A new era: #Locate19

By on 23 April, 2019

Now that the dust has settled on #Locate19, we look at some of the significant moments and defining trends of an event that suggested a new era for the Australian geospatial industry.

Always a gargantuan event in scale, programmatic scope and agenda-setting for the industry, it was a particularly big Locate this year. A record-breaking attendance of over 900 delegates, a packed exhibition hall and a few strategically-curated curveballs in the program helped to make this a memorable and significant iteration of the Locate series.

A clear-eyed view of the world in 2019

Engaging in a more provocative, unvarnished way with global challenges and opportunities in 2019 was a defining element of this year’s Locate. One of the most memorable and striking of these curveballs was the passionate, arresting plenary from Plan International’s Edie Bannerman.

Plan International’s Edie Bannerman giving a galvanising plenary presentation at #Locate19.

Her emotionally charged speech underscored the reality faced by millions of women worldwide, forcing the audience to confront whether a society can truly consider itself ‘free’ if half of its population doesn’t feel that they can move through the spaces they inhabit without fear of harassment or violence.

A challenging gauntlet thrown down in the post-#MeToo era was not the only first at #Locate19. In fact, a high level of emotional engagement could be considered a hallmark of this year’s event, according to SIBA|GITA CEO Deanna Hutchinson.

Hutchinson said that in her experience in the industry and its history of discussing new agendas, there was something distinct in the air at the meetings and panels of  #Locate19.

“There was such a raw response to things that were going on. My history in organisational change has taught me to watch the mood and then see when it’s moving — and I feel that I saw people going on that emotional journey of realising — ‘Oh, this is what it looks like what we start talking to people who aren’t ourselves’ — a little bit uncomfortable but at the same time exciting,” she said.

Hutchinson said that a constant of friction driven by change underpinned many of the summits and discussions at #Locate19, regardless of the focus — whether welcoming views from outside the industry on a scale previously unknown, accepting and integrating a disruptive technology or embarking on a pioneering collaboration.

“That’s the conflict I’m describing — it’s that hopping from one foot to the other between excitement and terror,” she said.

“Starting to realise what it means to embrace and actually do something that you’ve been saying for many years needs to be done. So, we took that first step to the realisation that we’re there — we’re getting there and we now understand what it needs to be.”

A robust conversation on opportunities for geospatial in achieving the SDGs was strategically reframed and pitched to the assembled crowd at the closing plenaries on language that silenced chuckles and had people taking notes — another well-curated theme that forced delegates to engage with global realities along channels not often trammelled, and presented in terms of a wide-open opportunity for solutions providers.

Diversity2

The initiatives around fostering diversity in the geospatial industry were numerous, highly developed and well integrated with other activities and agendas at #Locate19.

Reflecting on the scaled-up activities, which included a DELWP SIBA|GITA breakfast, dedicated booth in the exhibition hall and dynamic interactive session at The Hub, Hutchinson said this particular conversation reflected a level of unseen maturity and acceptance.

The agenda was multi-pronged, targeting executive leadership, providing networking and support opportunities for women in spatial, and a conscious broadening of the conversation beyond gender equality to introduce the concept of ‘neurodiversity’, demonstrating the value of diverse perspectives more generally.

Phil Duthie at the diversity breakfast described it as ‘moving beyond inclusion to belonging’ — and this is how I think the diversity piece plugged in in a different way,” Hutchinson said.

I didn’t feel that there was anybody in the conference walking around saying: ‘this diversity conversation is about unseating people and somebody else taking over.’ No, I didn’t get that feeling at all. I got the feeling that people were saying ‘this is about all of us and we need to look after our own.’ And in embracing some of these ‘outsiders’ (shall we say), it’s actually going to be good for us in the long run. I don’t think anybody is suggesting that these were not conversations we should be having. Previously people were uncomfortable about it — that’s another shift I saw.”

