We asked leaders in the Canadian geospatial community what GeoAlliance Canada membership would mean to them. Representatives from education, non-profit associations and the private sector gave their thoughts on how a national umbrella organization might help them thrive, what projects they’d like it to take on, and who else they think should become a member.

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James Boxall, CGCRT Co-Chair

Apr 17, 2015

What are some of the issues you currently face that you believe a national umbrella organization would help address? Can you identify your top priority?

When I look at the work of colleagues around the world and how they are able to capture funding to make a real change in education (across all levels) I wonder what has to be done in Canada to has the same success and results. In looking at what was done in those other places, I noted that a great many groups (associations, companies, partners, etc) came together to raise their profile and voice to develop a more collaborative approach to the problems, which in turn raised more resources. This tends to happen with most research grants in universities, and it seems to take place as a process outside of the education sector as well.

The issue for me comes down to the profile of our community (be that within the core of geomatics or not) which has been fragmented. An umbrella would provide a more cohesive identity that could speak to the issues we face with a greater number of voices. This does provide for a way to attract real dollars to do real work. I don't see it as simply a marketing effort but more how to translate our profile into actions that make a difference.

If I were to suggest a top priority it would be some sort of project that builds upon the best of our community and the common threads that join us. This may well be a very substantial outreach effort to align the next few years which (by chance really) have the International Map Year and the 150th anniversary of Canada's confederation coming in 2016 and 2017. Those major events have the potential to be the focus of something that can capture the wider public attention and be a channel to express our value to Canada and the world. As an educator, I could really use this to show my students that there are careers and opportunities, as well as a tradition and history about what it is we all do, which can then get them excited about staying here and doing something to make a difference.


How would you rate your current success in collaborating with like-minded organizations across the country? Do you think GeoAlliance membership would help facilitate better communication and collaboration?

The current success is fairly good if we measure it by MOUs and people who meet at the same events or talk to each other about common issues. It isn't so good when we actually try to get down to doing something that is a common effort as we have tended to try to focus one view over another, rather than focusing on the common thing that joins us. We have, across these collaborations, talked about the problems for many years (I can recall meetings as far back as 1998, but some even earlier in the early 1980s). But we've not moved far beyond the talk of the issue into tangible actions and efforts where we can get the right resources to provide the solutions. It is hard for 10 to 20 groups and agencies, along with numerous companies and others actors in the sector, to come up with things that can make a lasting change take hold. Dividing the resources amongst so many groups isn't necessary wrong, but right at this moment is a division we don't need.

The communication and collaboration has to be raised to a new level. We have noted that it is very hard to get volunteers to be able to spend the time focused on an issue. We need people who can devote more time and energy, full time, to the effort and provide the support needed to do the job. It does take time. It cannot be resolved in a 140 character tweet. It can't be answered or changed by hundreds of emails. It has to be done with time, care, patience and a focus over a number of years. I see this as part of the value of the investment we are seeking to create something across the community.


What is one project you'd like to see undertaken in GeoAlliance Canada’s first year?

Create the largest community-based, crowd sourced map ever produced for the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation in 2017. It’s big, bold and celebrates the best in our creative minds to translate the passion for everything needed in geomatics and the technologies of today and tomorrow. It would be like the most awesome Heritage Moment on TV. IT would be a celebration. We need those tangible things as much as the digital.


Name one group (apart from your own) that you'd like to see become a GeoAlliance Canada member. Why them?

I would like to see more people in the ITC and Open Data communities become a part of this. Perhaps someone from the Open Data community or the CATA-Alliance.


Would your organization be willing to partner with GeoAlliance Canada and/or other organizations to achieve specific goals requiring additional resources/funding?

I can't speak for any one group. However, I can say that many of the people involved in education have been taking about what we can do across our existing partnerships, and that community is looking at how we can contribute as a group and getting our partner organizations and institution to support this effort. We've seen it done in our sector (education) many times, and the success has been measurable. Many actions suggested in June focused on changing "what is taught" and we agree with that, but we also know it takes some more resources and a focus that hasn’t been possible across the numerous groups doing the "one offs" and small efforts. Those are good (don't misquote me) but the level of profile needed is higher, and that means we need to have a collective voice of a number of groups that agree with the actions.

There are a great many very good things being done. We see them all the time and they need to continue. However, the simple thing I note is that the place within the K-12 system across the country where we can get kids to learn about what we all do is on the decline and has been for decades. We need to reverse that. We have started it within a great many groups through some key efforts (like a Declaration for Geographic Education) but we need to do more and focus more. That requires time and resources which are not well distributed or present in enough places.


James Boxall has, for the past two years, served as one of the Co-Chairs of the CGCRT. He is a Governor of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. His primary interest and voluntary efforts for the past 30 years has been on improving geographic literacy in Canada.