Last week I was in Adelaide for some discussions with potential partners in some projects, and I seized the opportunity to attend Spatial Information Day 2012, a local conference. This is organised by the local branches of the Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI, http://www.sssi.org.au/) and Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA, http://www.spatialbusiness.org/).
I have to say up front that this was one of the best spatial conferences I’ve been to in a long time – it will certainly stay in the forefront of my mind as a valuable way to spend the day. Anyone who has a chance should get to this event in the future.
The Spatial Information Day (SID) attracted over 360 delegates, a dozen sponsors and some impressive speakers for a local conference. The first speaker was futurist Craig Rispin, who set the tone for the day. I enjoy listening to futurists, it’s usually entertaining and thought provoking. Craig was a good way to start the day and start thinking about the future. Did you know that futurists can get accredited – and the accreditation takes 10 years to see if their predictions come true?
Then in the technical concurrent sessions, we heard from Helen Owens (Office of Spatial Policy), David Harvey (leading the Spatial Data Sharing Initiative in South Australia), and Professor Andrew Millington (Flinders University). These were three powerful talks that set the national, local and future context for spatial and left me thinking about a wide range of things to take away from these talks. There were some plain truths, visions and great ideas and initiatives discussed in this session.
In the post-lunch session, I was then inspired by the Young Professionals stream (called, very aptly, the Future of Spatial). Fabrice Marre’s volunteer work at DeforestAction (http://dfa.tigweb.org/) – where he volunteered to groundtruth data provided by schoolkids in Australia who used satellite imagery to identify illegal logging – was a great example of how great the spatial industry can be. Dean Howell gave the young professionals very sensible tips on how to apply for a job – as an employer it was good to see this, and I agree with everything Dean recommended people do, like write cover letters! Finally, Thuong Hoang got up and blew us all away with wearable computers for augmented reality – I was completely engrossed once he overlaid NDVI imagery on a view through the goggle setup!
My final concurrent session saw Ben Plush and James Paul give two exceptional talks on using 2D and 3D data not only for visualisation, but also for analysis. These were two great talks showing what spatial should really be used for – solving problems. Ben’s focussed on determining how water allocation could be done in the Eyre Peninsula, while James looked at the impact of climate change on flood regimes in a small coastal town. Both were things I’d really like to have had the opportunity to work on myself, just from the fact that this was really using all sorts of facets of spatial work to answer problems.
The panel session at the end of the day was pretty interesting. There were some interesting discussions about the fact that there is a lot of camaraderie in South Australia (SA), and willingness to collaborate. It was quite thought provoking to listen to some of these comments, although I wasn’t game to tweet when there was a massive screen in the background with our tweets shown on it (conference organisers please note; both times I’ve seen this done it kills participation on Twitter). I was Tweeting a fair bit throughout the conference, as shown below, so you will already know most of this if you follow my Twitter feed (you can do that by just going to http://twitter.com/piers_higgs in your browser, or you can see all of the Tweets for the whole conference at https://twitter.com/#!/search/realtime/SSSI_SA.
It was pretty evident to me by the end of the conference part of the day that the spatial community in SA is leading the way in collaboration and in doing things in a smart way. This was confirmed with the SA Spatial Excellence Awards that evening, where, for example, they presented the Young Professional of the Year Award to three Young Professionals. That in itself goes a long way to demonstrating how well SA is doing engaging their future professionals and doing things a bit out of the ordinary.
I spent a lot of time wondering why SA was doing things so well and why it was all so impressive. In the end, I think it boils down to two things; economics and collaboration.
There isn’t a mining boom in SA like there is over in Western Australia, and as a result, the SA community has to make do with limited resources. With limited resources, you have to find the smartest and most efficient way to do things, and this is something I saw plenty of. I think we have been pretty well off in other parts of Australia for some time, and as a result there has been a lack of incentive to innovate and improve – unlike SA, who are doing it well, from commercial projects through to tertiary education.
True collaboration was visible through the conference, not the washed out shadow of collaboration I see more commonly. In SA, this was truly about helping each other, really trying to reach success together rather than using someone else as a means to build one’s own portfolio or bottom line. I was very impressed with the amount of true collaboration I saw, where people really put themselves out there to help others. It was infectious and inspiring to be in a community where you could see that people just really wanted to help each other, and I think this echoes some of the great results we see in the open source community we participate in.
The spatial community in SA have a lot that they can teach the rest of the industry.
Just in closing, I’d like to personally thank the organising committee, especially Penny Baldock and Gary Maguire. It was an impressive conference and I really felt like I was part of the community for the day.