GIM International Summit 2016

Addressing Global Changes

The first GIM International Summit was held in the very heart of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, from 10-12 February 2016. The programme comprised thought-provoking topics presented by top speakers from both inside and outside the geomatics field. Furthermore, the audience was engaged in interactive workshops on global issues such as urban planning, social justice and climate change. Delegates were challenged to think beyond the boundaries of their own fields to link the needs of society to geospatial solutions during this inspiring three-day summit.

By Martin Kodde and Sabine de Milliano, contributing editors, GIM International

Policy-based evidence

The first two days of the three-day summit consisted of thought-provoking presentations in the morning and workshops on four different global topics in the afternoon. Starting off on Wednesday, Morten Jerven, author of the book Africa: Why Economists Get It Wrong, explained the problems with current statistical research. Presenting many interesting statements and graphs about African economies showing strange and improbable numbers, Jerven illustrated that using statistical data can be dangerous even if its source is known. Manipulation of statistics is universal: as soon as money is involved, evidence-based policy tends to change into policy-based evidence. Jerven’s presentation made a clear point to all delegates: poor numbers are just too important to be merely dismissed as such. He called on the geomatics industry to come up with solutions for using geospatial data to validate and improve statistical data.


The African theme continued in the presentation by Vanessa Watson, professor of city planning at the University of Cape Town, who demonstrated the enormous mismatch between what companies in developed countries plan to build in Africa and what local people actually need. It seems as if urban planners in architectural firms throughout the world regard Africa as a sandbox where they can build vast, futuristic districts, but none of those plans are ever executed in reality. They fail because the plans simply have no connection to the local environment and people’s needs. For example, large glass-covered skyscrapers that offer housing priced at USD200,000 will never be within reach of a local citizen earning the equivalent of USD2-USD20 per day, which is the average salary for many people in Africa. To address this problem, Watson advocated shifting the focus of urban planning from top-down to bottom-up and creating housing projects that improve living conditions within the current environment instead of trying to (re)build entire cities.

Perception of geographic information

Three further presentations were held on Wednesday morning: Christoph Fürst presented RIEGL’s new laser scanner during the coffee break as a technical intermezzo; Joyeeta Gupta, professor at the UNESCO-IHE Institute of Water Education, showed that water scarcity in the world can only be understood and handled correctly with the right maps showing the right information, as the problem can be perceived differently depending on the maps used; and Daniel Steudler, scientific associate from the Swiss Federal Office of Topography, identified various current trends for the industry such as the Internet of Things, linked data, crowdsourcing, augmented reality and social media. Steudler explained the impact of these trends on the perception of geographic information systems, both now and in the future.

Connecting technologies to solutions

Inspired by the morning sessions, delegates shared their own thoughts and opinions during four different interactive workshops in the afternoon. The workshop topics were urban planning, social justice, food security & agriculture, and infrastructure for geo-IT. Although each workshop differed in terms of content, they all shared a focus on linking geospatial technologies to real solutions and useful applications rather than concentrating on technological improvements alone, and on connecting geospatial infrastructures to existing IT infrastructures instead of designing new ones. The interactive sessions sparked much discussion and debate among the participants that continued well into the evening, which began with a boat trip on Amsterdam’s canals and concluded with a delegate dinner.

The importance of alignment

The GIM International Summit continued on Thursday with presentations on topics as varied as climate change, building information modelling (BIM) and smartphones. In his presentation on climate change, Pier Vellinga pitched that clear visualisation is crucial to achieve an understanding of the complex metrics that play a role in climate change. Communication should take the public’s perception into account; a map showing the number of nights per year with uncomfortably high temperatures conveys more information than a detailed report on the same topic. This line of thinking continued in the talk by Geert Bouckaert who showed the difficulty in aligning institutions and policies with spatial information. Ed Parsons from Google demonstrated that it is possible to put end users in the middle of a map, literally: using smartphones and the search power of Google it is possible to create a personalised map for every individual.

Building Information Modelling

When looking at the geospatial world from the outside in, the topic of BIM is unavoidable as the use of building information models has advanced rapidly, both in the construction phase and the maintenance phase of civil engineering projects. Within a BIM, 3D geoinformation is integrated with other aspects relevant to construction and asset management. Increasingly, users are expecting data delivery in a BIM context. James Kavanagh from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) presented examples and challenges of adopting BIM in the geospatial industry. In addition, in a technical session, Yury Sakovich of Trimble informed the delegates about technological trends, the applications and the benefits of geospatial data.

Remember the people

The afternoon workshops provided yet another opportunity for highly interactive sessions revolving around the topics of climate change, migration, water & energy and property rights. Engaging participants from diverse backgrounds in open problem-solving discussions provided very interactive learning opportunities for everyone involved. Engineers in the geospatial industry tend to look for technical solutions, but – as one of the participants phrased it – often forget about the people. Approaching climate change as a social problem rather than a technical challenge, for instance, will result in different solutions that might be more fit for purpose.

The geospatial contribution

On Friday morning, Conference Chairman Steven Ramage explained the concept of what3words, a new addressing system that has pre-allocated three common words to each grid of 3 by 3 metres on Earth. Thus, what3words facilitates addresses for over four billion people who do not currently have one. This was an illustrative example of how geospatial technology can contribute to tackling major global challenges. The conference concluded with an interactive session in which the Summit Declaration was drawn up. It was agreed that, to face the global challenges of the future, the geomatics industry should look beyond technology and further improve collaboration with other industries and the people involved in them.

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