Friday 22 February 2008

International conference delivered to your doorstep

What do you do when you can't travel to best international conference for Open Source Geospatial Software? Get it to come to you of course. With some astute lobbying and networking, FOSS4G 2009 is coming to my home town in Sydney.

I've had a burning desire to attend the FOSS4G conference since it started. It attracts the cream of Geospatial Open Source developers. People I collaborate with, sharpened theories against, and who share my virtual life. FOSS4G is where everyone meets face to face, networks and shows off the latest technologies. I want in!
Travel is an issue for me. Initially, writing Open Source software was a hobby and I couldn't justify travel costs. Now, my wife works and we share kid pick up and drop off from school. It works like clockwork until someone leaves for a week.
In true Open Source sense, I have an itch to scratch, which leads to creative thinking. If I can't travel to my friends, then why not bring my friends to me - all 700 of them.
The idea sounded arrogant, self serving and daunting. I knew a couple of OSGeo sympathizers and developers in Australia, but they were already committed up to the eyeballs and I couldn't see where we could get enough spare energy to build a conference. And I knew nothing about conferences - hadn't even attended a major one.
I mentioned the idea to a few people, one being Tim Bowden. Tim overflows with enthusiasm, especially when talking about Geospatial Open Source. Between the two of us, we found others who supported the idea, OSGeo users in Australian government (who later shaped our bid theme of "User Driven"), key people behind a Linux Australia conference in Sydney, and most importantly the Sydney Convension and Visitors Bureau (SCVB). The SCVB sole responsibility is to bring conferences to Sydney. Core business is putting out glossy proposals backed by statistics and great facts about Sydney. They put themselves at our service at no cost, being funded by government and the tourist industry. Wow! Suddenly my dream seemed feasible, even if it is blatantly self serving.
Bid Strategy
We decided to be open in developing our bid as it builds a stronger, friendlier community and we would be pitching our bid to Open Source developers who share these ideals. This strategy paid dividends when the bid committee joined our email list and provided valuable feedback as we developed our proposal. They watched the strength and enthusiasm of our team grow.
We telegraphed our intention to bid a year early and while 4 cities vied to host FOSS4G 2008, Sydney's bid was uncontested in 2009. Feedback suggested that other cities didn't bid based upon the apparent strength of our bid. This is a pity. If a city doesn't win the conference one year, it should be considered a likely contender the following year. Having numerous cities bid helps the committee plan ahead.
Lessons Learned
  • Plan ahead. FOSS4G moves around the world to give everyone a chance to attend locally.
    • Bidding cities should take a long term strategy. If you don't win one year, keep submitting until you do.
    • The bid committee should suggest regions they would like to move to in the near future which will encourage cities in that region to bid.
    • Feedback to unsuccessful bids should include targeted feedback, including rankings, to help cities refine their bid.
  • Cities should engage the local conference industry. They are likely to provide their services for free in order to secure the conference.
  • Network locally. A large, diverse team is attractive to selectors.
  • Be open in your bidding process. While it may allow competing cities to gain advantage, you will demonstrate your strength and openness to the OSGeo bid committee.
Bid Team
While I write this article as if our conference bid was solely driven by my selfish motivations, this was not the case. We had a large team of enthusiastic, motivated individuals who all contributed in major ways, which is why FOSS4G 2009 will be such a successful event. I'm just delighted that my dream to attend FOSS4G will be realized in the process.