Difference between revisions of "FOSS4G 2012 Lessons Learned"

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: on the website at http://2012.foss4g.org/ there is still no option for submitting abstracts although the submission has been opened - apparently without notice to any of the regular OSGeo channels. Workshops submission ends in two weeks.
: on the website at http://2012.foss4g.org/ there is still no option for submitting abstracts although the submission has been opened - apparently without notice to any of the regular OSGeo channels. Workshops submission ends in two weeks.
: No international speakers have been announced and there are only Chinese sponsors listed (although interest by regulars was documented as early as December 2012).
: No international speakers have been announced and there are only Chinese sponsors listed (although interest by regulars was documented as early as December 2012).
===Lack of response to Community===
===Resignation of Academic Track Lead===
===Resignation of Academic Track Lead===

Revision as of 04:21, 10 August 2012

The international FOSS4G 2012 conference, which was scheduled to be held in Beijing in Sept 2012, was cancelled. This has been a disappointing setback for our OSGeo community, and here I proposed to capture some of the key events which lead up to this cancellation, and with our hind site perspective, identify areas we can change to make future conferences more resilient and successful.

The intent is to start this conversation on the OSGeo Conference email list, then move to the FOSS4G 2012 Lessons Learned wiki page as ideas start to consolidate. Eventually, ideas from multiple Lesson's Learned will form the basis of the developing FOSS4G Cookbook.

I'd like to start out by laying out some discussion ground rules. In particular, please avoid letting this discussion break into a witch hunt, or blame game. Remember that almost all people involved in FOSS4G 2012 were volunteers, giving of their precious time freely. Instead, please identify an event or decision, discuss the implications of the event, and ideally follow up with some recommendations on what we can do in future.

With that said, here is a start to the conversation. Please add extra background you may be aware of, or contribute extra ideas.

Host City Selection

Prior to 2012, the FOSS4G Committee had agreed to a 3 year rotation for the location of FOSS4G conferences, which went:

  • Europe (2010)
  • North America (2011)
  • Rest of the world (2012)

However, as summarised by OSGeo Conference chair,

What happened is that we did not receive any submissions before the initial deadline, and then we opened the bidding to all areas, and then we received 1 submission from the desired region and 2 from Europe, and then a late submission from the desired region.
My opinion is that the stated desired region is in fact still the desired region, and that all OSGeo conference committee members should keep this information in their head as they vote. (meaning: all 4 letters are an option for this voting stage, but the preferred region is 'anywhere other than NA or Europe')

In the end, only Prague and Beijing submitted a full FOSS4G bid, and when it came to a final vote, the OSGeo Conference committee was split between a bid from a more experience team in Prague, and following our established rotation with Beijing. In retrospect, we should have put more emphasis on selecting the experienced FOSS4G team.

As has been noted by some [ref?], European and North American conferences have traditionally attracted more delegates which may justify focusing international conferences in these regions. (More delegates generally leads to more profit and less financial risk for OSGeo).

As we move forward, we may wish to favour selection of committees and cities with prior experience holding local or regional FOSS4G or related conferences.

Competing regional conferences

In 2011, major regional conferences started in both Europe and North America, which competed for international FOSS4G attendance, along with some FOSS4G conferences from the region. It was debated whether OSGeo should support and encourage these new regional conferences, knowing that they would have an impact on attendance at Beijing.

As explain by in a post by the Chair of the OSGeo Board:

From all that I can tell, now FOSS4G Beijing will become a local conference with support from "OSGeo international". This and no more. It will not be the Global or World conference that FOSS4G was before because we will have a FOSS4G CEE and FOSS4G North America event (plus the regular local ones) in the same year. There is no chance at all that Beijing can attract the same vibrant global participation that we had at the last global FOSS4G conferences.
The question is not whether we will have a FOSS4G in Beijing or CEE or North America. From all that I can tell we will have them all. There is no reason (and probably no way) to stop the North American or CEE initiative or both. Instead it is great to see so much interest and momentum - and we would be stupid to stifle it.

Competing regional conferences included:

  • October 2012, INTERGEO 2012
  • October 2012, Smart Korea 2012 in conjunction with OGC TC/PC Meeting
  • October 12, 2012, FOSS4G Korea 2012
  • October 2012, GISSA conference
  • September 2012, Asia GeoSpatial Forum
  • 5 September 2012 Open Source GIS Conference (OSGIS)
  • August 2012, 34th International Geological Conference
  • 18-19 July 2012, FOSS4G Southeast Asia
  • July 2012, Third Open Source GIS Summer School
  • July 2012, International Environmental Modeling and Software Society Conference (IEMSS)
  • July 2012, AGIT
  • June 30 - July 1, 2012, FOSS4G Hokkaido 2012
  • June 2012, useR! The International R User Conference
  • June 28, 2012, OSGeo.nl Day (FOSS4G Regional) within MapWindow Conference - The Netherlands
  • May 2012, FOSS4G-CEE & Geoinformatics 2012
  • May 2012, FOSSCOMM 2012
  • May 2012, HellasGI 2012
  • April 2012, COMEM OGO course :: Webmapping with OGC standards
  • April 2012, Geospatial World Forum 2012
  • 23 April 2012, FOSS4G North America 2012

Source: http://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/Live_GIS_History

Local Organising Committee experience

Lack of Professional Conference Organisor

I understand that the LOC didn't have a PCO, and were unsuccessful in trying to sign up a new PCO. Apparently the FOSS4G PCO resigned or similar? Can someone please provide more details. How did this happen?

