FIG Working Week 2020 – Distance Matters…

FIG Working Week 2020 – Distance Matters…

What is the ‘FIG Working Week’? It’s a strange name for a conference, but a name that has become close to a trademark and is significant for the many varied activities that are going on during the – almost – week-long event. Since 1878, when FIG was established and gave surveyors the possibility to meet and network, the yearly FIG Conference has proven to be a unique meeting place for surveyors and geospatial experts around the world. But does it really matter to attend a conference, and to meet?

Hanoi, Istanbul, Helsinki, Christchurch, Sofia, Kuala Lumpur, Accra, Rome, Marrakech, Sydney, Eilat…
What do these cities located on different continents have in common? They are all beautiful, friendly, inspiring… But first and foremost, during the past 10 years, all these cities have hosted the FIG Working Week/Congress. And we could have continued the list of cities and countries.

The first FIG Congress took place in 1878 in Paris when FIG was founded. The next Congress was held in 1910 (Brussels, Belgium) and the third in 1926. Since 1926, FIG has organized one main event each and every year – uninterrupted, apart from the years 1939-45. Amsterdam should have been added to this exclusive list, as host of FIG Working Week 2020 during the week of 9-14 May. Delegates from all over the world were supposed to meet, greet, network, learn, have fun and be inspired during this annual event. However, the current worldwide COVID-19 situation has forced FIG and the Dutch local organizers to cancel this main event of the year.

FIG Council and Commission Chairs at FIG Working Week 2019 in Hanoi. You will meet all commission chairs through articles that are presented during the week 10-14 May.

Why attend a conference?

But why should professionals attend a conference? This question seems especially relevant now that the current situation – with so many working from home – has proven that online meetings are being used and work/life goes on, so why bother to travel around the world for a conference? Well, I am certain that the direct networking and the direct contact matters. It is true that you can find a lot of learning online, and the FIG website is no exception. It has been said that on the FIG website you can find enough material to finalize several PhD studies. There is indeed a lot of material available. And this year is no different. The proceedings from the non-held Working Week 2020 have been published.

But still, a FIG Working Week is much more than listening to presentations by your peers. A video, a webinar, online material is suitable for information gathering, but it does not replace the personal connections, getting to know others personally, discussions, finding colleagues with the same interests, the networking, etc.

Distance matters…

Not only is the distance between two points important, but the distance between persons is also vital. In the paper titled ‘A framework for understanding effects of proximity on collaboration: Implications for technologies to support remote collaborative’, the authors Susan R. Fussell, Robert E. Kraut, Susan E. Brennan and Jane Siegel examined the collaboration of 164 scientists and engineers. The further away people are from each other, the less they produce together. And you do not even have to be far away. Working in the same office has shown high cooperation and productivity. If you work on the same floor but in different offices, cooperation already decreases somewhat. Surprisingly enough, working in the same building but on different floors causes a significant decrease in cooperation.

There is no doubt that technology has helped collaboration over distances. However, collaboration is made easier if it has been possible to meet in person. The communication becomes easier, less formal, and it is easier to obtain an understanding of each other.

And what does this have to do with a conference? It shows that distance matters. Proximity matters. And that the value of meeting other people in person is high. Although today we have many smart, electronic options, they cannot replace presence – being together – networking – seeing each other – exchanging views – generating new ideas – and maybe, who knows, finding future partners for cooperation, idea exchange, benchmarking, inspiration – and friends. You cannot obtain this online in the same way. So… conferences matter! Conferences enrich your work when you are back home and conferences help to establish and maintain these relationships that are so valuable.

And that is why it is such a pity that we have had to cancel FIG Working Week 2020…

At the end of FIG Working Week 2019, per tradition, the FIG flag was handed over by Co-Congress director for the Working Week 2019 Mr. Trinh Anh Co to Paula Dijkstra, Co-Conference director for FIG Working Week 2020. The Dutch Local Organising Committee can now keep the flag for one extra year. Hereafter the flag will be presented to the organisers of FIG Congress 2022.

What is FIG Working Week?

The name ‘Working Week’ may sound strange to those who have not participated in a FIG Working Week. Isn’t it just another conference? Yes, FIG Working Week is a conference. It is however also a lot more. First and foremost, the yearly General Assembly is held with its focus on the activities and business of FIG. Here, new future Working Week destinations are selected by the General Assembly, officers for posts within FIG such as the president, vice presidents and commission chairs are elected, and the direction of FIG is outlined.

During the three conference days, an extensive programme is designed for all participants. The technical programme includes sessions organized by the 10 professional commissions, networks, task forces and permanent institutions. In total, 80 sessions are held in eight session slots. There are also special sessions in cooperation with several of FIG’s Institutional Partners – this year including sessions organized jointly with FAO, UN-Habitat/GLTN and with UN-ECE. Our four platinum members, Trimble, ESRI, Leica and Bentley, are also included in the technical programme. Since meeting face to face is a challenge in a worldwide organization, the Working Week is also used for special meetings, commission meetings, working group meetings, task force meetings, meetings with FIG Council and the president, etc. All in all, a variety of different activities take place in parallel during these busy days. In other words, all attendees are working hard during this week.

