The annual Association for Geographic Information (AGI – UK) Conference will take place during September 2008. V1 Magazine interviewed Conference Chairman, Steven Feldman prior to the event to gain an understanding about this year’s event and what the GI community can expect from the event.
V1 Magazine: As Chair of the AGI Conference event, how did you come up with the theme ‘Shaping a Changing World’ for this year’s conference?
Feldman: The conference organising committee came together to come up with the theme. We ended up talking about a number of themes before converging on similar concepts relating to ‘change’ in the areas of environment, business and social issues. Business models are changing today in our industry, we find ourselves experiencing change from environmental factors (ie. Floods in the UK) and the changes relating to how spatial information is being collected by professionals and non-professionals are all causing us to look at and consider change. We chose a pro-active theme for the conference to reflect our belief that we can influence the forces of change in the world around us and our businesses through the work we do.
V1 Magazine: How has the AGI Conference changed from previous events?
Feldman: Previously we operated differently and ran a conventional trade exhibition alongside the conference. Our conference attendance had been declining and was a little over 300 at the 2006 event event. Last year we decided to take a different approach and we combined a residential 2 day conference with a much more intimate exhibition and sponsorship program that better met the needs of our sponsors. Our attendance last year increased to 500 and this year we anticipate between 500-600 delegates and visitors attending the event.
V1 Magazine: What other factors contributed to the rise in attendance?
Feldman: Previous events were primarily held in the London area which made them quite expensive to attend and quite expensive for to rent exhibition space. By moving to Stratford-Upon-Avon we have reduced lodging costs for many of those attending while also offering a better package to our sponsors.
V1 Magazine: Why would anyone want to attend and what makes it different from other events?
Feldman: There used to be a time when attendance was oriented to the fact that the technologies were new. At that time people attended for one or maybe two reasons mostly – to develop new markets and or attract new customer’s. While that worked for about 10 years; today we find that the average person attending is well aware of the technology and the industry has matured. Although developing new business opportunities remains a key focus for sponsors, to attract this target audience the program has to be interesting to a well informed audience of delegates as well as providing a learning experience. To achieve this we have changed our approach this year to include a wider community of interests including neogeographers and academics in the program.
V1 Magazine: Hmmm … so now we can expect to hear some high level talks that are difficult to understand?
Feldman: You realise I am smiling as I hear you describe this. But the answer is no. What we are hoping to do this year is to create an environment that builds on the sense of ‘GeoCommunity’ such that academics, business and government people can share thoughts, debate and interact together.
You can expect to hear some interesting academic topics of relevant subject matter to many in our industry, all debated in easy-to-understand terms so they can be understood and responded to. Our program this year involves about 15% of papers from an academic background and we will see what the delegates say about it afterwards. But I think it will be a good step for involving this group UK wide into the dialogue and the exchanges should be lively.
V1 Magazine: Last year there were some interesting debates about neogeography and traditional GI people. What was the response to that last year and can we expect something like it this year?
Feldman: The response last year was very positive with many people commenting on the debates and different viewpoints. It was the first time that the discussion was openly broached and we did not know what would happen. However, the discussion was civilised and both groups came away with a better appreciation for the other side.
This year we plan on having similar discussions. It is important that both the traditionalist viewpoints and neogeographers learn to work together and exchange ideas. None of us have reached the happy middle ground yet, but we need to work at the misunderstandings about each other. For example, service oriented architectures are creating a situation where anyone can use spatial information and GI, but someone must create these applications in the first instance. Alternatively, one does not have to be a professional to create data today – so how do we include these people into our data gathering efforts?
V1 Magazine: How does the concept of GeoCommunity meet the mission of AGI?
Feldman: If the AGI Conference can bring different people together from across the UK into one place to debate, share and exchange ideas then we are fulfilling our mission. We ought to be willing to discuss issues and share our knowledge and experiences. Since we have business, government and educators involved together this year, it is a good opportunity to look at issues and ideas in a more robust and wider context.
As well, a number of people indicated last year that the key benefit for them was in being able to network at the event. They very much appreciated the opportunity to discuss viewpoints and ideas beyond the presentation stage in more informal discussions and meetings. All of these exchanges support the goals of the AGI mission to collaborate, share and build a GeoCommunity.
V1 Magazine: Data quality is a big issue, particularly when it comes to neogeography. Do you plan on discussing this issue?
Feldman: This is a major issue that everyone seems to be talking about. A wider discussion on data quality is needed and we need to consider how different types of data can be used for different purposes. Many of the data in mash-ups may not require specialised, highly accurate data whilst some public services certainly will require more formally gathered and maintained data. There is at least one paper that will touch on this topic at the conference and hopefully we will start a good dialogue.
V1 Magazine: Can we expect to see some folks from Ireland attending? How about other parts of Europe?
Feldman: I expect that we will have a good turn out from Ireland. This has always been the case. Since we are an English speaking conference, I think the likelihood of people attending from other parts of Europe is lower, although a few may choose to attend.
More Information: AGI 2008 Conference