Tranferring knowledge between LOCs

We currently don't have a good process for transferring the valuable knowledge collected from one Local Organising Committee onto the next. As a consequence we find there is a high learning curve for each LOC and their Professional Conference Organisor (PCO), and risk of making the same mistakes again and again. Suggestions to address this include:

Passing away of key FOSS4G LOC member

One of the key FOSS4G LOC members, Professor Yu, passed away shortly after Beijing was awarded the conference. This was very unfortunate, both on a personal level, and organisation level.

Loss of key committee members is reasonably common (although usually people step down for various reasons, rather than pass away). For instance, key FOSS4G-Sydney evangelist, Tim Bowden, stepped back from FOSS4G 2009, and wasn't in a position to attend the conference. I understand that the original Denver FOSS4G chair stepped down in 2011 (details?). The lesson here is that we should expect we may loose key people during FOSS4G planning cycle, and should look for committees who are robust enough to loose core members and still act effectively as a committee.

No mentor

A proposal was put to the OSGeo board, which was eventually approved, to have an experienced FOSS4G mentor support the Beijing Local Organising Committee. (A funded mentor was not provided to previous conferences). This proposal fell through, and although a some prior FOSS4G chairs were approached (and others?), a replacement mentor was not found.

This left the Beijing FOSS4G LOC committee without some key expertise which could have been very valuable.

Management Tasks

Slow Decision Making

A conference chair is asked to make many decisions related to the conference, and the majority of the time, there is no clear understanding about the benefits or downsides of each option. Usually the only sure thing is that not making a decision either way will be detrimental to the conference. Consequently, it is important for LOCs to become quick and efficient at analyzing possibilities and then making decisions.

From what I can gather, the Beijing LOC would have benefited from being more efficient in making decisions. For instance, in mid-November 2012 the OSGeo-Live community asked the LOC to commit to distributing OSGeo-Live DVDs at the Beijing conference. The LOC took almost 3 months to confirm they would support this. Other conferences usually provide such confirmation within a week, often within a day or two.

I suspect delays related to decisions would have contributed to schedule slipages.

The lesson here is that LOC's should be structured and resourced such that they can make decisions efficiently.

Schedule slip

As the deadline for the FOSS4G conference approached, there was significant schedule slip on key milestones, such as the ability to accept conference papers. This was providing a visible indication of some of the other issues listed on this analysis.

Website out of date

A conference's website is the primary form of communication with potential delegates. For FOSS4G 2012, the website took an excessively long time to be developed and brought online, and then when it was brought online, it contained incorrect information and broken links (mainly cut and paste from the prior FOSS4G website). People were significant issues with submitting papers and registering to attend.

The FOSS4G LOC had hired an external web developer to create the website, who had done a poor job of development. It seemed that there was a lack of quality control from both the web developer, and LOC. Development of the website has either been managed by technically experienced developers (as was the case in 2009), or potentially by the PCO.

Communication: LOC / Community

Language barrier

From what I understand, Beijing LOC were most comfortable speaking in Chinese, and had varying levels of experience with English. I observed that finding the right English words to support a conversation and convey important messages was a time consuming task, often involving decisions being made in Chinese, then translated to English. This communication overhead would have produced a significant workload the LOC, who were already working on the difficult and time consuming task of running a FOSS4G conference.

I believe this communication gap also contributed to many of the other symptoms discussed here. Slow communication between the LOC and community would have contributed toward slow responses to community queries, hindering of the international community contributing prior experience toward the LOC, slower decisions from the LOC resulting in schedule slip, difficulties getting the quality control of the website correct, and reduced marketing and communication to attract international attendance.

Collective Knowledge

I believe our experience with this conference highlights how much of our collective knowledge is passed on through our various communication channels. When we constrict information flow by introducing a language barrier, we have also constricted access to our knowledge on how to run a conference.

A few suggestions on ways to address this include:

  1. Collect our conference running knowledge in a central source, that can be handed on without the high level of communication currently being used. In particular, I'm suggesting starting to collect our processes in a FOSS4G Cookbook or similar.
  2. Set up a permanent FOSS4G coordinator role (one person, or an international PCO, or similar) who are responsible for coordinating conferences and personally remembering lessons learned between conferences. (Note the risk of this person resigning and loosing all collected knowledge)
  3. Alternatively, ensure key members in the LOC can communicate fluently with the rest of the OSGeo community. In most cases at the moment, this would mean speaking fluently in English.

Unresponsiveness to emails

From academic lead, who later stepped down:

... But from two "important players" I have had no feedback, namely from the local organizers and from OSGEO.

Minimal "buzz"

To a certain extent, a conference is successful because the LOC says it is going to be successful (and potential attendees and sponsors believe the statement). Presenters and sponsors attend the conference because they believe there will be lots of delegates, and delegates attend because they believe there will be lots of quality presenters and sponsors. And one of the most effective ways for everyone to be convinced of the conference's success is to create lots of "buzz". Ie, lots of press releases, articles, blogs, twitter discussion and more talking about how good the conference is going to be.

FOSS4G 2009 possibly went a little too far by putting out 41 press releases. However, there was very little publicity from the Beijing LOC related to FOSS4G 2012, as noted:

on the website at http://2012.foss4g.org/ there is still no option for submitting abstracts although the submission has been opened - apparently without notice to any of the regular OSGeo channels. Workshops submission ends in two weeks.
No international speakers have been announced and there are only Chinese sponsors listed (although interest by regulars was documented as early as December 2012).

Resignation of Academic Track Lead

The (international) academic track lead announced

... that I regret [the LOC] did not fully support the setup I proposed. Specifically, the LOC insists on using their own deadlines and reviewing and publication plan. Of course they have every right to do so, because it is in fact their conference...

Breakdown of communication with board

Late starting of weekly meetings