Lots of people have been wondering what, exactly, GeoAlliance Canada will do. How will it provide value to members? What projects will be undertaken, and when will they begin? What committees will be formed? Who will sit on the Board of Directors?
These questions are difficult to answer because decisions about specific projects and committees will be made at a later date, by the incoming (yet-to-be-elected) Board of Directors and the membership of the new organization. It is not within the mandate (and nor should it be) of the CGCRT to provide that sort of specific direction to GeoAlliance Canada. We, with lots of input from all the CGCRT contributors and volunteers, have created the Pan-Canadian Geomatics Strategy and Action and Implementation Plan, which reflect the priorities expressed by the community and will serve as a guide for GeoAlliance Canada. However, to undertake the full slate of action items in the plan would require tremendous resources (human and financial) that we will not have for some time, if ever. So the outstanding question is: Where do we begin?
A good place to start is to take a look at precedents and best practices from around the world. The idea of an umbrella organization for the geospatial sector is not new – some have been in existence for decades! The proposed organizational structure for GeoAlliance Canada was crafted by the Leadership and Working Group after careful consideration of other, similar organizations based in the United States, Europe, and Australia and New Zealand. CGCRT volunteers assessed the best practices and lessons learned from each model, and came up with a unique “Made in Canada” solution that we believe will be the best in the world.
The greatest insight we gained from our extensive review of these international groups was the overall contribution of umbrella organizations to the health and vitality of the geospatial sector. They provide outstanding value to members in terms of networking opportunities, collaborative initiatives, and resource pooling. Each one has undertaken complex, interesting and necessary activities that have benefited the entire sector. They have presented compelling information about their work and the work of their members to political representatives, educators, and the general public. They play a vital role in ensuring that their infrastructure and their members (existing and future) are well-prepared for the next 10, 20 and 50 years. Examining their work, it is increasingly obvious that without a strong national umbrella organization, Canada will quickly fall behind.
The specific activities undertaken by each group vary greatly. Five of the six groups hold an annual conference or event; we’ve heard feedback from around the country that this would be of significant value here as well. The organizations that have focused on setting or influencing public policy have been heard by decision-makers –for example, the Chairman of the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO) in the United States recently presented a paper to the Committee of Natural Resources in the U.S. House of Representatives. Through GeoAlliance Canada, we could start to think about making our case as loudly. Only one of the groups we looked at had a program focused on the career development of young professionals, and yet this has been identified as a top priority by many individuals here in Canada from all disciplines. Perhaps the recruitment and development of students and young professionals in an area in which we can lead the world.
Under the framework we have laid out, GeoAlliance Canada will be the only organization of its kind open to all member types, including the public and private sectors, education, and non-profits. This was intentional. One of the lessons we learned was the broader the membership base, the stronger an organization became. We are not interested in expending energy drawing boundary lines between professions, and we see no problem whatsoever with having a broader reach and increased opportunities for collaboration!
This is an exciting time. In the years ahead, GeoAlliance Canada can do anything, but it can’t do everything. For some, this presents too much of a risk. How can you justify paying for membership in an organization when you don’t know what it will accomplish? For others, this is an opportunity to finally put resources behind their ideas and the ideas they’ve seen put forward by colleagues, and actually begin to do some of the things we’ve been talking about for years.
In our minds, the risk of inaction is far greater than the cost of an annual membership fee. We hope that you will join us; we hope you’ll volunteer to be part of a forum or sit on a committee. We hope you’ll consider running for election to the Board of Directors. We hope you’ll bring your ideas to the table. As this international group of umbrella organizations has shown us, we will be stronger together, and we can, by working together, create a better future for everyone doing “geo” in Canada.