difficult to participate in the calls due to work commitments which was a problem but the organisation of FOSS4G needs to factor in volunteer availability. The regular team calls played an important role in bonding the team together.

Face 2 Face meetings

  • Day long face 2 face meeting in Nottingham in Sept 2012 immediately after the close of the UK OSGIS event. We got to walk round the site and get a feeling for how things might work
  • 2 day meeting in Nottingham to work through programme selection and scheduling and most of the other planning
  • Day long face to face focussing on logistics with the deVere team 2 weeks before the event started
  • Final day long face to face to write this wiki, approve accounts and debrief with board rep

Face to face meetings are more productive than conference calls but they incur cost for travel and over night accomodation

what worked

what would we have done differently

External communications

Web site

do we have any stats on web site logs? BR/JC?


OSGeo mailing lists

Press releases

email to delegates

email to sponsors

what worked

what would we have done differently


General comments

what worked

what didn't work

what would we do differently


Gets its own topic because it is so so important. This was a tech event with over 800 delegates per day (most sucking up 2 connections for phone and laptop or tablet) where the wifi stood up throughout. We even managed to cope with the launches of iOS 7 and QGIS 2.0 during the conference which must have boosted the download rate.

We paid a contribution of £5,000 specifically to get the internet pipe and router infrastructure upgraded. That works out at approx £6.50 per delegate.

what worked

Just about everything except for 1 router on day 1 which gave some users a problem. Having a dedicated technician on site for the first day helped to solve the problem and gave us a lot of reassurance.

what didn't work

Nothing that I can think of

what would we do differently

Nothing that I can think of

Advice to future FOSS4G organisers

Most venues do not have enough bandwidth or access points, consider paying for extra if you can


== General == This covers the call for papers, selecting papers, organising the schedule, dealing with presenters that drop out and how the prog went at the event

selecting papers



what worked

what didn't work

what would we do differently


General comments on the FOSS4G branded kit (banners, t-shirts, and the stuff in the delegate packs)

what worked

what didn't work

what would we do differently

Programme Booklet

The work on the programme book was outsourced to Barry Hall, a designer that had been recommended to the team. Barry produced a couple of suggested layouts and then used feedback from the team to work up an agreed look. General text for the booklet was written in a Google Doc and shared with the whole team for editing, before been finalised and sent to Barry. A link to the online programme was provided to Barry to use to take this text across.

A mini / lanyard version of the programme was also created to allow delegates to leave the booklet behind and still follow the timings if they needed to. This had links for delegates to access the sessions descriptions online.

Despite the design being outsourced, this is still a major task for a member of the team and it is difficult to oversee this when involved in other activities. A lot of the work happens close to the final event arrangements. This is important to consider when assigning this to someone.

(note to self: need to add in something about timescales I think, when did we start, when did we have to sign off on this etc for future ref).

what worked

Outsourcing the design work Having one member of the team work directly with the designer to provide clear instructions Assigning a couple of team members to write up and generate the general text instructions Having a few keen proof readers to provide valuable input

what didn't work

Timescales were a bit tight Giving the designer a log-in to the basecamp platform, there was too much there and difficult for him to quickly follow threads

what would we do differently

Start collating the text for the booklet earlier This would allow more notice for those that were being asked to provide content (welcomes, adverts..) Glitch with the link to the online programme meant it all had to be imported a second time - more careful checking of source information (we were all tired by this point...)


Everything relating to the workshops,from the call, to sorting out rooms to timetables and ensuring that hardware/software needs were fulfilled

what worked

  • Presenters that took advantage of the testing sessions prior to their workshop had a much easier time, those that did not received harsh feedback
  • Workshops that used writable LiveUSB went down well with the delegates
  • A number of delegates took advantage of being able to change their workshop booking prior to the event via the booking system
  • We had positive feedback regarding running workshops during the main conference
  • Providing lunch bag which delegates could help themselves to
  • Tea and coffee in the morning was appreciated

what didn't work

  • Some delegates complained that the schedule did not provide a progression from intro to advanced
  • Using heavily locked down university hardware made life a lot harder for organisers and presenters
  • The university proxy was a challenge for some
  • We where a few lunch bags short should of ordered another 10%

what would we do differently

  • Publish the schedule of workshops earlier
  • Allow delegates to book individual workshops when they register
  • Look to schedule intro workshops before advanced if possible
  • Rent good spec laptops for workshops with VirtualBox installed
  • Encourage all presenters to submit either a VM or USB/DVD prior to the event with instructions for testing

Academic track

Everything relating to the academic track, papers, journals, mixing the presenter in and around the main prog and academic bursaries

what worked

what didn't work

what would we do differently


The public web site was originally a WordPress (WP) site running on an Amazon server paid for by one of the LOC, WP was chosen because of some experience using it within the team. A search for conference functionality turned up a plugin that had some of the required functionality and was used to display sponsors on the site.

However the advanced functionality of scheduling talks, workshops, presentations etc didn't seem to be available from any (free) WP plugin - and we eschewed commercial solutions.

After investigating python/Django solutions, the same server was configured to run Django alongside WP, and a large amount of conference-handling code developed for PyConDE was used to manage the Workshop schedule.

A separate custom Django system was developed to handle Workshop bookings. Registered workshop users could log in and book workshop sessions - either one or two day's worth depending on what they had paid for. The system prevented users from booking overlapping workshops (and due to the different workshop lengths, this was not as trivial as preventing two bookings at the same start time). Integration with the payment system was via emailed excel spreadsheets, read in via a python script that updated the Django database.

More custom Django code was written to handle the overall timetable, integrating presentations, plenaries, breaks, and events.

Integration with an Android conference scheduling app (Giggity) was achieved - no such luck with iOS though.

Further Django apps were developed for the 'Pledge' pages and the Map Gallery.

Code for the Django apps and the WP skin were pushed to a public github site.

Post-conference, the whole site (WP, Django, etc) will be statically mirrored so it can be served from a plain HTTP server, with reduced functionality (no searching, voting, etc),

what worked

WP worked okay as a content management system for pages. Enough of us had the ability to edit and create new pages.

The daily interactive timetable seemed popular - having hyperlinks between presenters, sessions, rooms etc. Icons for various highlighted talks, bookmarks etc.

what didn't work

In the early days the site would crash under moderate load, due to MySQL dying. A watchdog script was written to restart MySQL on its demise. For the time nearer the conference the Amazon instance was upgraded.

what would we do differently

  • Make the conference management system design a priority from day one.
  • Use a single integrated conference management solution - payment, registration, submission, timetabling.
  • Possibly get that solution from an external provider, the most obvious being Eldarion who develop python conference solutions based on Symposion, an open-source conference system.


After-skool fun.

what worked

what didn't work

what would we do differently


what worked

what didn't work

what would we do differently


The timeline from winning the bid to the event starting

August 2012

Sept 2012

During the event

Stuff that went down at the event and how we reacted to things to keep everything on track

what worked

what didn't work

what would we do differently

Parting thoughts