This will not be the case in 2020 as there are no possibilities for travel, no large gatherings, no conferences.

So why not have an online conference?

The idea of changing the technical programme to be held online was considered. It could have been possible, although the time zone differences would have been just one of the challenges. Having 10 parallel sessions during eight sessions slots over three days is a lot. Technically, it is doable, but will the output be worth the effort? One of the main ideas behind FIG Working Weeks is the networking, the meeting part, the exchange between surveyors who come from different countries and different backgrounds, but who, in many cases, face the same or similar challenges.

Technical Programme/Proceedings

However, COVID-19 does not prevent us from sharing and spreading information.

The overall theme of FIG Working Week 2020 is ‘Smart Surveyors for Land and Water Management’ with a sub-theme for each day:

  1. Smart surveyor
  2. Land and water management
  3. 10 years to go to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

So, it was decided not to carry on with an online programme. Instead, the technical programme/proceedings will be shared with you: with all who might find it interesting to get inspired by the sessions, by the papers, by the ideas. We will do this during the week when the FIG Working Week should have taken place: 10-14 May.

During these days, together with our media partner Geomares, we will present highlights from the technical programme in the online newsletter of GIM International. This is a unique possibility to share the programme with you, which we are very much looking forward to. We do hope that you will follow us during the week, look out for the newsletters from FIG and from GIM International, and we will do our best to guide you through the treasure trove of information and knowledge.

So, is there something in it for me?

Surveying is many things. FIG is striving to cover all areas of surveying through its 10 different commissions. The FIG commissions cover the following areas:

  • Commission 1 – Professional Standards and Practice
  • Commission 2 – Professional Education
  • Commission 3 – Spatial Information Management
  • Commission 4 – Hydrography
  • Commission 5 – Positioning and Measurement
  • Commission 6 – Engineering Surveys
  • Commission 7 – Cadastre and Land Management
  • Commission 8 – Spatial Planning and Development
  • Commission 9 – Valuation and the Management of Real Estate
  • Commission 10 – Construction Economics and Management


Further to this, there are two regional networks, covering Africa and Asia/Pacific, the Standards Network and the FIG Young Surveyors Network. The Young Surveyors Network will host webinars on 9 May covering different time zones – watch out for more information on this. Last but not least, an afternoon of history should have taken interested participants through many aspects of the history of surveying.

Each commission and network will give you an introduction to their work, to sessions and why these exact themes were included in the overall topics of this Working Week.

Another chance – FIG Working Week 2020+1

As mentioned earlier, an online conference or, as here, the sharing of the technical programme online, does not make up for the full conference experience. Luckily, we will get another chance. FIG Working Week 2021 should have taken place in Accra, Ghana, but the Ghanaian local organizers are showing real FIG spirit and have generously offered the Dutch organizers the opportunity to take over the Working Week in 2021. The FIG Working Week in Ghana will be moved to 2024 instead, with the larger Congress 2022 still being held in Cape Town, South Africa, and FIG Working Week 2023 in Orlando, Florida, USA.

We are also happy on behalf of our good and faithful sponsors and exhibitors as we can still offer them the chance to attend next year’s Working Week.

You can now already start looking forward to 2021, to experience a real FIG Working Week in person. But until then, we will guide you through the programme of FIG Working Week 2020, and we hope that you will join us on this journey next week.

A thank you to the Dutch local organizers

FIG Working Weeks and Congresses would not be possible without a local organizing committee: local knowledge, providing local flavour to the Working Week, local/national topics of importance, local participants who are given the chance to meet fellow colleagues from all around the world.

The current Local Organizing Committee won the bid back in 2016 to organize the 2020 Working Week – I am glad that they did not know then what was coming to them… Not only have they worked on the preparations for the past four years, but they are now also committing to yet another year… So a big thanks from the FIG Office to the Local Organizing Committee for everything they have done so far – we have appreciated the cooperation very much, and especially that they are taking up this rather extraordinary challenge to continue the preparations for another year. We are very much looking forward to another round of organizing the FIG Working Week 2020+1 in the Netherlands.

It is all about networking… 80-90 countries are normally represented at FIG Working Week, where new friendships are built and old colleagues and friends catch up.
Geomatics Newsletter

Value staying current with geomatics?

Stay on the map with our expertly curated newsletters.

We provide educational insights, industry updates, and inspiring stories to help you learn, grow, and reach your full potential in your field. Don't miss out - subscribe today and ensure you're always informed, educated, and inspired.

Choose your newsletter(s)