The unusual suspects

Escaping a geospatial echo chamber by engaging outsiders is an agenda that’s been discussed for decades — but was approached in a new and strategic manner at #Locate19. Beyond a dynamic interactive session in The Hub on this evergreen topic (now reframed as neurodiversity), some of the plenary speakers represented industry ‘outsiders’ that leveraged the time with their captive audiences in new ways.

Closing his presentation, Barry Sandison, CEO of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, addressed the regional geospatial community directly: “Tell me something I didn’t know. That’s the challenge I leave you with.”

His heavyweight speech concisely packaged the challenge of his role, describing the scale and fidelity of data required for the Institute to present the best possible information to government to support decision making with concise personal stories that illustrated the breadth of the AIHW’s ambit. The opportunities for business to assist with the challenges were presented clear as day, there on a platter for the assembled crowd.

Chris Hewett of the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation during his closing plenary.

In the second-to-last plenary on the final day, Chris Hewett, Head of Capability Development, Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation, presented a similarly direct and robust invitation to industry to collaborate with Defence in developing their geospatial intelligence capabilities together, addressing perceived pitfalls in challenges in such a relationship and highlighting the benefits.

It’s no coincidence that both Barry Sandison and Chris Hewett are both members of the 2026Agenda leadership group, representing new sectors for increased industry engagement, and were carefully chosen by the Locate committee to bring those conversations to the Locate audience — and they maximised their allotted presentation time to throw the doors to dialogue wide open.

Peter Olah, CEO of the Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute, also observed new inputs in dialogue, and increasing synergies within previous divergent strands within the umbra of spatial sciences.

“Many people commented on the breadth of the Locate program this year. What fascinated me is that, whilst the conversation is bigger and broader, we are also starting to see a genuine convergence of interests across the surveying and spatial streams,” he said.

“New and emerging technologies – 3D, BIM, and Digital Twins to name a few – are seeing our industry professionals becoming closer to each other, and also to the end users of their amazing data. By increasingly “cutting out the middle man”, our industry professionals will become better known and more widely understood in the community. That is a fantastic thing for the future of our industry.”

Intense discussions during the Young Professionals’ session at The Hub.

Getting real about the future

The final leitmotif of this year’s Locate was increased representation and rigorous discussions around the future of the industry — students and early-career spatial scientists. Foremost of this representation were activities coordinated by SSSI’s Young Professionals program — a spirited interactive discussion in The Hub, and the inaugural Young Professionals symposium.

The Hub discussion underscored the urgency of revitalising the industry with new entrants, given its top-heavy demographic, and attendant impacts to the workforce due to retirement over the next decade. The open-mindedness of a young workforce, and the ease which they can facilitate uptake and development of new technologies and techniques was highlighted, along with the need to strike a balance with the legacy institutions and standards that have taken previous generations so long to build.

The symposium discussed a yawning gap between academia’s reach and industry needs, leaving students less than job-ready when finishing their degrees, translating into drop-outs and transfers to other careers, a phenomenon that affects women most. A need for greater dialogue between industry and educators was discussed, with a renewed focus on teaching soft professional skills alongside technical ones, which paralleled a most interesting debate on the relationship between universities and industry at the Space and Spatial Capability panel discussion. The outcomes of the symposium will be written up into a white paper, to be published in the coming weeks.

The audience engaged by the stellar closing plenary sessions at #Locate19.

And so the curtains closed on #Locate19, a vibrant, exhausting and milestone event, with exciting implications for the future. To close, some comments from Maurits Van der Vlugt, Chair of the Locate board.

“I am truly excited by how Locate19 went, the buzz it created, the record turn-out and how people really engaged with the exhibit, the awesome keynotes, and last-but-not-least: ‘The Hub’ ThinkPlace did a great job with The Hub, turning the exhibition space into a hive of activity, giving delegates, speakers and exhibitors alike a place to interact, share ideas, and make new friends,” he said.

“We are looking forward to expanding on this ‘festival’ concept for Locate20 in Brisbane next year, to further expand our horizon, increase our relevance and connect with the ‘unusual suspects’.”

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