[OSGeo-Conf] Analysing the downfall of FOSS4G 2011

Jachym Cepicky jachym.cepicky at gmail.com
Tue Aug 14 01:07:01 PDT 2012

Hi all,

I was the member of the "Prague team", who "lost" the bit "against" Beijing.

I think, nobody should regret his/her decision about supporting any of
given choices. I can fully understand, why Beijing won the bit and why
some members of the committee voted as they did.

Responsibility lies from my point of view fully on Beijing team, due to
very liberal way, how FOSS4G is organized. Conference committee "could
have done" some kind of support, but why would they do that, when things
were working till now? I personally like the way, things are organized.
Organization of the global FOSS4G in this year failed, but this could
happen any time before and can happen any time in the future - such
things simply happen. We've learned lesson from that (big thanks to
Cameron for great summary).

Remember: there were several semi-local events this year, FOSS4G was
never that popular around the globe - is that a "fail" ?

I'm really sorry, Beijing team did not manage it, was nearly going to
book flight to there (already submitted some presentations) - I would
like to encourage them to go for another bit next years. It is worth,
that global FOSS4G travels around the Earth.

From my point of view, we should focus on the future: How OSGeo annual
meeting will be organized, what about Sol Katz award? Maybe setup some
policy for next events (regular report to the committee, defining of the
checklist when should be done what, ....).


