FOSS4G 2012 Lessons Learned

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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, Jeff McKenna,

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 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. 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 Arnulf, Chair of 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.

Local Organising Committee experience

Lack of Professional Conference Organisor

I understand that the LOC didn't have a 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

Language barrier

Minimal "buzz"

Schedule slip

Resignation of Academic Chair

Relationship between board and LOC