It seems that Autumn in Europe in 2013 is awash with geo-conferences. The International Cartographic Conference (ICC 2013) in late August is the forerunner for a further 12 geo-focussed conferences in the UK alone!
Has there ever been such an explosion in interest in geospatial and mapping as now? Only a weekend separates ICC 2013 in Dresden, Germany from the Society of Cartographers who hold their annual summer school in Stoke-on Trent 2-4th September. The British Cartographic Society holds its annual symposium 3-5th September in Leicestershire. The other major conferences in September include State of the Map (6-8th, Birmingham), AGI GeoCommunity (16-18th, Nottingham) and FOSS4G (17th-21st, Nottingham). There are a further eight conferences in what is being called Maptember (yes, there's even a web site). It’s a great name for a month of conferences but is it too many?
I've just returned from ICC2013 in Dresden which was terrific and supremely well organised. Over 1400 people converged on Dresden for a great set of scientific and technical papers, a great exhibition and map gallery. It kicks off a 6 week marathon for some and I'm now camped in a hotel awaiting my next dose of Maptember...Society of Cartographers in Stoke. I'm tired already though...my 8 day stint in Dresden included giving several papers, displaying my work in the gallery, giving demos on my employer's booth, meeting people new and old, running a pre-conference workshop, chairing sessions and meetings as well as getting involved in the social side of the conference. I'm fortunate to be able to attend a good number of these events and ICC was one of the most rewarding of recent years. For many though, their employers, personal circumstances, finances and energies will mean they have to pick and choose wisely and inevitably they will miss some great stuff. For some, the nonsensical clashes that arise mean that geo-conferences are effectively cannibalising each other. I cannot go to them all either and I have some sympathy with the view that there are simply too many. I'm planning to attend ICC, SoC, BCS and FOSS4G. I simply cannot justify the time and cost to stop by any more...and I doubt I would have the energy anyway. And from a good number of people I spoke to in Dresden many are unable to go to all they would want. Whilst it's nice to think of Maptember as a geo-carnival this has the potential to be a major headache.
Let me give you an example that goes beyond Maptember in 2013. It’s been said before by many but quite how the Society of Cartographers and the BCS manage to find a way to hold their conferences across virtually the same days is baffling and a real shame. Yes, for each there are perfectly good reasons why certain dates are chosen. They are understandable on their own merit. But clashes happen regularly and is a constant source of irritation to many who do want to actively participate in the two main UK conferences that focus solely on cartography. Vanessa Lawrence, CB, Director-General and Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey (UK) has expressed these concerns before and for many in the UK in particular, it’s time to explore ways of accommodating the wishes of those who would like to attend both conferences as much as the wishes of those who seem intent on keeping their separate identities but who seem unable to make their events mutually exclusive. There's perfectly good reasons why both SoC and BCS might have wanted their conferences in September this year. And yes, they both probably sought to avoid the ICC week and other Maptember events but it’s time to put personalities, histories and politics aside and focus on supporting a strong, vibrant industry going forward that has its members and practitioners at its core. Mapping is bigger than ever and our societies need to be prepared to adapt and accommodate change themselves to remain able to represent and lead. A good start would be to avoid the same dates where possible. I had to, unfortunately, withdraw a paper from one conference because of a clash and the need for me to pick rather than try to be in two places at once. I'm sure I'm not alone.
Only time will tell whether the dozen or so conferences in Maptember will lead to geo-burnout for attendees. Maybe there should be a prize for those who manage to attend all of the different conferences...and possibly a bigger prize for anyone who finds a way to rework the same paper to give at all the different events.