Dne 14.8.2012 02:33, Michael P. Gerlek napsal(a):
> This is a great précis of the issue -- thank you, Cameron.
> I had the privilege of being an invited guest at the inauguration of
> China's chapter some years ago, and at the time found them to be very
> gracious hosts putting on a very nice event. I supported the choice
> of Beijing for 2012.
> I regret that choice now, of course.
> As a board member, I wish I had pushed harder to cancel the event
> much earlier than we ultimately did. We (the Board) wanted to give
> the LOC the benefit of the doubt and kept trying to get them to
> respond to our concerns, but all we really succeeded in doing was let
> the process drag on for too many months. (We did try to send someone
> out to Beijing, but that too failed (for unrelated reasons).
> Ultimately, of course, the responsibility lies at the Board - no
> question about that. But, process-wise, I wonder how much
> responsibility may also lie with the OSGeo conference committee: how
> much oversight is their responsibility? At some point should that
> group have pushed the board harder to act strongly?
> -mpg
> On Aug 13, 2012, at 1:07 PM, Cameron Shorter
> <cameron.shorter at gmail.com> wrote:
>> 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.
>> 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. Host City Selection
>> Prior to 2012, OSGeo's Conference 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) Europe
>> ... The bid process involves cities providing a light, 2 page,
>> "Letter of Intent", followed by a comprehensive bid if the "Letter
>> of Intent" was approved. However by Letter of Intent deadline for
>> FOSS4G 2012 there were no Letters of Intent. The deadline was
>> extended, and Letters of intent were received from Rome (Europe),
>> Prague (Europe), Hanoi (Asia), and a late entry from Beijing
>> (Asia).
>> This was 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 second 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 [Europe] and Beijing [desired region] 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 OSGeo's       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 and
>> sponsors, which makes these conferences:
>> More financially profitable Less financially risky Reach more
>> people (although not necessarily reaching more regions) As we move
>> forward, we may wish to favour selection of committees and cities
>> with prior experience of holding local or regional FOSS4G events
>> before being awarded an international event.
>> 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
>> The Local Organising Committee (LOC) had teamed with a Professional
>> Conference Organisor (PCO), starting from the bidding for the
>> FOSS4G 2011 conference. However, the PCO stepped back from engaging
>> for the FOSS4G conference. The LOC were then unsuccessful in trying
>> to sign up a new PCO.
>> Loosing key LOC members
>> 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, a key FOSS4G-Sydney evangelist, who promoted
>> the Sydney event at prior FOSS4G conferences, stepped back and
>> didn't attend Sydney's FOSS4G 2009. The original FOSS4G-Devar 2011
>> chair had to stand down for personal reasons shortly after the bid
>> was accepted. These examples highlight the need for organizing
>> committees to have strength in depth, and in particular to have a
>> backup plan if the conference chair has to step down. This was a
>> question that was asked of the Nottingham FOSS4G 2013 contenders,
>> who have two backups to the conference chair, as well as a
>> committee with strength in depth overall.
>> 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 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. A prior conference chair extended this observation to
>> note the importance of the conference chair:
>> [A key lesson is the] importance of an active LOC and even more
>> importantly an active CHAIR. Committees don't move, they can't
>> communicate, they can't move. People can, so an active CHAIR is the
>> single critical ingredient. And the more that person in invested in
>> both organizing and communicating the event, the better it will
>> be. 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.
>> I think the lesson here is quite simple. Make sure there is an
>> appropriately resourced project manager responsible for managing
>> the conference schedule. (This task is usually provided by a PCO).
>> A second issue is that although OSGeo had identified concerns with
>> FOSS4G Beijing's progress reasonably early, intervention from OSGeo
>> was late in coming. A prior FOSS4G chair noted:
>> We need to put harder stops in place to short circuit failure. If
>> you don't have a call for workshops out by February, [serious
>> questions are asked, such as should the conference be cancelled?].
>> If you don't have $30K in sponsorship in place by April, [serious
>> questions]. If you don't have a call for papers out by May,
>> [serious questions]. This [FOSS4G 2012 conference] dragged out
>> longer than it should of because there were no hard stop points. 
>> During the build up to FOSS4G Beijing, one of the key volunteers on
>> OSGeo conference committee, who had previously been very active,
>> was showing signs of burnout and was not contributing to his prior
>> levels. This left a noticeable hole in the OSGeo conference
>> committee which was not filled by another volunteer. The OSGeo
>> Conference committee had previously provided checks on conferences,
>> such as reviewing and approving the conference's budget and
>> submitting to the OSGeo board for approval, however this didn't
>> happen for the FOSS4G Beijing conference.
>> What are the lesson's here? It may be that the critical role of
>> approving finances should be covered by a paid position, funded by
>> profits of FOSS4G conferences. Something like this was considered
>> as described by the following section ...
>> 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.
>> What is the lesson here? I think this was a good idea which fell
>> through, and is worth pursuing again in future.
>> Communication
>> 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 on 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
>> the international community contributing prior experience toward
>> the LOC, Slowed decisions from the LOC resulting in schedule slip, 
>> Caused difficulties getting the quality control of the website
>> correct, and reduced marketing and communication to potential
>> international delegates. Cultural Differences
>> I question whether cultural differences contributed to
>> communication shortfalls. From my observations, it seems Chinese
>> are more circumspect about sending public communication, often
>> waiting for review from a superior before making a statement. This
>> contracts with open source communities I've observed, where many
>> opinions are discussed publicly, both amongst senior and junior
>> developers, until a rough consensus is reached.
>> Collective Knowledge
>> I believe our experience with this conference highlights how much
>> of our collective FOSS4G knowledge is stored in volunteers' heads,
>> and is passed between different events 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:
>> 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. 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) 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. 
>> Response to emails
>> There were a number of comments that I was privately CCed on which
>> indicated that the international community were not receiving
>> responses after emailing the LOC. Here are some examples:
>> As I've told you before it has been frustrating to me to not
>> receive any feedback from the LOC on my offer to sponsor the event.
>> I basically had the plan to come with my whole team (5 people now),
>> but can't afford such investment considering the state the
>> conference and participation levels are at now. In fact we have
>> moved focus to the Nottingham event just after Beijing because it
>> appears to be (1) better organized (but that may just appear like
>> it due to the lack of communication from Beijing, (2) an audience
>> that is of interest to [company name] and (3) cheaper / closer to
>> home. Another from the academic lead, who later stepped down:
>> ... [regarding email responses] from two "important players" I have
>> had no feedback, namely from the local organizers and from OSGEO. I
>> think the lesson here is that the LOC and PCO should be suitably
>> motivated and resourced, and be provided with enough
>> delegation to respond to all community queries promptly. Every
>> query should be responded to within one working day, even if the
>> response is "we will have an answer to you after the LOC meets next
>> week".
>> 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 having 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. In the past, development of the website has either been
>> managed by technically experienced developers (as was the case in
>> 2009), or by the PCO.
>> The lesson here is that the website needs to be made a priority and
>> suitably resourced. There is the potential for website management
>> software to be passed on from one conference to the next. (We
>> considered this option in 2009 but found the Open Source conference
>> management software used by FOSS4G 2008 was not going to integrate
>> easily with the software our PCO was using). It would be worth
>> future FOSS4G conferences revisiting this question.
>> 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, FOSS4G Beijing could certainly have benefited
>> from more "Buzz", as the OSGeo Board Chair 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). Engaging international organisors
>> Compared to prior international FOSS4G events, there was minimal
>> international involvement in organising the FOSS4G event. Of
>> particular concern was that 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... 
>> There is a significant amount of work involved in organising a
>> conference, and it is very valuable to share tasks with the
>> international community. This has two key benefits:
>> It allows the LOC to focus on the local issues (like sorting out
>> the venue) It facilitates knowledge transfer between years, as
>> roles like the Academic track lead are often coordinated by the
>> same core people over a number of years. So lesson here is look for
>> opportunities to make use of the international community to
>> coordinate specific areas of the conference.
>> Weekly meetings
>> Less than 3 months before FOSS4G 2012 was due, weekly meetings were
>> started between volunteers from the international community and the
>> LOC. I understand that the LOC were having meetings internally, but
>> there was little visibility of them from the international
>> community. The extra meetings facilitated transparency from the
>> international community into the progress of the LOC, which in turn
>> provided opportunities for the international community to volunteer
>> to help. Eventually, with the help of these weekly meetings it was
>> assessed that the level of effort required to bring the conference
>> back on track, along with the likely outcome, resulted in a
>> decision to cancel the conference.
>> In retrospect, these meetings should have started much earlier,
>> ideally from the start of the conference planning a year or so
>> earlier such that support from the international community could
>> have made a better impact in the earlier stages. So lesson hear is
>> start having periodic meetings from early in the planning cycle,
>> and invite the international community to participate if you can.
>> -- Cameron Shorter Geospatial Solutions Manager Tel: +61 (0)2 8570
>> 5050 Mob: +61 (0)419 142 254
>> Think Globally, Fix Locally Geospatial Solutions enhanced with Open
>> Standards and Open Source http://www.lisasoft.com 
>> _______________________________________________ Conference_dev
>> mailing list Conference_dev at lists.osgeo.org 
>> http://lists.osgeo.org/mailman/listinfo/conference_dev
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Jachym Cepicky
Help Service - Remote Sensing s.r.o.
jachym.cepicky at gmail.com
HS-RS: jachym at hsrs.cz http://bnhelp.cz

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