FOSS4GUK (https://uk.osgeo.org/foss4guk2019/) came and went a week or so ago, in Edinburgh, and to my mind it was a game-changer for our UK events. This is not going to be a detailed post about how great it was (yes it was great), and how good the venue was (also great), but a reflection on how it was different.
For one, there were 250 attendees, which is a step up from previous events. This was enabled partly by the capacity of the venue, but props to the local organising committee for being ambitious enough to shoot for such a high number. (As a note, the global FOSS4G attendance runs at around 900 these days. I couldn’t find any figures for other regional FOSS4Gs though).
250 attendees meant a lot of new faces, not only new to the event, but new to OSGeo and indeed open source. As a local chapter we should have prepared for this. I did a 5 minute welcome speech, which was basically “Hi, thanks for coming, be nice to each other”. What we should have done instead is have a full stand, a full-length talk, and perhaps a question and answer session to help people with any generic “what is this Open Source of which you speak?” questions. This would hopefully have avoided a confusion between the OSGeo and FOSS4G brands, but also the occasional “but what if I commit to software X but then it stops being free?” question. It’s a no-brainer really, new people means new people to explain open source to, so that’s something we need to bear in mind for next year.
My second observation is on the maturity of the topics. Obviously this is self-selecting to a certain extent, and partly down to the choices of the local organising chapter, but there were a lot of talks about people and large companies (including government) doing big things with open source. From Geonetwork being a key component in the Scottish Spatial Data Infrastructure (disclosure- that’s my project, but hey, I’m proud of it), to utlisising cloud technologies for both server-based and desktop GIS. You may have an opinion on the ethics or suitability, or lack of openness about cloud technologies- but the point is, people are using open source in these environments for large-scale projects and that’s got to be a good thing. This ties in also with my previous comment about new people at the event- they weren’t there because they wanted to geek out on the latest cool tool (in the main), but because they wanted to learn about adoption of the open source stack, and get some good case studies.
Thirdly- the vibe. I’d asked people to “Be Excellent to Each Other (Abraham Lincoln, 1988)” in my opening talk, but I needn’t have bothered. I have previously heard people say that these events can be a bit cliquey but it felt different this year. Lovely weather and a great space for socialising helped, obviously, but there was more to it than that. Maybe it’s just because things are so fraught at the moment globally, but being in a space with a bunch of engaged, committed, happy people was a great relief.
Finally, two points about organisation, which made a huge difference. This year’s chapter were committed to providing childcare, and had a good sponsor lined up to cover the costs. One way in which they did this was to cover the cost of childcare at home for people wishing to attend, but with a working partner. Several people said this was a fantastic way of doing things, so we’ll hope to emulate it at future events. Additionally, all the talks were live-streamed and are available on YouTube, again because a sponsor stepped up to specifically cover this aspect. Live-streaming meant that people unable to attend could still participate in real-time, rather than simply by catching up on the videos later.
Speaking of participation, I think the twitter hashtags are a good way of seeing how the event unfolded, so if you’re interested in a character-limited overview, check out https://twitter.com/search?q=%23foss4guk and https://twitter.com/search?q=%23foss4guk2019.
So… why a game-changer? I just think it goes to show that in the UK we can now start to aim big with our FOSS4GUK events. Regional doesn’t have to mean small. Small events are fun, don’t get me wrong (and a lot easier to organise) but there’s enough of an interest to aim higher. So if you’re even slightly interested in running an event in 2020 and haven’t been put off by the success of 2019, then get in touch!